Building a Deck with Greg Pennington

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In this video I traveled to Nashville TN to help a good friend of mine rebuild his porch.

If you’ve been watching my channel you’ll probably recognize the name Greg Pennington. He is the master chairmaker that I’ve taken a few classes with and the last time I was there he mentioned wanting to demo his existing porch which is only 10’ deep and rebuild it to be 16’ deep. It’s a huge job and right up my ally so I offered to come back for a week and help out. While it’s being rebuilt, Greg also wanted to change the direction of the deck boards to run perpendicular to the shop vs paraell. The change in direction will drastically help make a smoother rock for the rocking chairs he makes with his students. 

Since Greg has an exiting structure the first thing we needed to do was demo. The goal was to remove everything and start fresh. I hopped up on the roof with a circular saw and a Diablo Demo Demon blade and made a cut about a foot from the header that connects the porch to the shop. If you have any sort of demo work, I highly recommend picking up one of these blades as it’s design to cut through anything. Here I’m chopping through ashphat shingles, nails, plywood, and joists. 

Now the plan was to chop up the porch in sections that could be carried away with the tractor. So next I used the circular saw to go from my back cut line to the front of the porch.

With my blade all the way down, I was able to cut through most of the material but not 100% of the 2×6 joists or the front header of the porch. So I came back with a sazall next, this time using a Diablo Demo Demon Recip blade for this tough job, and finished making the cut.

When I got close, Greg would set the forks of his tractor under the section so that when I cut through the last bit, he was there to catch it and carry it off. 

We learned from the first one that just using the forks was a little difficult because they would want to punch through the roof too easily since the wood was a little soft from water damage. So while I was chopping up the next section, Greg made a jig to span the forks and create a more even footprint when picking up the next section. Then we repeated, just breaking up the porch into sections that the tractor could carry away.

I would make the cut with the circular first to establish the line, then use the sazall to cut the rest of the way through the longer members of the structure. 

With the bulk of the porch gone now we could hop up on scaffolding to remove the tail ends left behind that I was using as a safe walking platform while chopping up the rest of the roof.

Since we are going right back up with a porch, we wanted to remove everything except for the header but we’ll reuse the header for the joists of our new porch. 

Now let’s demo the deck before dark. We tackled this in the same fashion! I first made a long cut along the house, then multiple cuts going out to the end of the deck so it could be broken up in sections and carried off.

After getting the big bulk removed all we had left was to remove the small tails of each joist just like we did on the porch. Again, we left the header in place since we’ll reuse it. 

On to rebuilding! The first thing we need to do is set our beams that the joists will be connected to. These are going to be connected to the header we left into place in the last step with joist hangers and here is a method for easily figuring out how to determine the height of your joist hangers: Greg held up a piece of the floor joist material as well as a scrap from the thickness of the deck boards that he temporarily held up as a dry fit. This will determine the height that you need to set your joist hangers at.

It’s important to get the height correctly here so you have a smooth transition, without a step up or down, into the building once the deck is complete. I recommend screwing in the first side then using a piece of 2x cut off scrap to get the width correctly then screwing down the second side. 

Now we can set the back end of the beam in place and figure out how much build up the front end will need in order to be level. To do this, set the back end in the joist hanger then place a level on the front. While one person reads where level is, another can be reading a tape to see what the height needs to be.

Once that is determine you can use an assortment of material to create this build up. On the taller ones we used the standard off the shelf cement blocks, but on the shorter ones we laid some gravel down and use a small brick paver. Since this is in direct contact with the ground, using something other than wood is best. 

You’ll also notice that we doubled up no the beam material.

I recommend looking up span charts for the distance you are trying to cover and that will tell you what dimension of material is rated for the span. If you do have to double up on material, then use a clamp to tightly squeeze the boards together then go through and nail them to each other. 

This can be tedidious work but if you take your time and make sure your beams are square to the building, and to each other, and also level, then all your other steps will be so much easier. 

Next up is attaching the joists, which run perpendicular to the beams and connect from inside to inside with more joist hangers. The first step in this stage is to lay out where the joists need to go. We went with 16” on center but depending on your length of deck and material choice you might can do 24” on center. We would pull a tape along the beam and first make our marks so that next we could come back and attach the joist hangers at their needed location.

I recommend the same process as before to attach these. First drive in a screw on one side, then use a scrap piece of 2x material to open the hanger to the needed width before driving in the second screw. You don’t want it to be so tight on the scrap that you’ll have to struggle to get the joist in, but you do want it close. 

You can also use a cut off of whatever material you’re using for the joists to determine the height of these hangers. You want the top of the joists to be perfectly flush to the top of the beams. 

