You’re only as good as your tools. So true, but what tools do you need to build a deck? What tools will make the job easier? What deck building tools will raise the quality of your deck? That is what I will go through here. Answering what tools are essential for deck building and what tools will make the job easier and better.
There are four main deck building phases and related tools. Of course, some tools like a tape measure will be used throughout the stages of deck construction, but then other specialty tools will only be used in a single phase of deck building. In deck building, you will need tools for groundwork, framing, decking, and railing.
A fifth phase in deck construction is lighting, but not all decks incorporate lighting. Therefore, we will deal with deck lighting separately at the end. Many aspects of deck construction overlap, such as running electrical wires during the framing stage but not installing the lights until after the decking is done. But I will treat every step as a separate phase as if I were packing up my truck to go and complete the single stage of deck building.
Come outside to my garage and see what I would load my truck for a day of deck building.
Essential deck tools required throughout deck construction
This is what is in my tool kit, regardless of what I am working on. These tools are essential at every step of building your deck.
- Tape measure (25′ or more)
- Chalk line
- Flat Pry Bar
- Nail Bar (Catspaw)
- Utility knife
- Wood chisel
- Rafter square
- Carpenter Pencil
- Impact driver
- PPE (glasses, gloves, earplugs, etc.)
Except for the impact driver and PPE, all these hand tools should be organized in your tool belt for ready and easy use. Then regardless of which stage of deck construction, they can be conveniently used from your tool belt. Even if your belt just sits off to the side, holding all your tools.
Tape measure needs to be easy to read. A tape with a longer standout (8′ +) is helpful when reaching to hook on to the end of the joist.
A little side note about the chalk line: chalk varies in how permanent it is based on colour. Red may be easier to see but also is fairly permanent. Okay for framing but should be put aside when you get to decking, especially composite decking as it will not wash off the decking. Trex recommends only suing white chalk for marking their decking. It is not easy to see, but that is kind of the point as it will easily wash off without marking the decking.
A well-weighted hammer is more pleasant to work with. I use a Stiletto hammer, which is amazingly light, durable, but incredibly good at driving nails. But for a weekend project, a wood handle hammer with a smooth face will be fine. Waffled heads are better for driving nails but will mar the wood if used to tap beams or blocks in place.
A flat-bar needs to have a smooth, sharp end. It is most handy for sliding underthings and between things.
The nail bar with a hook claw on one end and straight on the other end will help to pull boards apart and pull out misplace nails. Be careful not to allow it to drag on the finish decking. Often best to remove it from your tool belt when you start finishing the decking. Keep it handy, just not hanging from your belt.
A sharp Oluf utility knife will help sharpen pencils, remove packing or modify vinyl siding around the ledger.
A Wood Chisel will help with lapping boards or posts. Passionate wood builder will spend hundreds on a quality wood chisel set, but for a weekend deck, a plastic handle three-piece set from Canadian Tire or Home Depot will work to chip or break out wood.
There are hundreds of uses for a rafter square, but for deck building, it will give you a quick straight cross-cut line and angles. A rafter square can also be used as a fence while cutting with a circular saw to help guide the saw.
I mention the impact driver here, and I will mention it throughout the building process as it is that valuable to me with deck building. A cordless is a must and spend the extra to get one with quality battery life like Dewalt, Makita, or Milwaukee. The battery life and strength makes all the difference between a favourite tool and one that sits on the bench.
With your basis deck tools ready, let’s get prepared for the first phase of deck building, groundworks.
Groundwork, deck building tools
Every deck needs a firm foundation, and every foundation is in the ground. Therefore, the first phase of deck construction includes layout, excavating and concrete tools.
Deck layout tools
- Tape measure (preferable 50′ but 25′ will work)
- Mason string line
- Stakes and batten boards
- Impact driver
Basic tools that have been used for thousands of years in construction but critically important in deck building. For a smaller deck, you can use your chalk line instead of the mason line. With the same results.
Except for the tape measure. All these tools can be replaced with a laser square and a few boards to mark your laser points on. Lasers are more accurate than strings and easier to use but expensive for a single deck. If you make a living building deck, a four-point or line laser is well worth the money. The newer lasers now have green beams that are more visible in the sun and from further distances. For a weekend warrior, grab a friend and enjoy your string.
