29 Essential Tools For Building a Deck

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If you’re an avid entertainer but don’t have an outdoor space to accommodate your company, you’ve probably considered adding a deck to your yard. However, taking on a project like building a deck can be intimidating for those without experience or the proper decking tools. If the idea of building a deck scares you less than the cost of hiring someone to build it for you and paying it off, you’ve come to the right place.

Even the most skilled builders are nothing without their tools. While we can’t make you a deck or construction expert in just a few hundred words, we can help you equip yourself with the tools you need to fake it until you make it!

Below are all the different deck-building tools you need to have in your arsenal when it comes time to start planning, measuring, cutting, and nailing.

decking tools

Must-Have Tools To Build a Deck

Planning Tools

a man using a pencil to mark the wooden planks

1. Long Measuring Tape

One of the most important tools you should have is a tape measure. You’ll need it to measure the total size of the deck frame so that you can mark your boards accordingly. If you’re building a 15-foot-wide deck and your pieces of wood come 6 feet long, you’ll need to precisely measure 5 feet on each before you cut them to size. Otherwise, you’ll end up with planks hanging off the side or an uneven look.

2. Carpenter’s Level

A deck that is sloped or uneven is a tripping hazard. A carpenter’s level allows you to ensure everything is perfectly level, including framing, the boards being installed, and the final product. If you notice something is uneven, you can hoist it up with joists, use a tool to pull up sagging boards, or fix the foundation before it’s too late.

3. Chalk Liner

When working with hand tools, installing framing, or making cuts, you want guidelines to be as straight as possible so that everything is even. A chalk liner uses a chalk-coated string that you snap onto something to leave a straight-line marking. It’ll show you where to cut or where things should line up and is much easier than marking by hand using an edge.

4. Pencil or Chalk for Marking

Okay, this is a bit basic. BUT, if we didn’t include it, someone out there would have started measuring with no way to mark things down. Stay away from things like markers that are more permanent and consider chalk (better visibility) or a pencil (precise and readily available) to make your marks.

a woman using a metal frame square

5. Framing Square

A framing square or carpenter square is a handy measuring tool that looks like two long rulers connected at a right angle. These are necessary for ensuring long lines remain square and corners are properly squared off.

6. Speed Square

Also known as a triangle square, this handy ruler, which is shaped like an isosceles triangle, will help assure boards are plumb and square. It is a necessary tool for making short square cuts as well as for measuring smaller boards.

7. Laser Level

These tools may seem a little superfluous, but they can save you a ton of time and almost guarantee your deck comes out level. By using a laser level to mark target points before you start placing joists, you can keep your deck level without having to constantly bust out your bubble level and adjust board placement.

General Tools

a carpenter using clamps to hold planks together

8. Clamps

Clamps are necessary to hold planks, rails, and other pieces in place while you secure them. Pipe clamps can secure thick or wide pieces of wood together while squeeze clamps, which do not spread as wide, are useful for decorative trim, securing thin pieces, and for quick holds.

9. Pry Bar

Flat pry bars are helpful for adjusting plank placement in narrow spaces. This tool can get under boards with minimal damage to the wood. Cat’s claw pry bars can be helpful for removing nails but often damage the wood so be careful.

10. Wrenches

A wrench set or adjustable crescent wrench will be necessary for tightening and loosening bolts and nuts.

11. Pliers

Locking pliers come in handy for holding bolts so you can tighten nuts down securely. Needle nose pliers may also be good to have on hand to manipulate and remove nails.

12. Contour Gauge

If you have any complex angles to cut around, such as siding, trim, or even boulders and trees, you’ll want a contour gauge. These genius tools let you measure the exact angles of complex cuts so your planks will fit into your layout without gaps. 

Excavation Tools

a person using a post hole digger

13. Shovels

Various kinds of shovels are necessary for preparing the ground for your new deck. A spade shovel is the best for removing soil. A flat-head shovel can help flatten and level excavated earth. And a drain spade, which has a long narrow blade, can be used to dig shallow post holes and trenches.

