Triangulating the Deck

by Josh on August 8, 2011 · 8 comments

in Deck,Projects

While cleaning the deck recently, I had some time to think. As I scrubbed away at the mildew stains, I realized that my plan to clean and stain the deck had a problem: Cleaning and staining are fine for maintenance but the deck needed more than maintenance– it needed help.

The deck was added to the house about 10 years ago when the tower addition was built, and provided an exterior connection between the old back door into the kitchen and the new back door into the mudroom. The compact “L”-shaped design was dictated by the location of the staircase down from the backyard to the sidewalk. The deck also included three simple built-in benches that maximized seating capacity for this small space, but weren’t very comfortable.

clean dry deck

To make the deck more useful and pleasant, I came up with a plan to remodel the existing deck. This would involve removing two of the three benches and expanding the deck surface area with a triangular addition spanning the two sides of the “L”. I consulted the city’s deck planning guide for homeowners and determined that the joist span I was planning for the addition was safe and would not require any more footings.

Tools and Materials

I purchased the lumber–mostly treated 2×6 for the joists and deck boards, with some 1×4 for the railing cap–and the joist hangers and fasteners at an area True Value Hardware that conveniently has a complete lumberyard. The tools for the job were all things I had on hand, including:

  • circular saw
  • jig saw
  • cordless drill/driver
  • hand saw
  • bar clamps
  • outdoor wood glue
  • socket wrench

Partial Disassembly

deck bench cut off

The renovation work began with removing two of the built-in benches. This required pulling the adjacent deck boards and sawing through the 4×4 deck/bench support posts with a hand saw. I also used the hand saw to level the posts for the railing, which had curiously been left uneven.

cutting off deck postsTo make the cuts, I marked a line around the post with a square. Then I scored the lines with a cut across each face. Using the face cuts to guide the saw and keep it level, I sawed through each of the corners until the post was cut through. If I owned a sawsall, I might have tried using it here, though I was happy my slow and steady approach produced reliably even cuts.

Hanging the Joists

deck railing and bench removed

With the benches removed and the posts leveled, the next step was to remove the railings to begin adding the new decking. Even with changed layout I determined I could reuse the railings and posts, so I set those aside for later. The photo above also shows that one section of deck boards run perpendicular to the others, which I will need to deck joists

With the cross boards removed, I added the new joists, including the diagonal joist that defines the new edge of the deck. (Don’t worry– the board isn’t bowed, that’s just wide-angle distortion from my camera lens.) I decided it was easier to simply leave the existing joists in place in the older portion of the deck and add the new joists in between them. That’s why the joists in the older section of the deck are arranged in squares instead of long rectangles.

screws in deck joist hanger

To attach the joist hanger hardware, I used galvanized hex screw fasteners instead of the usual nails. This really sped up the installation, particularly in the tight spaces it would have been difficult to swing a hammer. It’s important to use exterior-grade fasteners so the deck isn’t weakened by corroded screws or nails.

Decking and Railings

leveling deck railing post

new deck floor installedWith the deck support structure finished, I used bar clamps and a post level to position the posts for the railing. Then, with the under deck work completed, I could cut and install the decking boards themselves.

To get easy and accurate cuts on the angled boards, I turned to the old carpenter’s rule to avoid measuring whenever possible. I positioned an uncut board exactly where it would be installed, then marked the angle cut on the underside of the board by tracing against the diagonal edge joist. Then I would cut on the the line with my circular saw and–voila!–the board is cut to the perfect length and angle.

bar clamps assist assembly 2

To complete the project without helpers, I used bar clamps as additional hands. In the photo above, the bar clamp is providing a ledge to properly position the railing I am attaching to the 4×4 post.

gluing deck railing cap

To attach the 1×4 cap boards on the railing, I used outdoor-rated wood glue and then drove screws up into the cap from the underside of the railing. I used the clamps again here to provide stable pressure on the boards while the glue set. I hope that the combination of glue and fasteners will help these cap boards warp less than the ones I replaced.

deck railing precision cuts

The design decision to cut the 4×4 railing support posts to the same height as the railing itself made for a sleek, horizontal look to the railing. But this also required a couple tricky jigsaw cuts like the one pictured above. That photo also shows the slight roundover I put on the railing cap using my palm sander. This part of the deck will get touched more than any other, so it’s important the railing be smooth and free of splinters.

The Finished Product

completed deck constructionThe completed deck has been a big winner with Ms. Bungalow and the rest of the family. Even though the surface area of the deck only grew by 15% or so it feels twice as big thanks to the removal of the benches and the increase in the maximum width from five to eight feet.

deck overhead with descriptions

**Reader comments prompted me to add this explanatory "after" photo to try to capture the changed deck layout and its placement.

There is now enough room for a cafe table and two or three chairs. I will probably want to get a small patio umbrella or shade sail for this area to give some shelter from the hot afternoon sun. For now, I’m watching the end of the summer clearance sales for patio furniture and waiting for the new deck wood to dry out a bit more before I carry on with staining–now that I’ve got a deck I really want to preserve.

Disclosure: I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program and my DIY project as well as my posts about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Reuben August 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm

The deck looks great.

You’ll be happy to hear this: I was out riding my bicycle looking for houses for sale in a certain desirable part of town. I happened to cycle by a certain house which was not for sale, but I couldn’t help but notice the striking exterior colors, and the exquisite window details. I had only seen such attention to detail one place before – on this very blog.

The tell-tale boarded up doorway on the back of the house confirmed my suspicions that I had, in fact, stumbled upon Bungalow ’23. All the hard work you’ve put into the place is clearly visible from outside. Good work.


Josh August 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

Busted! Thanks for your kind words, Reuben. Do say hello the next time you’re riding around that certain desirable neighborhood.

I nearly lol’ed over your juxtaposed description of “attention to detail” and “boarded up doorway.” I think all my neighbors are afraid I plan to leave that former door a primed plywood eyesore indefinitely.


mike @HA August 9, 2011 at 9:34 am

That’s a great update for your deck! I take it you don’t use those stairs anymore?


Josh August 9, 2011 at 10:31 am

Thanks, Mike. Actually a big part of the appeal of this deck improvement is that it doesn’t interfere with the stairs at all and just makes better use of formerly wasted space. It’s hard to get good explanatory photos of this space because it is caged in by the house and some trees.

Here’s a photo from a new angle with some quick and dirty explanatory embellishments. Does that help clarify the space?
deck overhead with explanations

I have now updated the original post to include this “after” image in the conclusion. Thanks readers for helping me tell this story better!


threadbndr August 9, 2011 at 11:40 am

Wow, in the overhead shot, you can see how tight it used to be and how just that little bit of new area (and getting rid of the extra benches) makes all the difference.

My tiny bungalow has only a stoop and concrete steps at the back, and those stairs will have to be replaced one of these days, as the cement is breaking down and the cast in place railing are loose. I love your little deck, and it’s giving me some great ideas.


Josh August 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Yes, I clearly failed to get good before-and-after comparison pictures–a cardinal houseblogging sin. I’m glad the new photo atones for that somewhat.

You’re right that this really is a case of small changes making a big difference. One other detail I didn’t really talk about is how removing the old backdoor to the kitchen (the white block behind the chairs in the photo above) effectively changed the deck from a hallway to a room.


mike @HA August 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

That makes a lot of sense! Thanks for putting that picture together.


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