With the deck footings, layout, and double-checked for location, you are ready for the next list of deck tools.
Deck footing Tools
- Level (spirit or laser)
- Saw (circular or cross-cut hand saw)
- Clamshell post hole digger
- Metal pry bar (optional but really helpful to remove/break rocks)
- Wheelbarrow or bucket
- Garden hose and spray nozzle (or bucket)
- Concrete trowel (or block of wood)
The level for transferring heights from the ledger out to individual footings.
The saw for cutting the concrete tubes to the correct height. Some building supply stores are now selling precut concrete tubes, saving you time.
Some deck builder prefers gas-powered augers for digging holes, but I find they bind to easy on rocks. Which then needs to be dug out with a pry bar and clamshell post hole digger. Save the step and just dig the holes by hand.
Mixing concrete is short work with a wheelbarrow and hose but can also be done in a bucket. Some deck builders mix the concrete inside the concrete tube, but it is hard to mix the concrete consistently when you can’t see it. Concrete is only as strong as it is consistently mixed.
The back of the shovel can be used to level the top of the concrete, but a trowel or block of wood will make a cleaner finish.
With the deck footing in place, unto the next list of deck tools.
Deck Framing Tools
- and drill
- Level (spirit or laser)
- 2′ Framing square
- Spray bottle or brush for end treatment
- Compressor and hoses
- Pipe and Squeeze Clamps
Power tools and air makes deck framing a breeze. Everything needs to be portable, allowing you to cut joists and lumber in place. Battery technology has made some great leaps forward, removing the hassle of cords. More expensive then the corded alternative but makes deck framing easier.
Brushless feature is an option to be considered. Brushless motors, compared to traditional brushed tools, generate no friction, produce less heat and provide better performance. Costing more than traditional brushed power tools but with increased torque and battery life. Simple a better tool.
My cordless 20-volt Dewalt Impact driver is my favourite tool and is indispensable in deck building, especially when you get to the decking phases. Impact drivers are screw specialists. Combining increased torque with brute force driving screws efficiently. The torque automatically adjusting to increasing resistance, helping to drive screws smoothly. If you’re going to be driving a lot of screws and you will in building your deck, it is worth the extra cost.
A 2′ framing square allows you to square up larger boards than the rafter square. It is also irreplaceable for stair stringer with built-in measurements for the rise and run of steps. There are a million things you can do with a framing square, and many you will discover as you frame your deck.
A Circular saw is the workhorse of deck building, cutting most of your substructure material efficiently. Dewalt’s 7 ¼” has a 57° beveling capacity with stops at 45° and 22.5° which is handy when building a deck with angles or curves.
A Reciprocating saw (Sawzall) helps to finish cutting anything too deep for the circular saw. Like cutting through a 6×6 post. Its rapid back and forth motion tearing through the wood but does not lean itself to smooth, accurate cuts. If the tool budget is tight, a hand saw can also finish up cuts that the circular saw can not.
Treated wood needs to be treated with end treatment after cutting. Protecting the ends from rot. Applying end treatment on cuts with a spray bottle or brush.
A framing spiker with compressor and hose makes nailing together the deck’s substructure easy work. Air nailing is faster than screwing, and galvanized coated nails are more robust than deck screws.
Another tool not required but makes nailing joist hanger is a lot easier with a palmer. If you have a lot of hanger on your deck, it may be worth it.
Clamps are great, doubling as an extra pair of hands or hold pieces in place when screwing or pre-drilling. You won’t use them often, but they are priceless when you do.
With the substructure complete, time to exchange your framing tools for decking tools. Similar in function, cutting, shaping, and fastening of the decking material but with a higher level of accuracy. Along with the need for smoothing the decking, making it barefoot friendly.
Decking Installation Tools
- Sliding bevel square (also called bevel gauge)
- Folding square
Your decking installation tools are all about precision and creating a fantastic looking deck. Few parts of the deck will be viewed or touched as much as the decking. Which is why the tools for the decking are so important.
Both squares are for transferring angles. The folding square is primarily for creating a true square to the decking. The sliding bevel square, also called a bevel gauge, is used more for transferring the angles of installed decking to your mitre saw or pieces to be cut. Some include gauge reading, but this Is not required as whatever the bevel is set at, you need to cut the board. The accurate duplication of the cut is important, not if its 44° or 46°.
