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Build a simple unique-looking deck with redwood

Dear Ms. Builder: I plan to start building my first deck soon. I want my deck to look unique, but I am not an experienced do-it-yourselfer. What is best for someone like me? Any basic deck building tips? - Mary W.

Dear Mary: I have built some elaborate unique decks over the years, but these designs are beyond the abilities of a first-time deck builder. My first deck was a simple rectangular design with one set of stairs and a bench.

Instead of trying to build a deck beyond your skill level, use several types of wood to give it a unique look. It is actually easier to build with a wood like redwood than with pressure-treated pine. Using a lot of redwood can make your deck look spectacular.

Redwood is lighter and easier to handle than pressure-treated lumber. It is also easier to saw. Although it is not good to inhale any sawdust, sawdust from redwood is less hazardous than from pressure-treated lumber. You can safely burn small scraps of redwood in your fireplace.

You should still use pressure-treated lumber for all the structural members - ledger boards, beams, joists, etc. Just use the redwood for the railing, deck area, benches and accessories.

The only drawback to redwood is its higher cost, but you can minimize the cost differential by selecting the proper grade. There are many grades of redwood that are attractive and durable, yet cost less than clear all heart redwood.

In order to get the decay and insect resistance of redwood, you must select one of the heartwood grades. The naturally-occurring resistant chemicals are concentrated in the heartwood.

I have used a lesser construction heartwood grade of redwood. It has tiny knots that are attractive and do not harm its effectiveness. The materials needed to build a 12 ft. square deck with this grade of redwood cost only about $200 more than using all pressure-treated lumber.

It is best to spend a little extra for stainless steel nails for any deck, but especially when using redwood. Stainless steel nails eliminate future unsightly stains. Hot-dipped galvanized nails are a less expensive option, but you still may get some rust and staining.

Cut all your redwood pieces and lightly tack them together to make sure they fit. Pull the pieces apart again and apply sealer on all the surfaces, especially heavy on the cut ends. If you make even minor final fit cuts, make sure to seal the ends. It pays off long-term.

Tip #1 - Plan, plan, plan. Unless your budget is totally unlimited, layout and plan your deck to minimize excessive scrap material. Layout your deck furniture, barbecue, planters, etc. in your yard first. You will be surprised at how big the deck must be.

Tip #2 - The first construction step is to attach the ledger board to your house. This requires cutting away some siding. A circular saw, set to the proper depth, works great on wood. Cut slowly and move backwards when cutting aluminum siding.

Tip #3 - Although not required, it is a good idea to space the ledger board out from the house about one-half inch. This allows for drainage and air circulation. Use a couple of large washers for spacers.

Tip #4 - When you predrill the ledger board for the joist hangers, shoot a blob of caulk into each hole. This seals out moisture during construction. Also use the caulk on top of the ledger board for the flashing.

Tip #5 - When you get ready to cut off the top of the posts, mark the level line on all four sides. Make a cut on each side of the post and finish cutting through the center with a hand saw.

Tools and materials required: Claw hammer, chisel, nylon string, circular and hand saws, shovel, post hole digger, pry bar, cordless drill, level, lumber, stainless steel nails, joist hangers, wood sealer, concrete, bolts.

Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.