We Built a Thing!
Written by Valerie Poort
“I could do that. Building a deck is easy,” he said. After hearing that, there was no way I was going to let mum spend upwards of $20k to finally finish her house. We could just do it ourselves!
A month or two passed. In that time, we did pick up the Mitre 10 ‘How to build a deck’ brochure. It was helpful, but full of scary measurements and some crazy jargon. Glenn read it and confirmed his mantra that it’s not a complicated thing for us to build. I chose to watch both the Mitre 10 and Bunnings videos on the topic, which really helped explain the brochure. Though the difference between ‘joists’ and ‘bearers’ was still above me for now…
Pace it out to budget it out
The next time I was home mum and I decided to measure the spaces out using some white cord we found in the shed. This helped mum visualise the spaces, and us take the deck size down from around 80m2 to 47m2. We also realised that we were going to need to build three seperate decks; one on the front, and two at the back (where one part of the deck was going to be lower than the other part).
The most expensive thing for the deck was going to be the decking timber. Regular decking timber can be around $10 per metre, but mum wanted imported Accoya pine (a blonder wood which turns slightly silver with UV exposure), which was around twice as much as normal decking timber.
Add another $2-$3k for materials, and then 7 days full time for the both of us in labour costs, and we still only came out around at around 15k for eveything. Far under the $20-25k estimate from builders or family and friends. It was a win-win scenario — we were definitely in. We confirmed dates and booked the ferry down South.
Day 1: Plan it out
I would have just drawn out a floor plan on paper, but thankfully Glenn is used to working in 3D for his job. Our first day of deck building consisted of Glenn using Fusion360 to draw up a model of the decks.
We also had to decide which way we wanted the decking timber on the decks to lay. We decided we wanted it to match the timber flooring indoors, so that the flooring flowed nicely into the deck. This informed the way we designed the structure, as the joists are the opposite direction to the decking timber.
Decking timber comes with instructions around the maximum space between joists. In our case with Accoya, the maximum distance allowed between joists is 600mm (optimal was around 450mm). Drawing it all up helped us plan exactly how much structural timber we would need to buy.
Drawing the structure to the millimetre helped us know exactly how much material we would need. We used an online cutting list calculator to puzzle together the most optimal way of cutting the structural timber.
Days 1-2: The shopping list
We ended up buying:
37x 6-metre lengths of H4 treated Radiata Timber
40x 600mm-long, 125x125mm house piles
18x 40kg bags of concrete
47m2 + 10% extra to allow for off-cuts of Accoya timber
1200 decking screws
Bosch Professional Hammer Drill + battery
Bosch Professional Impact Driver Drill + battery
A number of old fencing posts to re-use as decking piles
600x 75mm nails
2x tape measures
Clamps of various sizes
Gloves (it was winter)
3x spades of various sizes
Gumboots (again, because it was winter!)
Cellphones (mainly for the calculator)
Days 2-5: Digging holes, concreting and piles
The most labour intensive part of the build got us measuring out the structure on the ground, then digging ~40cm deep holes everywhere there would be a pile.
If that wasn’t hard enough, we then had to mix concrete in a wheelbarrow and plant and concrete around every pile. The concrete needed about 72 hours to dry before we were able to continue — we were able to stagger when we began work on each deck, and get started on the structure for one while waiting for the other to dry.
We decided to put in all the posts in first and cut the tops off later (with the circular saw and planer) once the concrete set. This was so we could get the tops square and level. This ended up causing us quite a lot of time to get it right, and is something we may do another way next time!
Days 4-7: Creating the structure
We were so pleased to finally be getting started working with wood, and getting away from the dirt and concrete.
It was time to get our cutting list back out, and get started creating some of the bearers; the heavy lengths of timber which lie across the posts and bear the weight of the deck.
We knocked together two 150x50 pieces of cut timber to create one bearer (essentially 150x100 each). These were nailed together (with the ordinary 75mm nails), and then nailed to the posts underneath (using the left-hand and right-hand galvanised nails).
Once the bearers were in, the joists were cut to size and nailed to the bearers (and where possible the posts).
We couldn’t wait to put at least some of the decking timber on top of the structure, so we cut the edge pieces to size and screwed them on. The edge timber sits 20mm over the edge of the structure, ready for the finishing pieces of decking timber along the side of the structure.
Days 8-9: The top
This was the fun part. This is the part we had worked for nearly a solid week to get to. It was time to cut the decking timber to size and screw it on.
Basically, decking timber is supported by the joists, and it’s laid across them. The decking timber does need to be cut to size (it’s usually too long or too short to fit perfectly). To avoid large offcuts, we would cut one piece, and re-use whatever was leftover on the next row. One piece of decking timber can only be one-joist-long, two-joists-long, etc. The key is to avoid creating patterns with the top — it needs to look random so that it’s not noticeable.
A few hours of cutting and screwing, and we had our decks! Our construction sites had transformed into beautiful spaces ready to be enjoyed.
The end result
Would we do it again? Absolutely. But maybe not for another 6 months — it was a labour-intensive 8 days, our legs and hands are sore, and I don’t think we want to dig another hole, mix more concrete, or nail anything together for a little while.
We ran out of decking timber to cover the sides of the deck, so next time we’re down we’ll buy some more and pop the sides on — which should only take a few hours.
This was a great opportunity for us to spend two weeks down South and enjoy doing something different together. There were a couple of days of rain, so instead of working on the deck we just decided to go hide in a cafe in town and work on our design studio Papertowns. I had my birthday while we were down and we went skiing for the day. It was definitely a test of how we worked together and we’re excited to build more.