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Popular Deck Board Patterns and Decking Installation Instructions

Install a Basic, Diagonal, or Picture Frame Pattern

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Trex decking is a sustainable engineered wood product

Trex decking is a sustainable engineered wood product

This article was updated on 10/06/20.

You’re reading the 8th in a series on building a deck. You can find the links to all the prior articles at the bottom of this article. Each article carries the project a bit further, from design to this point. I’ll address further refinements in future articles.

You can go with one of the patterns described below or mix and match. You might need extra blocking to have adequate support if you get creative; it is hard to overdo support. Always err on the side of caution. You might need more framing between your deck joists to add a trap door for things like existing plumbing clean-outs or electric. Now, let’s have a look at patterns.

  • The Basic pattern is the easiest. This is the linear pattern you’re most likely to see on most homes. It’s the easiest to install in most cases and creates less scrap so it saves money. The deck planks are laid in a perpendicular direction to your joists.

  • The diagonal pattern. The diagonal pattern can change the spatial perception of the deck. Your Trex composite or wood planks are attached at a 45° angle (or whatever you like) to your joists. This usually means adding considerably more blocking where boards meet and butt up unless the diagonal span is less than the length of your lumber like on a porch-type deck.

  • The picture frame deck offers options. The picture frame style combines the basic and diagonal styles. To begin with, boards are secured around the deck structure’s perimeter. In most cases this will be 3 or 4 planks wide. This is your “frame”. In the next step, the diagonal pattern is secured on the interior of your frame. There are a lot of possibilities here; you can engineer one frame or many. They can be square or rectangular. You can even build a frame within a frame.

Securing the Decking Planks to the Understructure

The recommended way to attach your decking to the deck joists is with deck screws, either galvanized or specially coated to resist the particular chemicals your understructure is treated with. Many deck contractors use nails but that’s a bad idea. Nails will eventually work loose and they are not as easy to remove if you need to replace a plank or need access to something below the structure.

You can use either corded or cordless drill or screwgun fitted with a Phillips # 2 drill bit to drive screws. Some screws require a different bit, such as a square one. Today's DeWalt and Ryobi cordless drills are excellent tools for a job like this because the batteries they are now sold with have really improved over time.

Many decking manufacturers like Trex composite decking as well as IpeDepot offer proprietary securing systems. Each board has been routed along the sides. Proprietary metal clips are secured to the understructure joists. You build the field in a manner similar to tongue in groove hardwood boards.

That’s the pros of attachment systems; they go fast and the gap (or lack thereof) is very accurate. Also, I like to work with the Kreg Tool Deck Jig. It guarantees no exposed nails or screws for a professional look. It works with composite decking, as well as solid-wood decking such as cedar, hardwoods, and pressure-treated wood.

Random Construction Considerations

  • Never secure adjacent rows to the same joist. This will compromise the strength of the entire structure. Always stagger rows for structural integrity and good looks.

  • Space boards evenly with decking spacers if you’re not using a proprietary securing system. A popular way is to make spacers by driving a framing nail midway through a small wood block. The nail’s diameter gives you an adequate gap to expansion, contraction, and water drainage.

  • Take time to think about where any deck trap doors will need to be installed for understructure access. Why? When your deck is attached to your house using a ledger board, you can count on needing access to the garden hose faucet for one thing.

  • When you’ll be butting planks together centered over a joist (also referred to splicing), rather than nailing or screwing straight down, just drill angled pilot holes first. Toe-nailing for screws lends incredible strength and stability.

  • Use use a hammering block when needed rather than striking the side of a plank. This part of building a deck is finish carpentry. All details contribute to the finished product.

  • Do use a deck wrench whenever working with bowed boards. You’ll always find a few of these in every load of lumber.
  • You will certainly need a decking tool board bender.

Now that you're an expert on popular deck board patterns and decking installation you can plan your design. Keep in mind that you can hire a carpenter to do the job but if you DIY, you can spend the labor money on the project.

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Previous articles in the deck-building series:

  1. Part 1: Wood Deck Design Fundamentals
  2. Part 2: Deck Design and Framing Concepts
  3. Part 3: Lumber Sizes And Spacing for Deck Building
  4. Part 4: Deck Design and Post Hole Layout
  5. Part 5: Setting Posts in Deck Construction
  6. Part 6: Deck Building: Beams and Joists
  7. Part 7: Trex Composite or Aluminum Decking vs Natural Wood
  8. Part 8: Popular Deck Board Patterns and Decking Installation Instructions

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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