There are several deck fasteners on the market, all with there advantages and disadvantages. Here we are going to discuss fasteners for softwood decking, the most common decking material in North America. In Canada and the United States, softwood decking includes pressure-treated spruce, pine, fir and cedar decking in a variety of dimensions. We can further separate deck fasteners into two categories.
- Hidden fasteners
Before going into all the details of options and why here are my recommended deck fasteners.
Quick Pick Best Wood Decking Fasteners:
- PROFAST #8 Star Drive PRO-FAST™, ACQ compatible
- Hidden fasteners, Camo Star Drive Trim Head Deck Fasteners
There are many fasteners option for wood decking. The first question you must answer is face or concealed fasteners?
- Simple installation
- Common tools used
- Ease of removal for deck repairs
- Increase corrosion
Decking face fasteners is the most common method of attaching decking boards in North America. As you can see, the advantages are many for decking face fasteners but with a few distinct disadvantages, primarily appearance. You need to ask your self, are you okay with seeing the head of the fasteners on your deck? These unsightly indents above your deck fasteners will also collect dirt and be potentially create sliver. But as you are attaching your deck boards, the speed and strength of your fasteners will be appreciated getting you sitting on your deck faster.
Hidden Wood Decking Fasteners
- Smooth undented Decking
- No visible screw heads
- Less water pooling on Decking causing rot
- Increase Fasteners life due to protection from elements
- Decreases cupping in deck boards
- Strength of decking connection to the joist
- Longer Installation time
- Specialty tools required
- Awkward decking removal for repairs
Hidden fasteners are all about appearance. If you wanted your deck to look amazing, then spend the extra time and money and hide your fasteners. Your deck will last longer, and you will appreciate your smooth decking strolling across your deck in bare feet. Or simply as you sit in your deck chair looking over your deck. But this will cost you through longer construction time, specialty tools and more expensive proprietary fasteners.
Before we list specific fastener options a small note. The most common wood preservative in pressure-treated decking is ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quaternary) which is very corrosive to metal. Regardless of which fasteners you select, it must be coated or manufactured of compatible material, or it will prematurely corrode, causing your decking to fail. Fortunately, most deck fasteners are labelled as being ACQ compatible. If not just don’t use it, it’s just not worth the pennies you will save.
Length of Deck Fasteners, Decking X2
One more general note about your deck fasteners. Both the United States and Canada have building code requirements for face decking fasteners. Without listing exact requirements, a general rule of thumbs is the dimension of decking times two plus a quarter of on inch. For example, if you are attaching 5/4” radius edge decking your minimum fastener length is (1 ¼”x2) +1/4” =2 ¾ “or a very common length of 3”. The extra ¼” is to account for the fastener point so if you countersink your fasteners, you can often simply do decking dimension times two. A little trickier with 2×6 decking since we are dealing with the finished wood actual dimension not nominal. So, the equation is 1 ½” X 2=3.”
Face Wood Decking Fasteners
Following are a few of the most popular face decking fasteners with their advantages and disadvantages.
Before the invention of Impact Drivers, this was the most common method of attaching decking. Using a framing nailer, you can nail down your deck in minutes, not hours. There is no faster way to attach deck boards. Cost is around $0.37 per square foot, which is hard to beat. The metal in a nail is more pliable then screws therefore for shear tension, nails will bend but will continue to hold where screws will snap off.
- Nail popping
- Damaging in removal or adjustment
- Framing Nailer Scratches/Indents
With your nailer set to indent the nails a 1/8” at first, you may see no problem using nails. But wood naturally shrinks and expands with heat and cold. Through winter and summer, your decking will slowly be pulling your nails out. Causing nail heads to protrude out on your deck. Walking on your deck with your bare feet a few summers from now and you will wish you had never used nails. In winter the aggravation is increased when you are trying to shovel the snow off, hooking your shovel in the nail heads. This slow expansion and contracting pulling out of the nails also allow your deck boards to cup and become loose on your deck.
A misplaced nail, requiring a nail bar to remove. Being pounded into the wood under the nail head will damage your decking. Also making small adjustments while installing your decking a much longer process.
#8 Square Drive Bugle-Head Deck Screw, ACQ compatible
The single greatest reason to use screws for attaching deck boards is Tensile strength. An impact driver will pull down the decking like nothing else. Word of caution, both pressures treated, and cedar is softwood, and you can pull a screw head through the wood. It’s not unusual when pulling apart an older deck to pull the deck board off, leaving most of the screws in the joist. Demonstrate both the screws tensile strength and the weakness of bulge head screws to pull right through the wood.