A mitre saw allows you to lock and cut multiple angle cuts with accuracy. Essential for mitre joints in decking picture framing.
A table saw, or the lighter and cheaper bench saw version, provides a table and fence for ripping decking accurately. Some circular saw come with a ripping guide, which can be helpful, but a table saw will always rip decking more accurately.
A track saw provides a “track” for the saw to accurately trim the ends of the decking. The track lying on the decking, preventing movement while guiding the saw along the decking, cutting every board consistently. A straight edge can be clamped to the decking to guide a circular saw more accurately with similar results. Except clamping the straight edge will take more time and, at times, can be challenging to clamp without damaging the decking.
A jigsaw and oscillating saw allow you to form the decking around objects like railing posts accurately. With their up and down blade action, it will enable you to end the cut preciously without overcutting as require with spinning blades. Small jigsaw blades can make irregular cuts, following posts imperfections. Oscillating saw helps finish cut lines. Especially hard to reach end cuts where the house of other saws preventing completing the cut.
A Router with a roundover bit helps to clean up edges and minimize material break off. For composite decking with hidden fasteners, a Hideaway Router Bit allows you to create grooves on square decking for the edge of the deck.
A belt sander can be used to smooth out of bumps and crowns on joists.
The orbital sander makes all the difference in cleaning up wood decking and making it barefoot friendly.
Installing decking involves a lot of kneeling work; knee pads will make you more comfortable and protect your knees.
A White rubber mallet helps to tap in composite and PVC decking into the hidden clips. It must be white as not to mark the deck and rubber for it doesn’t mar the decking.
Tools to improve construction quality and efficiency in installing decking
An electric Planer makes quick work of planning joist for composite decking.
A CAMO Deck Fastening System will improve the look and life of wood decking by installing the screws on the edge of the decking, giving you a clean deck surface.
Deck board Spacers are especially handy for synthetic decking, for consistent gapping when face screwing decking.
Cepco BoWrench Decking Tool to straighten wood decking the easy way. Replacing a nail bar and block, saving you time and reducing the potential to damage the decking.
Rail installation Tools
- Impact driver/drill
- Spirit levels (for plumbing post)
If installing wood or composite decking, you will also need to include the deck framing tools. For aluminum railing, the screws and bolts will be the focus of your tools. For smaller screws, care must be taken as not to strip with power tools and often, it is better to use a screwdriver with a greater level of control.
Decking lighting tools
- Wire stripper
- Needle nose plyers
- Screw Drivers (slot, Philips and Robison)
- Impact driver/drill
- Jigsaw (for recessed square lights)
The most used tool installing deck light is a screwdriver with so many little screws that need to be turned. Snips and stripers will make wirework easy.
Depending on how the lights are installed will determine the rest of the tools. Anything inserted will require a drill and possibly a jigsaw. With the newer tiny LED bulbs, small cavities are required for lighting making installation easier with fewer tools.
Demolition of Existing Deck Tools
- Wrecking bar (Gooseneck)
- Impact driver
- 7 ¼” Circular saw
- Reciprocating saw (Sawzall)
On T.V. sledgehammer swing and material flies, but in reality, demolition of an old deck will look more like framing in reverse, along with a saw to cut material into easily handling pieces and pry bars to pull it apart.
A sledgehammer will make light of knocking rim off joist ends but never for smashing anything.
Handy specialized Demolition tools
- The Gutster
- Duckbill Deck Wrecker
Decking, with its thousands of fasteners, could use a specialized tool for removal. Both the Guster and Duckbill Deck Wrecker provide additional leverage to pop of old deck boards. Letting the tool do the work, not your back.
Summary of Deck Building Tools
The more decks you build, the more you will want “one more tool” to do the job. Making your job easier and the deck more amazing. But you will also find that there are a few tools that you always return to again and again. A well-equipped tool belt, a circular saw and impact driver, will always be your go-to deck building tools. A mitre saw and table saw will improve accuracy, but jigs and guides can do the same. The right tool for the job will make all the difference. Helping you make your deck dreams a reality. Enjoy your deck and enjoy your tools building it.