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These four activities are essential to all home construction projects. If you can perform them accurately and without hesitation, you’re well on your way to success in deck building.
An old carpenter’s adage is appropriate here: “Measure twice, cut once.” This applies not only to taking measurements, but also to the other three activities. Double-check all your work with squares, measuring tapes and levels before cutting, drilling or putting in fasteners. Remember: it's a lot easier (and less expensive) to take a little extra time measuring now than to take a lot of extra time and effort later undoing poorly-done work and then redoing it the right way.
Marking for a crosscut is a three-step operation. First, square the end of the board you’ll be cutting. Then hook the tape measure on the end of the board and extend the tape until you reach the length for the crosscut. Make a V mark with a sharp pencil.
Mark the waste side of the board with a large X. Hold the point of the pencil on the point of the V, and slide a layout square along the edge of the board until it touches the pencil tip without moving it. Draw a straight cutting line along the edge of the square.
Hold the square inside or outside the joint and look along the lengths of both the tongue (short side) and the blade (long side). If you see light anywhere along either edge of the square, pull or push one or both of the boards until the square fits snugly.
Use a 4-foot carpenter’s level to level framing whenever you have room for its length. Shorter levels may be thrown off by warps or waves in the boards. Boards are level when the bubble is centered in the vial.
Make a mark at the water level line in the tubing. Double-check that the water level line at the other end of the tubing is still aligned with the leveling point. Slowly raise or lower the free end to adjust water level lines, if necessary.
Begin by marking the width of the cut on both ends of the board. Then hook a chalk line tightly on the marks and snap the line. (Note the thumb on one end of the board; its distance from the top edge of the board [the one facing away from the worker] denotes the desired width of the cut.)
If the cut runs parallel to the edge of the board, draw the cut line by holding a pencil against a square at the proper width. Pull the square and pencil down the length of the board.
Miter cuts are angled cuts and are most often made at 45 degrees. Start by measuring the longer side of the miter and setting your combination square or layout square on that mark. Then draw the cut line.
Use a bevel gauge to mark odd angles (that is, not 45 or 90 degrees, or other than a right angle or equilateral diagonal). Set the handle on the outside edge of the board and lock the blade. Then move the gauge to the place you want to cut, and mark the line.
An electronic water level does the same things as a manual one, but it beeps when the water in both ends of the tube is on the same plane. Attach the unit on the level line and move the opposite end of the tube until the tone sounds.
Make quick work out of establishing horizontal level lines with a laser level. Set the unit on a tripod and position it to throw the laser beam at the level point. Mark the position of the line with a carpenter’s pencil.
A post level will allow you to plumb posts in two planes at the same time (that is, on X and Y axes). Strap the level to the post so you can watch the vials while you move the post. Brace the post when the bubbles in both vials are centered.
The information on this page is taken directly from our printed book, Decks 1-2-3, which shows you how to design, construct and maintain your own outdoor deck. Like all our 1-2-3 series books, this handy volume contains all the knowledge you need to do the job quickly...and get it right the first time. Detailed photos and diagrams, helpful tips from the pros, and step-by-step instructions let you learn and work at your own pace—and help you avoid common mistakes in do-it-yourself projects. Pick up your own copy at your local Home Depot store or order it online.
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