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Building a deck requires a modest collection of tools and a knowledge of lumber, other materials, and fasteners.

Tools fall into three categories—layout, excavation, and carpentry tools. You may already have most of what you need. Some, such as a posthole digger and other excavation tools, you may be able to borrow from friends.

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The number of retail building supply outlets has mushroomed in the last 10 years to meet the growing do-it-yourself demand. But selecting materials is more than simply a matter of pulling lumber off the rack. The more you know about the wood you’ll use—the variety of species, sizes, and finishing techniques— the more rewarding the construction of your deck will be.

To build a basic deck, you need basic skills and basic tools. You may already have most of these tools, but you’ll probably need to buy or rent a few more as your project proceeds.

Layout tools

Layout can be the most exacting aspect of deck building, but layout tools need not be expensive. Here’s what you’ll need. line level: This small level hooks to mason’s line stretched over distances too long to span with a carpenter’s level. mason’s line: The mainstay of layout work. Use nylon; it doesn’t stretch. measuring tape: This is a do-it-yourselfer’s constant companion. A 1-inch blade will extend farther without sagging. Get a 25-footer to be precise and save time. plumb bob: This makes quick work of marking posthole locations.

Excavation tools

Although there are only a few tools in this category, rent or buy high-quality ones. You don’t want any breakdowns. shovels: Get a round-nosed model for excavating and a square model for removing sod.

  • 5-gallon bucket: Use this to measure water for premix and for general hauling of small loads.
  • wheelbarrow: It’s a must for mixing your own concrete.
  • shovels: Use the round-nosed model you have for excavating.
  • hoe: Get a mason’s hoe. It has holes that make mixing easier.

Carpentry tools

These tools are the backbone of do-it-yourself carpentry. If you’re assembling your tool chest for the first time, buy good tools. You’ll use them for other projects, many of which won’t occur to you until you own the tools. carpenter’s level: Get a 48-inch model for plumbing and leveling. Shorter versions may give false readings. Buy one with a stiff steel frame. framing square: You’ll use this for quick, preliminary checks for right angles. circular saw: These come in different sizes. Get a heavy-duty model with a 7’/4-inch carbide-tipped combination blade. The extra power will come in handy on this or any other project that requires you to cut framing members.

  • JIGSAW: If you’re cutting any fancy patterns, you’ll need one of these. (Buy a heavy-duty model here too.)
  • CORDLESS DRILL: This is an essential tool. It drills holes and makes driving screws a snap. Buy a 14-4-volt model and a spare battery. You’ll need spade bits of appropriate sizes for larger holes and to start mortises. Twist drills will take care of holes for screws and bolts.
  • FRAMING HAMMER: Buy a high-quality, 20-ounce hammer. The extra weight may be tiring at first, but you’ll be thankful for it after driving a deckful of 10-penny (lOd) nails.
  • POST LEVEL: This is a one-purpose tool, but nothing does it better. Strap it to a post to plumb two sides at once.
  • WATER LEVEL: This device attaches to the end of your garden hose. Filled with water, it makes long-distance leveling easy.
  • CHISELS: You’ll need chisels to shape mortises and tenons. Buy high-quality chisels and take good care of them. Drive chisels with a mallet, not a metal hammer. Sharp chisels make clean, accurate cuts. Poorly fitting mortises make weak joints.
  • COMBINATION SQUARE: This is an indispensable tool. It helps you check 90- and 45-degree angles quickly, measure depth from surfaces, and lay out cutting lines.
  • CHALK LINE: You’ll need this to snap lines for cuts.
  • FLAT PRY BAR: This comes in handy when you need to force a reluctant board in place or to remove mistakes.
  • NAIL SET: Use this for setting finishing nails in railings or trim.
  • CHANNEL LOCK PLIERS: This is the universal tool for tightening and loosening fasteners.
  • SAWHORSES: You’ll need these to support lumber when you cut it.
  • WRENCHES: Buy both sockets and combination wrenches for tightening carriage-bolt nuts and lag screws.
  • CAULKING GUN: Use this for sealing ledgers and anywhere you need a waterproof joint.

Rental tools: You’ll Need These—but not Forever

For some homeowners, part of the enjoyment of making home improvements is buying new tools. But there are some tools you won’t use after you’ve built your deck. If you need a tool only once, renting it makes more sense than buying it.
Here are some of the tools you may need to rent for the construction of your deck:

  • Excavation equipment to clear the building site
  • Hammer drill to install masonry anchors in a brick or stucco wall
  • Power auger to dig holes for footings
  • Power cement mixer to prepare concrete for footings and piers
  • Reciprocating saw to make cuts where a circular saw can’t reach
  • Hydraulic jacks to hold framing in place during construction
  • Framing nailer to make assembly of framing members proceed quickly and with less effort

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