Wendy Ask For a Pool, So I Decked Her

February 27th, 2005

You’ve all heard about it. Some of you are probably sick of hearing about it. Be glad I don’t tell you the story of how we almost dug a pool instead of just building a deck. Well, I’ll talk no more: our new deck is now finished, and here is its story, with pictures, start to finish…


After months of playing around with the lot drawings, and various deck shapes cut out of graph paper, we finally settled on a basic 20-foot square deck. To help visualize what the final deck will look like, we built a temporary 20-foot frame and moved it around the back yard.

Planning the deck location.

We finally settled on a location overlapping the corner of the patio. Once we knew where to put the deck, we drew up plans and got our building permit from the city. With the plans approved, we started preparing the site.

Parts of the deck are very close to the ground, in particular the underneath of the main beams. Grass beneath the beams could hold moisture and cause them to rot, so we cleared the sod beneath the beams and the perimeter of the deck. We also covered the remaining grass with opaque black plastic to prevent weeds from growing up through cracks in the deck.

Site preparation.

Our plans called for concrete footings to support the deck. We figured the best way to dig the holes for the footings was to rent a machine to do the work. The machine was so heavy and difficult to work with that I’m not sure how much work it saved. It also tended to “wander” quite a bit when digging, and as a result at least half the holes had to be reshaped by hand. In the long run, it might have been easier to dig by hand.

Digging holes.

By the middle of November, we had all eleven holes dug, and we had inserted and leveled sonotubes. We had the site inspected, as per regulations, and got a passing grade. We were ready to pour concrete. And then the rains came. We had one of the rainiest Novembers on record. We covered the holes, but rain seeped into them from underneath.

Thanksgiving passed, and then Christmas. The rains eventually stopped, but the holes remained full of water. The sonotubes, which are water resistant, but unable to withstand saturation, came apart. They literally unraveled in the holes.

Finally, in early January, we tried pumping out the holes using my shop-vac. We weren’t sure if it would work, but it did. The holes stayed dry, and Wendy refit them with new sonotubes. Then we spent a weekend and several afternoons mixing concrete and shoveling it into the sonotubes.

While the concrete cured, we went to the lumber yard and ordered our lumber. It arrived on a Friday afternoon and we spent nearly three hours carrying it board by board into the back yard, all except for the 20-foot two-by-twelve inch boards that would form the beams. They were simply too heavy to carry.

The next morning, my neighbor Todd helped me carry the two-by-twelves into the back yard. We cut each to length, set them in place, and nailed them together in pairs to form the main beams. Then we set a two-by-twelve at each end, across the beams, as a rim joist. With all of that set in place, our deck was beginning to take shape.

Beams and rim joists.

At this point, something silly happened: the girls insisted on writing messages on the beams, even though their messages would be hidden once the decking was in place.

Secret messages.

The next step was to hang the joists, but first we had to attach steel joist hangers to the beams. With the joist hangers in place, we cut two-by-eight boards, set them in place, and nailed them into the hangers.

Joist hangers.

I bought a framing nailer for this project, but it was of little use in nailing up joist hangers or joists. We nailed up every joist and hanger the old-fashioned way.

Build-it shelties ready to go.

With the beams and joists in place, the framing was nearly complete, but we still had to add some blocking between the joists. One set of blocking was to give the structure stability. Another set provides support for the outer three-board “picture frame” decking. (Look at the finished pictures to see what I mean.) After we finished the framing, we called the city inspector out again. He gave it a glance and signed off on it.

Wendy measures and marks.

Now we were ready to begin laying the decking. We chose an ambitious pattern, with an inner section of boards laid on the diagonal, surrounded by a “picture frame” of 3 boards laid paralled to the sides. Expecting the inner sections to be the most difficult, we started by miter-cutting the longest of the inner diagonal boards and nailing them in place.

The longest diagonals first.

With the longest diagonals in place, we worked inwards toward the center, doing one quadrant at a time.

First inner quadrant.

We didn’t attempt to miter-cut the diagonal boards for the first quadrant. We laid each one in place overhanging the joint, then with one straight cut of the circular saw, lopped of the overhanging ends of the boards. For the second and third quadrants, we had to miter cut the first end of each board. For the final quadrant, we had to measure carefully and miter cut each end.

Wendy works the diagonals.

What I learned about lumber in this project is that no piece is square. There are at least three ways a piece of lumber can warp. It can be twisted, bowed, or cupped, and most of our boards had at least two of these deformities. To get the decking fitted nicely, we put nails between them as spacers, then used pipe clamps to pull them tight to each other before nailing them down.

Inner quadrants complete.

We worked toward the center, completing the inner portions of each quadrant before working outward. The inner sections require more care because each of the inner boards has to meet up with two others at its ends. Thus, there are more ways to get the inner boards misaligned. By starting with the difficult portions, there’s less work to tear out if we discover that we’ve really screwed it up and have to start over. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Building the outer quadrants.

Once the inner quadrants were complete, we started working outward. The outer quadrants didn’t require any miter cuts. We were able to use the overhang-and-lop-off technique at all the board ends.

This woman is smiling because her deck is nearly complete.

After we completed the diagonal decking, it was a fairly simple matter to lay the decking for the “picture frame”. We also attached some facia boards around the upper perimeter of the deck to dress up its appearance. We were also planning to add facia boards around the lower perimeter, but we like the two-level appearance the deck has with just the upper board, so we left off there.

Structure complete.

The last parts of the structure were steps around the patio corner of the deck. We also built a little platform bridging the space between the back door and the deck steps, where water tends to accumulate in rainy weather.

Steps and bridge.

With this much of the deck built, we decided to “move in”. We bought a set of patio furniture and we moved the hammock onto the deck. We also bought some stands to hang up some flower baskets, and attached some brackets to support our tiki torches.

After move-in.

The deck isn’t quite finished. I still need to do some final trim work to hide the concrete footings and the metal fittings that tie the beams to the footings.

Another view.

For now, though, the deck is quite a nice place to relax. We’re looking forward to spending more time out here as Spring arrives and the nights get warmer.

Wendy shows how it’s done.

Hubble mellows.

Rudy holds down her corner.

One Response to “Wendy Ask For a Pool, So I Decked Her”

  1. jimthompson.org » Blog Archive » Backfill Says:

    [...] 0;Backfill” with a link to the back-dated post. Here is the one I added last night: Wendy Ask For a Pool, So I Decked Her This entry was posted on Tuesday, [...]