Few projects are as enjoyable as building a new outdoor deck. They’re fun to design and build; they look great; and they enhance both the enjoyment of your home and its resale value. Decks are also a great do-it-yourself project, and there are lots of products on the market that can help you get the job done faster, safer and with better results.

Wander the aisles of your local home center or hardware store or do an online search, and you’ll find more than enough inspiration to get you itching to grab a hammer!

Deck design: Let’s start at the beginning — with a great design. If you have something in your head in the way of a perfect deck but you’re not sure how to turn it into reality, start with a simple computerized drawing program. You can pick them up inexpensively at a number of retailers, and they’re pretty intuitive to learn. Most not only help you design the deck in 2-D, but also do 3-D modeling, structural details, and even material lists.

If you’d prefer to have someone else tap the mouse, check with your local lumberyard. Many of them offer computerized deck design services that can save you hours of planning. The design consultant will walk you through several basic designs, and help you customize them to your exact size and layout requirements.

Structural hardware: When it comes time to do the actual framing, companies like Simpson Strong-Tie offer an incredible selection of steel framing hardware that greatly simplifies all those connections. For example, there are simple joist hangers that support and connect the joists where they attach to the ledger or rim joist, and inside angle connectors to strengthen a variety of framing joints.

Where a beam sits on top of a post, there are post cap connectors, as well as post base anchors to connect the post to the patio or pier block. There are even specialty connectors specifically designed for attaching deck railing posts to deck framing quickly and with much greater strength than simply nailing or bolting alone. Simpson’s decking site is worth a visit: www.strongtie.com/deckcenter.

Duo-Fast DF150S-TC TICO Nailer: All that helpful structural hardware also means driving a whole lot of nails to make the connections work properly. So if you’ve got a big deck project in the works, or you’re a pro who does a lot of decks, you might want to consider a pneumatic nailer to help you out.

Duo-Fast’s TICO Nailer is designed specifically to drive the 1 1/2-inch, .148-shank nails required by most building codes for use with structural hangers. It’s compact to get into tight spots, has a convenient rafter hook, and has an adjustable exhaust to keep the air out of your face.

Best of all is the unique "probing tip," which accurately locates the hole in the hanger before you shoot the nail. Check it out at www.duo-fastconstruction.com.

Bench brackets: Want to add a bench to your deck? Bench brackets make it easy. Made of steel or a durable resin, they bolt to both the decking and the deck framing for stability, then you add your own decking material to the top and back to form a seat and backrest.

The brackets are angled to form a comfortable backrest while eliminating all those difficult angle calculations. You can see a couple of different styles at www.rockler.com.

Precut stair stringers: If your deck design calls for steps, don’t despair over how to cut the stringers. Many lumberyards and home centers carry or can order precut stringers in different lengths. They’re made of pressure-treated lumber so they’re safe for ground contact, and all the hard layout and cutting has been done for you.

Just select the number of steps you need based on how high the deck is, secure them to the deck and to the ground using the appropriate hardware connectors, and you’re all set. Finish off the installation with treads that match your decking boards.

Railings: A deck railing adds a lot of visual interest to a deck, and it’s also a code requirement if the deck will be more than 30 inches above the ground. Thanks to the tremendous interest in decks and the number of do-it-yourself deck builders, there are lots of different railing ideas that you can choose from, as well as the parts to build them with.

You can go with simple wooden pickets, which your local lumberyard will have in stock. Or you can step it up a bit with metal pickets, which are available in different colors and styles at places like www.stair-parts.com or www.deckdepot.com, or from many local welding shops. For a more open look, consider steel cables instead — you can check out some examples at www.cablerail.com.

Remember that your new deck and railing will almost certainly require a building permit, and that certain construction standards must be adhered to for safety. Check with your local building department before you get going on any deck design or construction project.

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