A good deck screw will have a bulge head which is like an inverted cone which allows the screw to pull into the wood allowing you to countersink the screw for you don’t catch your socks on one while running across your deck. It will also have an inch or so of the smooth shank between the screw head and the threads. This smooth shank allows you to pull the decking down tighter to the joist by reducing the friction on your decking board while boring into the joist.
If you ever misplace a board in the wrong space, being screwed down in something you will immediately appreciate. A few seconds with your impact driver and your screws are backed out, and you can move or replace that board. A simple repair, for when you notice an unsightly gapping between boards.
Similar to Galvanize nails in cost at less than $0.37 per square foot for loose screws but roughly $0.90 per square foot for strip screws. The extra cost for strip screws is rewarded with reduce time to screw down your decking planks. Time is money and vice-versa.
Kneeling hours on your knees screwing down your deck boards and you will begin to question their value. A good impact driver will improve efficiency installing screws, but it still will take you at least twice as long as nailing. During those moments of weakness look over the advantages again.
Screws also are prone to split decking, especially the end of the board, due to the deck screws are pushing apart the fibres of the wood as they bore through the wood splitting the board. Splitting can be remedied by pre-drilling the end of your deck boards with a 1/8” drill bit, which allows the threads to cut through the wood instead of pushing the fibres apart. Or by adjusting your edge joist for your deck boards overhang the joist by a 1 ½” for you are not screwing the end of the deck board. But again, both these measures add to the time required to complete your deck.
Water or dirt pooling on the screw heads is the other side of the coin. Screws are great because you can countersink ensuring none of your screws snags anything, but this creates small pools for water to sit and rot your deck boards and rust your screws. This pooling of water will reduce the life of your deck boards. In the worse case, I have seen them filled with dirt and weeds growing out of them, but really, sweep your deck every once awhile.
PROFAST #8 Star Drive PRO-FAST™
A newer screw compared to #8 Square Drive Bugle-Head Deck Screw but has some advantages in design.
- Do not Pop or Protrude over time
- Aggressive Countersinking Blades
- No Split Twist Shank
- Bore-Fast Thread
Advantages to Square Drive Bulge-Head Screws
- Faster Driving
- Better Countersinking
- Less Splitting of Decking
With all the advantages of the #8 Square Drive Bugle-Head Deck Screws explained above but with a few distinct advantages. The screw design does drive the screw faster than traditional wood screws as well as the head more readily countersink, ensuring no protruding screw heads on your deck. Not as fast as framing nailer but significant time-saver. The real value in these deck screws is there no split twist shank. Rather than smooth shank between the head and threads, it has a patent cutting thread. Which greatly helps in preventing splitting your deck boards by cutting the wood fibres. Saving time compared with predrilling for traditional deck screws. Cost-wise they are only fractional more expensive than traditional deck screws. If you save one deck board from splitting or not having to reach for your drill, they will more then pay for themselves. Something to consider when you start your next deck.
- Slower then nails to install
- T-20 Star Drive Strips easier than #2 Square Drive
- Water/Dirt pooling on the screw head
Again, similar to traditional #8 wood deck screws except concerning their head. Yes, slower than nails but faster than traditional screws. My biggest complaint with these screws is the T-20 Star Drive. First, it’s a unique driver, and you will need to carry one more driver bit. Some packages of screws come with the driver, which is nice, but it is still one more extra driver. Also, with the many small points on a T-20 drive, I find that they can often strip when reversing. Still easier then nails to remove but if your bit is not lined up perfectly, its strips in fraction of a second. Which worst for you than nails, you now are getting out the nail puller, damaging your decking and its Tensile strength is now fighting against you. It’s a struggle to pull out! So be careful not to rush backing it out, line up your bit perfectly and slowing go in reverse, or you will lose the deck board. Beyond this problem the#8 Star Drive PRO-FAST is an advancement in deck screws. Good pick for your deck.
Ballistic NailScrews or Scrails
There are many propriety names for these fasteners, but without going into the details of each individual patent design, these are an attempt to combine the advantages of nails and screws for your deck. Not directly related but a little word of caution from my Carpentry teacher, a combination tool is good at many things, but great at nothing. “It is trying to do both but is neither.”
