Deck Building In The Trees – Part 2

Now that the framing of the substructure of this deck is done, we needed to work on the rim joist. This is the piece that attaches to the front of each tail of the joists, connecting them together and creating those graceful but difficult curves.

If you missed the first part of this build, be sure and check that out HERE

We did a lot of brainstorming on how to get this curved rim joist.

We went with our plan A which was to use a 2×12 on all of the straight sections, then 1/2” plywood on the curves. The hope was that the 1/2” ply would be malleable enough to make the curves without snapping. Then we would build up the thickness needed by laminating three layers of plywood together. 

Let me kill the suspense and tell you that it worked like a charm and while it was a very time consuming process, it was very satisfying and man, what a transformation it made to the deck. 

We would start by cutting full sheets of plywood into strips, utilizing the top half of our scaffolding as a large workbench and outfield table.

Actually, this was often used as a walking platform when working on this side of the deck as well. After cutting strips, we would pick out and use the ones with the clearest grain. We noticed that any strips with crazy grain orientation would want to snap under the pressure. Sure you could always kerf the back, but instead we stuck with clear grain pieces and didn’t have a single one fail on the install. 

The first layer of the strip would then need to be cut to the needed length so it would end at the center of a joist. Then to start attaching it, each joist tail was coated in a quick drying construction adhesive.

Then the start of the board would be attached with a few screws and a heavy duty metal clamp, while the majority of the board would be held out straight.

Now deploy all the other clamps you have and then some, to start making the curve. As one of us would make the bend, the other would be setting clamps to keep it bent or driving in screws if that was enough to hold it. 

I don’t know if you can make it out but the straight 2×12 has a half lap on both ends and you’ll see how this comes into play in just a few minutes.

The first layer of 1/2” ply butted up against this half lap on this side, then ended half on a joist at the other end. Which is where another first layer started.

Once the entire curve had the first layer established, now we repeated the process but with layer two. This is where the plywood strip would start on top of the half lap of the straight 2×12 which helps join things together by tying it in.

On this layer we tried to leave the strips as long as we could, only cutting something shorter if the seam lined up too close with the lower layer seam.

After getting the entire 2nd layer attached with construction adhesive, clamps, and screws, we repeated for a third time on layer three. Again being mindful to stagger the seams. We were also really diligent about looking for gaps. The larger clamps did a great job at holding the big spaces closed but some areas required quite a few smaller clamps in between to really close all the gaps. So after getting the bulk curve in place, we doubled checked both the top and bottom seam to see where it needed extra persuasion. 

After getting a curve done, Jake went back and added in a few bolts to the connection between the 2×12 straight rim and the laminated ply rim. 

We started off with the tightest and hardness radius then moved out from there. While everything else was more simple with the curves, it was still a pretty time consuming process. It took us two days to get them all set. None of us minded though, I honestly was fascinated by the process and was also extremely giddy about the drastic change it was making to the deck. 

You know the great thing about building a deck in the trees? I’ll always be able to see the intricate and beautiful framing of it. The framing of a structure is one of my favorite things to look at so I’m so happy I have a way of being able to see this one.

With the rim joist done, it’s onto the next major step of the project which is covering up the substructure with decking. The first thing in this step was to first apply a protective tape to the top side of every single surface of the framing. If you’ve ever had to demo a deck before, you’ll know that the top side of the framing is typically rotten even when the rest of the board isn’t, this tape is designed to protect the tops of all of these members by acting as a barrier between wood and moisture.

So while this step is a little time consuming, it will drastically effect the life span of your structure. I’m using the Trex Protect tape Beam and Joist Tape which is a self-adhesive butyl tape that won’t bleed, dry out quickly, or curl up like many asphalt based tapes. 

After that step, it was right into attaching the deck boards. One of the challenges here was getting material staged up on the deck for us to pull from. We ended up utilizing the fork lift again to lift a big stack of material up into the air, then a few carefully placed walk boards to allow us to assembly line unload and slide over to the start position.

For this project I am very excited to be working with Trex, using their Transcend decking line which is a composite decking material.

One main reason for going with a composite is it’s superior durability. unlike wood, and even many PVC options, high-performance Trex decking resists fading, scratching and mold – and won’t rot, warp, crack or splinter. Another huge high point is high-performance Trex composites retain their beauty for decades with minimal upkeep meaning I won’t ever have to sand and refinish this massive surface. 

I didn’t want the deck to be all one color and pattern. To give it some visual interest we placed a dark stripe right on top of the three joists sistered together then used a lighter color on the rest. This stripe was our starting point for the decking. The boards aren’t long enough to span from the front all the way to the back so we were again conscious and choosy about where we landed the seams on the boards we put down. Not only staggering them but also making sure the butt joint would be on a wide support for both boards coming together. 

With the stripe down we picked up the lighter color and started working to the left. Working around the trees isn’t difficult but it is going to be time consuming so to start off we actually started laying down the deck boards that would be a continuous run from the center stripe all the way off the deck. This meant we work in front of the back tree all the way until the back of the front most tree. 

You can see we’re placing full boards down then letting the free end run wild. This is another time the accurate 3D model of the project was handy: When ordering the deck boards, we already knew the dimension of this area and could order boards in different lengths instead of just guessing or working with one size and having a ton of waste. 

I’ll tell you the best part about this step….creating a super easy walking surface! After a week and a half of having to move a ladder anywhere we wanted to go, or balancing and picking a small path, it was a giant relief to have a solid and large area to not only walk but to also work from. 

At the end of day 1 on decking, we only made it this far….but remember the first day of a new process is always the most time consuming. We finished the day by using a circular saw to cut the majority of the wild end off so it doesn’t strain the portion of the board that is attached to the deck. 

