Following on from the last post covering the clean up & demolition of an old wooden summerhouse, this one looks at what happened next…
I should probably start by stating that I’m definitely not a builder, structural engineer, or to that matter; carpenter. Building anything out of a pile of wood, without following a plan someone else has created, isn’t something I would usually do – and isn’t something I’m particularly experienced in doing.
As a result, you should not use anything in this post (or others on this website!) any form of definitive guidance if attempting your own garden construction.
All of that aside, we actually made a start on the project the previous week – by ordering all the necessary timber from a fantastic online company called eDecks.co.uk. We’d first spent some time measuring the rough area which removing the summerhouse would free up for decking, and created a few rough & ready plans using a great but simple iPad / Mac drawing tool called TouchDraw.
TouchDraw is a powerful vector drawing tool which offers plenty of features to create plans for a decking build – without being overly complex and difficult to get started with. We drew up a simple plan for the decking framework intended to try and maximise the amount of available space once constructed, and then used the tool to overlay an additional layer mapping out the necessary decking boards & rails etc. With this we were able to try out a few ideas before buying any materials – and ended up being able to determine exactly how much wood we needed to buy along with establishing a good idea of what the end product should hopefully look like.
This is the structural framework that seemed about right in terms of providing support to the deck boards, and squeezing a good amount of space out of the available area:
This is the framework with boards overlaid – to give a good idea of the lengths we needed to purchase so that we could completely avoid needing to deal with joining boards mid-run along with optimising lengths so that many of the smaller pieces could be cut from a few longer boards. All in all, I’d highly recommend spending some time drawing out a plan in some shape or form before buying anything!
With the planning done, we ordered the timber and headed off to a local builders merchant to acquire the other key raw material… loads of rapid setting concrete (Postcrete) which would be vital for securing the structure’s “legs” in the ground to give it some degree of stability.
It’s a little daunting when everything arrives however as you end up with a large (and heavy) pile of bits of wood, without any sort of instructions.. other than the plans you quickly drew up a few days earlier. Sounds like a challenge 🙂
Without any excuses remaining, we made a start – laying out the main beams as per the plan, and checking to see if the planned layout would actually make sense once “translated” to reality. We propped up the beams using bricks & offcuts to check everything seemed to be the right size and that the basic design was likely to work before digging holes, cutting timbers & fixing posts in place.
The garden is somewhat uneven too at the moment, making this all somewhat more challenging. As a result, the deck needed to be around 1/2 – 3/4 foot off the ground one end, and a few inches the other.
On the positive, it all seemed to fit – so we made a start on digging holes for the various corner posts & cementing them firmly in place using plenty of Postcrete. If you’ve never used it, Postcrete is brilliant for anything you need to fix solidly into a hole in the ground – without wanting to wait around for it to set or having to spend time preparing or mixing. There’s a handy guide from the manufacturer available here, or alternatively they’ve uploaded a video to Youtube showing its usage..
You simply dig a hole large and deep enough to accommodate your post; fill it roughly 3/4 full with water, place the post in the hole (ensuring it’s vertical and wherever you want it to be positioned); and tip in enough Postcrete to use the water & fill the hole. If you end up with room left in the hole, chuck in a bit more water and Postcrete until it’s full. This stuff generally sets solid in a few minutes so you need to have everything to hand, and work reasonably quickly… If there’s one tip, be sure to support the post in the position you want it to end up in while the Postcrete sets – preferably getting it right on the first go! You need to use plenty of Postcrete too – we probably used the majority of a bag for each post, but your mileage will vary depending on what you’re using it for and how deep the holes are.
With the first posts concreted in we laid out the main structural beams, and swiftly realised that adding a bit more support in the form of more posts would be a sensible move before we got ourselves too committed to the structure. With these added, the next step was to bolt the main beams to our posts, forming the basic framework and then to start filling in the structure with joists.
Needless to say it’s pretty important at this stage to get the main joists level – as without level joists, the deck is never going to end up true.
We went for the approach of adding structural joists first, which would provide a solid frame to attach others to along with ensuring we could support the structure on solid ground mid-span to reduce bounce & flex in the finished deck. Rather than concreting in more posts we used some of the paving slabs left over from the old summer house base, creating large flat and solid surfaces onto which to support the joists.
Finally, we cut and bolted in a number of “noggins” between joists. The deck boards are only going to be secured to the joists, but these help brace & secure the joists to form a reasonably rigid and structurally sound subframe.
All of this probably ended up taking about 2.5 days work in the summer heat – mainly due to a little helper who wanted to be involved at every step of the way. Without “help” it would probably have been taken about half the time, probably even less if it’s something you’ve done before!
With the framework all complete, work then started on laying the deck boards & securing then to the frame.
We also added additional posts at this point for the handrails – positioned dependant on the length of handrail sections available so that either end of a handrail section could be secured to a post.
Fitting the deck boards was probably the single most tedious step of the job as the boards needed screwing to each joist – with holes for the screws first being drilled, and 2 screws per joist. Lots of boards.. Lots of holes.. And lots of screws!
From this point, amazingly it didn’t take that long to get into a bit of a pattern – securing the boards down & trimming to size as we went. The great thing about this kind of construction is that when you get through the first few pieces, the rest quickly takes shape.
After 3 days of building I do, however, have a newfound respect for the Li-ion batteries powering our pair of BOSCH blue cordless drill / drivers.. These seemed to last forever, and recharge quickly. Highly recommended if you’re in the market for power tools. Batteries are also interchangeable between the tools so you can be using one and charging the other if you don’t need both tools on the go.
With the deck now nearing completion, all that was left was constructing and installing the railings. Not always essential if the deck isn’t very high, they do however finish it off nicely – especially where it looks out over the fields or edges onto the boundary hedge.
These were what can only be described as a complete pain to build, hence the lack of photos. You essentially carefully space out the newels between two pieces of handrail (one as the actual handrail, and one as a base onto which the newels are secured) – ideally using some sort of L bracket to fix the newel to post so that screws are not visible.. or some form of magic where brackets fail. We abandoned the proper approach after the first couple of newels, instead opting for a simple screw through the top or bottom of the handrail as appropriate. If there’s a next time, I’ll be looking to buy handrails pre-made from somewhere!
Once ready, the blocks of rails are simply screwed onto the deck surface at the appropriate position and then secured onto posts at both ends. Repeat! After battling with the handrails, and fitting a simple gate to maintain access to our oil tank from the rear of the deck, we were finished!
A busy few days work, but we’re pleased with the end product. It’s ideally positioned to catch the sun and provides a lovely area to sit and relax or work whenever the sun makes an appearance. We can also finally make better use of the views available from the rear of the house.
If you choose to undertake your own garden construction, please remember that none of this content should be regarded as expert advice – and good luck!!