One more point of caution, the plastic collating can mar the wood, especially a softwood like cedar. The wire collated NailScrews seem to work fine without marring. Pay attention to what your tools are doing with your decking for corrections can be made before looking back over a completed deck and realizing it is all marred up.
- Do not Pop or Protrude over time
- Ease in removal or replacement
As a fastener, it is equal to the speed of a framing nailer. You can buy speciality deck Scrailer nailer, but more commonly you switch from Galvanized nail in your spiker after finishing your deck substructure and use Ballistic Nail Screws instead of nails. The only real difference is a screw head on the Nailscrew, allowing you to back it out without damaging your decking if you need to adjust or replace your board. A slight tightening up the board or countersink the screw can all be done with Ballistic NailScrews.
- Less Tensile/Gripping Strength
NailScrews have less tensile strength then #8 decking screws. NailScrews shanks are 0.113” (2.8mm), thinner than #8 screws 0.16” (4mm). This small fraction of difference makes a big difference when you are trying to pull the decking down unto the joist or holding the decking down to the joist, preventing cupping. Holding better than smooth shank nails but not as well as impact-driven screws.
Ballistic NailScrews increase the possibility of damaging your decking during installation. The end of the contact arm on your framing nailer and its two little prongs to hold the spiker in place as it drives the nail. These two teeth have the potential to scrap soft decking like cedar, for example. You must push these teeth against the decking to drive the nail raising the potential of them biting the decking cause surface damage.
If you are looking for speed with the potential for easy repairs, these are the deck fasteners for you. Just take care as you work with your framing spiker, and you will be sitting on your deck, in no time.
Hidden Wood Decking Fasteners
For those who value the appearance of a wood deck without screw heads scattered all over Hidden fasteners are for you. This discussion will be about specific proprietary fasteners since hidden fasteners are a new development with individual companies’ solutions. There are three concepts with hidden fasteners.
Camo Star Drive Trim Head Deck Fasteners
Camo is edge screwed hidden fasteners. A number #7 screws, 0.151” (5/32”) slightly thinner than standard deck screws with a small 0.2” (3/16) head. Driven with a T15 star drive at 45 degrees in the edge of your decking.
The cost of individual screws is only fractionally higher than #8 3” deck screws. Roughly being $0.50 per square foot of decking. With the T15 star drive bit, you will have minimal bit slippage while driving the screw. Your Camo Marksman will consistently set your screws, removing the guesswork or variation. All screws consistently set to be flush with the edge of your decking.
With the screw-driven at a 45-degree angle, even with the smaller head, it has a large area being held down to the joist. The angle reduces the number of screw heads being sheared off with the expansion and contraction of the wood than vertical screws. With its patent auger bit design, it bores out the wood as it is driven in, penetrating the board without splitting the wood. The small head enhances the hidden fasteners appeal by its small size is hidden on the edge of the decking. Camo edge-driven screws are strong and a cost-effective means to build your deck without unsightly screw heads.
There are some disadvantages to Camo fasteners. Primarily because of the auger bit you will need to purchase a Camo Marksman screw holder. The screws need to be held in place to allow them to auger out their hole, adding to the cost of your fasteners. A one-use product; holding Camo screws for fastening your deck, the tool is useless for anything else.
There are several different models available for decking sizes and gapping tools, but limiting you to 3/16”, 1/16” or 0” gap between deck boards. Common deck gapping but if you do one deck with wetter boards which need smaller gaps during installation due to shrinkage and another with dryer boards you now need to buy two tools. To achieve the same results with your finish deck.
Another disadvantage is the additional time required to move and set up your tool for every screw. Each additional step, increasing your build time by almost twice as much in installing your decking. With face screwing, you can feed screws out of one hand while driving with your impact driver in the other, in one fluid motion, not so with Camo.
Hidden Fasteners do improve the appearance of your deck. Camo is cost-effective and only with limited disadvantages, largely the tool. Hey, when you are done your deck lend it to your neighbor, he will be grateful, and it will be out of your garage, giving you both, a beautiful deck.
Hidden fasteners installed in the gap between deck boards, with small claws biting into the decking edge, with a single screw installed at 45 degrees.
Wood decking expands and contracts less than composite but allowing for movement is still advantageous. Pronged-clips with their straight horizontal clips allow the decking to expand and contract with the seasons without putting the wood under pressure. With the material sliding back and forth under the clip while still being held in place.