Day 2 on decking, we covered much more ground, largely because we had our system figured out. What we worked out is a two man team works best. One person could set the new deck board in place and do all the pre drilling, while a second person followed behind actually driving in the screws. 

For a securing method, we’re using the hidden fastener approach meaning the screws go into the side of the deck boards instead of on the face where you’ll be able to see them.

I love the way the boards look without screws showing everywhere, it’s a small thing but gives the finished appearance a super clean and tidy look. To accomplish this look, we’re using an incredibly handy deck jig made by Kreg specifically for this hidden fastner approach.

It’s very unassuming because it’s small and lightweight, but this simple jig takes out almost all of the thought work in laying down the deck boards. The face of the jig is covered in useful alignment tools for getting the jig in line with the joist, whether it be straight or at an angle. A pre drill bit that has a collar on it is included so that when you set the jig in place to drill a hole, the collar will regulate the depth, not allowing you to go too shallow or deep. 

Next you can drop a screw into the same port and use the driver bit (also with a collar) to set the screw. The collar once again now allowing you to go over or under tighten. After that you can repeat with the next hole. 

Something I didn’t realize until tackling this project is composite decking expands and contracts just like real wood does. With that, a 1/4” space needs to be left in between each board to allow for movement. The Kreg Deck Jig comes with three spacers to make this job go quicker. It isn’t crucial that the spacers be placed when predrilling the holes, but it is when the screws start going in. If they aren’t set then the screw will push the board over, messing up the gap.  

Once we got to the second side of the deck we really started flying. We again started in the center of the deck so we could lay down a ton of boards without having to work around the trees. Jake and David both took a side, working out from the middle, and I would hop back and forth to do the predrilling so that we could all keep moving. 

Something else that made this job go quick is having a good set of knee pads. You’ll see that I am able to easily slide from joist to joist, moving the Kreg jig along to very quickly knock out the pre drilling. This was my first time trying out these ToughBuilt knee pads and I was beyond impressed.

They might look a little intense but they are extremely comfortable and are designed with full mobility in mind. t’s not only easy and comfortable to go from standing to kneeling but the design also keeps the pads square on the knee and won’t allow it to side shift. 

Ok lets talk about working around these trees. Again, it’s important to leave room for movement here. There is 7” around the tree on the framing for growth, but on the decking we ultimately wanted to leave 2”. This will be for when the wind blows and the trees moves a bit. Should the tree get closer to the edge of any deck surface in the future then they can always be trimmed back some. For now though, we would just get close then do all the final trimming and sizing at the very end.

So each board would get roughly cut with a jig saw so all the boards around the tree could be laid down and attached. Once the tree was fully covered on all side then the final cut would happen.

Jake held onto a putty knife that is exactly 2” wide to make this step easier. He would run the putty knife around the base of the tree and mark off with a sharpie where 2” fell, then use a jigsaw to cut it out. 

It took us 2.5 days to complete the decking and man, it was a wonderful feeling getting to the very end. We were all very smoked but extremely satisfied. 

Of course we weren’t quite done yet. At this point all the ends are still left running wild and need to be cut flush to the rim joist. I planned on doing this with a flush trim bit in a router but to ease the amount of work the bit had to do, we first used a combination of a jigsaw or circular saw to trim the bulk of the overhang. Then came back with a router to square it up nice and neat. Whew, look at those curves coming out.

Ahhhh, oh my goodness. What a tremendous amount of work but it’s soo cool and also so beautiful.

I love the overall high definition wood grain patterns of this Trex decking with the Havana Gold boards having a warm, golden color while Spiced Rum offers an appealing contrast with its earthy umber tones. It’s very reassuring after all this work that it’s stunning vibrancy will remain unchanged for years. 

Ok hang in there with me, it might seem like a good stopping point but there was one more major step to complete this portion of the build, Fasca. This is the board that will cover up the face of the wooden rim joist. So more curves.

Thankfully this Trex composite decking is flexible and didn’t have any issues with the job. The Trex facia boards might look the same but they are actually slightly thinner than the deck boards. For color I went with the darker color of the stripe on the deck which is Spiced Rum. This way when looking at the deck from the top, the Havana Gold will be outlined with the darker color. 

These boards are installed very easily, by simply holding the board in place then screwing it into the rim joist. Before getting started we first went around the deck and painted a small portion a dark color. This is because it will take two facia boards stacked on top of each other to make up the height of the rim joist. So instead of having the pressure treated wood showing through, this will help camouflage the gap. 

Next we started with the top board. Here we position the board just slightly over flush with the top of the deck. That’s because this board will want to expand and contract up and down and when it contracts I don’t want the deck edge being exposed. David and I actually started off trying to stick with the hidden faster approach even on this facia but noticed that it wasn’t holding the boards down all the way on the tighter curved surfaces. With that, we switched over to face screwing the boards on instead. 

With the deck on, it’s pretty difficult to utilize clamps so instead one of us would hold out the long board so that it would be as straight as possible while the other person would slowly work towards the end screwing it down as they went.

We first went around the entire deck and attached the top boards. This way we could work with full length boards and see where the seams would fall, then also avoid working around the beams for the mean time. 

On the second pass we repeated the process but on the bottom. Here the main thing we looked for is to once again make sure the seams would be staggered. This step of the process went very quick and we were able to complete the entire facia in just a single day.

: ) Would you take a look at that. I can’t express how giddy I was at this point. Also very tired, this was a massive undertaking and I think that’s saying something, coming from me. Ha. 

Next up for Part 3 of the deck will be building a unique set of stairs for it. So if you’re enjoying the build, be sure to stay tuned. 

Things I Used in This Project:

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