How to Build a Freestanding Deck

Enhance your home's exterior with a freestanding deck. We've gathered all the how-to instructions and tips for getting the job done.

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A freestanding deck is a beautiful addition to your home's backyard landscape. As a place to make new family memories and host plenty of company, a deck is something you want to last a long time. Take matters into your own hands by building one yourself!

We can show you all you need to know about this hefty homeowner task. With basic building knowledge, you and a helper can tackle these steps with ease. It won't be a project finished in an afternoon, but after all is done, you'll be left with a stunning freestanding deck. 

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Footings and Beams

The soil near the foundation of a new home―soil that was backfilled after the concrete basement was poured―is unstable. Local codes usually require that concrete footings within 3 feet of the foundation must be 8 feet deep. To avoid the time, effort, and expense of such deep footings, this plan makes use of heavy-duty beams that rest on footings placed farther away from the house. The beams, made of three 2x10s, run perpendicular to the house and are strong enough to cantilever 3 feet past the footings. The middle beam supports both deck levels.

Framing

The decking for this freestanding deck is pressure-treated 4x6 laid at a 45-degree angle to the house. For proper support, the joists must be spaced no more than 12 inches apart. If thicker 2x decking is used, or if the 5/4 decking is run perpendicular to the joists, then the joists could be placed 16 inches apart. Framing for the upper level rests on top of the lower-level framing and overlaps by 2 feet.

Using Pressure-Treated Wood

Inexpensive pressure-treated lumber is used for the visible parts—the decking, benches, and planter—and the structural members. Many decks made of pressure-treated lumber lose their looks: The wood warps, splits, and turns an ugly gray. But with a little extra care, a treated-wood deck can look great for many years.

Choose boards that are straight, dry, and free of large knots. Pressure-treated wood may twist and warp as it dries, so stack it tightly until you install it and fasten it securely. After a month or so, check to see whether any fasteners are working loose. If so, remove them and install longer fasteners.

Building the Deck

Laying Out the Deck

Like any large weekend project, the first step to building a freestanding deck is getting started. And getting started on a deck means planning out where the deck will sit. With help from a friend, you can get this important step out of the way and move on to the fun part in no time. 

We will show you how to properly construct and use batterboards—temporary posts that ensure precise lines and corners—for your foundation. From there, you will string a grid along the posts to measure out the confines of your future deck. When you're all done, you'll be ready to head to the hardware store to purchase the materials you need to build the deck. 

Forming Footings

As beautiful as your deck looks from above, it's what's underneath that can matter the most. After you have the dimensions of your deck laid out, you're ready to start forming the footings and layering a protective barrier. The footing will set a strong, safe foundation for your freestanding deck while the layers of sheeting and rocks beneath your deck will stunt the growth of unwelcome weeds.

In this tutorial, we show you how to safely dig a posthole, smoothly fill it with concrete, and check for air bubbles. You'll then rake 1 to 2 inches of gravel over the surface area your deck will cover. 

Installing Posts

After a day or two of letting your concrete postholes set and begin to cure, it's time to begin installing posts. Serving as the bones to your deck, the posts are arguably the most important part of your freestanding structure. Here, we show you how to set, measure, and level the posts to perfection. This step takes about 30 minutes per post to complete. 

Building a Beam

A solid, strong beam is essential to your freestanding deck. To make your surface as safe as possible, we suggest using beams made of three 2x10-inch wood boards. This may take longer than traditional techniques that use one large solid beam, but we feel it is better to work with and easier to install correctly. 

Don't cut corners on this step, because the beam holds the joists which hold the planks of your deck. A safe place for your family depends on your attentive work.

Building Beams, Headers, and Outside Joists

With a strong set of beams built, it's time to begin installing the beams, headers, and outside joists. A framing plan will help you space and measure the joists properly and allow you to map out details such as the length of the headers. 

You'll want a handy helper for this installation. Together, you will be leveling beams, cutting header joists, and lifting the entire frame onto the set beams. When you're done, you'll be able to see the freestanding deck coming together. 

Building Inside Joists

Joists are the bones of the deck that hold up the surface planks. It is important that these are level, precisely spaced, and most importantly, strong. With our steps, you can feel comfortable tackling this process. 

You will begin by measuring and cutting the joists. We then show you how to use a blocking technique that prevents the joists from warping. With a strong foundation like this, your deck with be the base of fun family memories for years to come. 

Building Angled Decking

You'll be surprised at how easy it is to lay 45-degree angled decking. This classic look is uniform, simplistic, and perfect for a DIY homeowner. After measuring and cutting your planks with a power miter saw, you will drive nails into the joists, attaching your planks. A chalk line will help you cut your edges to perfection for a smooth, crisp finish. 

Building Simple Stairs

A deck without stairs isn't very accessible. As one of the last steps to making your freestanding deck, building stairs is fairly easy. Just like your deck, the stairs will need a foundation followed by a surface of wood planks. Use the skills you already have learned to follow along with our short steps. 

When you're done, you're welcome to build a short hand rail as well, though it is not necessary. Your stairs will be strong, sturdy, and safe.

Building a Bench with Planters

Once your deck is complete, the only thing you have left to do is enjoy it! Help yourself do this by making room for one last DIY project. A built-in bench with planters gives you a place to sit and entertain while adding a touch of beauty to your deck. 

We show you how to make both of these structures in our easy-to-follow instructions. Follow along to make custom furniture for your porch that will leave your guests impressed.

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