After getting done with one bay, we repeated on all the others…..whew, that’s a lot of joist hangers.

Now! If we did everything correctly, we should be able to set up a miter saw and start cutting all the joists to the same length then slip them in one by one into the hangers.

This is where taking the time to square up the beams really pays off. If you’re out of square, then you’re numbers will be all over the place and you’ll have to measure each one individually. I recommend setting up a stop block on your miter and having one person cut then another person attach.

I threw in a Diablo 60 tooth fine finish blade on my miter saw, which has their carbide teeth which increases performance and leaves an incredibly clean cut. Then on my circular saw, I switched out the Demo Demon for the 24 tooth Diablo framing blade, which has Diablo’s tracking point tooth design. This not only provides straight cuts, but also 5x longer blade life. It’s my go-to circular saw blade when framing.

The hangers have hole locations for nails but since we’re using a nail gun, it’s far easier to toe nail in the board so while I set the joists in their pockets, Greg would be attaching each one. 

Our next step could actually have been skipped but it doesn’t take that much time and actually makes a huge difference. Before moving on to decking, we went back through each bay and adding in blocking. Which is just a board that spans in between joist to joist. In fact, I was able to cut all of this blocking from the cut off portion of the joists so definitely keep your larger scraps around until the end of project because you never know when they will come in handy. These are face nailed into the joists themselves roughly at the center of the bay. You can see that I’m staggering them so that each one can be face nailed in instead having to toe nail one side. 

Alrighty, that completes the sub structure of the entire deck, now lets move on to the decking stage.

Oh actually, before moving on the decking, we moved to the front of the deck and attached the drop guthers. These boards will cover up the front end of the deck, giving it a nice clean look. It’s also stiffens up the front of the deck by tying together each one of the beams. These are attached really easily by holding the top flush to the top of the beams and then screwed on. Cut the boards so that the ends fall on the center of each one of the beams. 

Ok, and noooow onto decking. Like I said at the start, Greg wanted the deck boards to run perpendicular to the shop so that his rocking chairs could rock easier. With that, we started on one side and just worked our way to the other.

We are using treated 2×6 material that is 16’ long and these are screwed down into each one of the joists. Screwing the boards down takes a lot of time however, by going with screws, the deck boards will not pop up over time so I think it’s worth it. The system that we worked out is to stage a good amount of boards in front of our workable area so that Greg and I could just pull from the pile and start screwing it down. The end that matters here is the end closest to the porch, its important that this end is butted up tightly to the shop. The other end can just fall wherever it falls off the deck!

This is called letting it run wild. Because after all the deck boards are placed and attached, we’ll pop a chalk line and cut all the ends to be in a perfectly straight line….so don’t even worry about that end of things at the moment. 

Another thing to pay attention to is if the board is bowed. These boards are treated and will shrink once they dry so we didn’t leave any space between them. With that, when a board was bowed out in a section we would do what we needed to do to get it as flush with the previous board as possible.

It’s also worth mentioning that to quickly get through this step we only put in screws on our respected ends. So we would throw down a board, Greg would put in a screw on his end, I would put in one on mine, then one of us would throw one in the middle somewhere, then we would throw down the next board. 

We did it this way so we could eat through this step quickly while we still had day light. Then over the next few days, any time one of us needed to kill 15 mins, we would go put in some filler screws on the remaining joist lines. It’s just a way to keep the project moving. 

After all of the deck boards were laid down, we could determine what overhang Greg wanted on the front end, pop a chalk line, and then use a circular saw to straighten up that wild end.

It was a crammed pack two days and we covered a lot of ground in that time frame. It was certainly rewarding to see how much work we could get done in that amount of time.

It was also rewarding to move out some rocking chairs!

If a deck has been on your to-do list, I really hope this tutorial has helped you out. Definitely check out the video above for more details. And stay tuned for the next video where Greg and I build the porch onto the deck!

Things I Used in This Project:

Other projects with Greg:

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3 Responses

  1. Something about April I’ve loved and admired for years is this: Most people are fast but pretty good, or good but pretty fast, but April has studied both intently with the goal of being extremely fast and extremely accurate. It’s amazing to watch, and wonderful to work with someone smart like this. Use her for a role model. She talks about each as she goes on since she can’t stop teaching and helping everyone around her get better all of the time. It’s just in her nature. She gives her tips for both how and why to do something the quickest way, and also how and why to be sure that things are done the best way — no compromise. Amazing. She’s fire.

  2. The last deck I built was plagued with weed undergrowth as the homeowner didn’t want to use anything to reduce the weed garden that was covered with the deck. Didn’t see where you mentioned any ground treatments. Otherwise, great work

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