The horizontal teeth are great for holding the decking down to prevent cupping. Holding directly where your deck is most likely to curl, the edges — preventing the boards from cupping, Lessing water pooling, reducing rot. With the clips installed on the edges of the decking compared to face screwing removes those small countersink pools of water and rot, making both your decking and fasteners last longer.
Most of the disadvantages are about installation. Once the prongs are installed, they work very well. But figuring out the first few deck boards will take a while. First you must set the first board with screws, insert the prongs into a specially designed block, set on the joist, tap them in place with a hammer, screw them down to the joist, place the next board, tap it into place with a sledgehammer while protecting the decking with a sacrificial board and then repeat. Just explaining it was complicated and ran on, the same is with the installation. You will need to get a system and rhythm down to install your decking.
Looking back over at your completed deck you can still “SEE” your hidden fasteners along with variation in your gapping. The very nature of knocking something into place creates an inconsistent spacing. With practice, this is not a deal-breaker, but it is noticeable.
What might be a deal-breaker is decking replacement. Once your deck is finished you better hope and pray that no board ever rots or breaks. With ever board connected to the other, you cannot simply replace one board as the fasteners are holding both it and the one beside it. Leaving you two options pull the entire deck apart or treat it like laminate, slice the damaged board down the middle, allowing you to pull it off the prongs in two pieces. Trim off the prongs, place the new deck board and face screw it into place. Self-defeating because you went to all the extra work to not have face screwed decking. An ugly patch that will soon need to be replaced, again.
Comparing the advantages to the disadvantages, I would not recommend this hidden fastener. May be better than face screwing but at three times the cost, roughly $1.20 a square foot along with its limitation in maintenance there are better systems on the market.
There are several track systems available, the more popular being Shadoe track and Grapper Deckmaster. Similar in the application that your deck boards are screwed from underneath, attaching them to a track system or clip to the joist. Off course each proprietary design comes with its individual advantages and disadvantages, but we will speak in broader terms about the design concept.
- Least Visible
- Holding Power
- Reduces Wood Rotting
- Protect from Exposure
- No Tool Marking Decking
Hands down, for hidden fasteners, this is the most hidden. With all your hardware installed below the decking, you have nothing but you beautiful decking to see. The three #10, 7/8”-1 ½” screws screwed from underneath the decking having significant holding power. With all your hardware under the decking it is protected lasting longer. Your decking also lasting longer as all the weak points under protect under the decking. Water cannot pool around the screw causing it to rust. The track is also designed to allow water drainage preventing the hardware from deteriorating. With all your work happening below the decking, your new decking shouldn’t be damaged by your hammer or slipping driver bits, leaving you with an unmarred deck.
- Fastening Location
- Time-consuming Installation
- Deck Cupping
- Butt Joints
Installation again is the greatest disadvantage. The final product is its disadvantage in installation. With all the screws and hardware being under the decking, you are constantly bending over, reaching under the deck trying to balance the screw on your bit. #2 Robinson (square) screws will help to minimize dropping screws, but it is still a challenge. Working between joist with limited space can become an aggravating activity. Which is only exasperated more by the time it takes to fasten the decking down, easily taking twice as long as face screwing decking.
The decking boards are more prone to cupping with deck track fasteners. With the point of the screw facing upward and the head under the hardware, decking is prone to curl and cup. Think of it this way, try to hold a rope pulling through your hand. It is very hard to put enough pressure on it to hold it. Now tie a knot in the rope. The knot will catch on your hand, giving you a firm grip. That knot is the screw head, screwing from underneath removes the head from hold down the wood. As the sun dries out the wood, nothing is clamping down the decking, stop it from cupping. Also, as the decking cups the screws lose their grip and fall out.
Shadoe track will cost three to four times as Camo fasteners and as much as six times as face screwing. Track raising the cost of fasteners from $150 to $1648 for an 800 square foot deck. Which for a pressure treated deck, is a significant chunk of change.
Butt joints are also a challenge with track fasteners. Both sides of your joint must be supported. By itself, the track is not strong enough. Therefore you must land your joint on your joist and install track on both sides of the joist to hold the decking down. Butt joints increasing both costs in material and time required to install your decking. By reaching down with every joint and installing an additional track.
In summary track, deck fastener systems will make for a beautiful looking deck, smooth without distracting visual fasteners. The drawback is, be ready to pay more, and budget extra time to complete your deck. It will cost you extra time and money, but it will look nice.