14. Post Hole Digger

For deeper post holes, you’ll want to opt for a clamshell post hole digger. These round “shovels” drive into the ground to capture cores of earth, then open to release the earth once the shovel has been removed.

Cutting Tools

man using a jigsaw to cut planks

15. Miter Saw

To cut wood boards for decking planks and posts, you’ll need a saw that can do more than just straight cuts. Miter saws, also called chop saws, allow you to cut at 45-degree angles (and much more) to assure all pieces of your deck fit together seamlessly.

16. Table Saw

Table saws are the easiest tool for ripping boards to length. They provide straight 90-degree cuts with little effort. A less expensive option that can be just as handy for building a deck is a circular saw. These require more finesse but make quick work of cutting boards to size as well as trimming planks down after they’ve been attached.

17. Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw is only necessary if you’ll be removing an old deck. In this case, having this easy-to-maneuver handsaw will be invaluable.

18. Jigsaw

If you opted for the contour gauge because you have some complex angles to match with your planking, then you will also need a jigsaw. These saws have a thin blade used to cut curves, tight angles, and patterns into boards.

19. Utility Knife

A utility knife is always handy to have in the tool belt. In the case of a new deck, these little blades can be used to cut away splinters and finish cuts that didn’t come out clean. A wood chisel or plane can also be helpful for this purpose. 

20. Tin Snips

Metal working tools such as a tin snip and possibly even a grinder will be necessary if you’re working with metal flashing. These are needed to cut the metal to shape and trim up edges.

Fastening Tools

a carpenter using a pneumatic nail gun

21. Power Nailer

Unless you want the job to take forever, you will need a power nail gun. This tool will allow you to quickly fasten planks and rails. 

22. Hammer

Even if you spring for the nailer, you’ll still likely need a hammer for those hard-to-reach areas and to remove any misfired nails. These can also be handy for securing odd-sized nails into railings and flashing.

23. Teco Nailer

These specialty nailers are made for fastening metal brackets. They use smaller nails than regular nailers and are a necessity if your deck features a lot of brackets or metal connectors.

24. Impact Drill

If your new deck requires a lot of screws or bolts, an impact drill is a must. This kind of drill has more torque to drive screws through harder wood and composite wood decking. They’re also a better choice for securing bolts. 

25. Compressor 

If you’re using a nailer of any kind, you’ll need a compressor to run it. These can be rented at your local home improvement store. Smaller models are also available for purchase and may come in handy for the hobby carpenter.

Finishing Tools

a person using a belt sander

26. Belt Sander

An electric belt sander is necessary to finish cut edges and smooth out any planks or rails that have splinters or gouges. If you worry about causing more damage with something as powerful as a belt sander, you can also opt for a random orbit sander. These are less powerful and, therefore, easier to maneuver.

27. Hand Sander

Regardless of which of the above you pick, a hand sander will also come in handy. These manual sanders make quick work of small areas in need of finishing and are also great for removing stains.

28. Sprayer

Unless you’re working with composite decking, you will need to stain or paint your deck once it’s done. A deck sprayer can save you a ton of time and provide a more even finish than a roller. While you can finish most areas using this tool, you will still need a paint brush to get to those hard-to-reach areas and smooth out any drips.

29. Router

A router with a roundover bit can be very helpful for finishing edges in tight spaces. Other finishing bits, such as bevel bits and engraving bits, can be used to customize your railing and posts for a unique finish that’ll make your deck all your own.

And if you can’t add a little of your own flourish to your deck, then what was the point of building it yourself?

Do you have any questions relating to this article? Email us at [email protected] or call us on +1 (310) 961-4908

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Aaron is the founder of and Essential Home and Garden. With over 15 years of hands-on experience in home ownership, lawn care, and gardening, Aaron is a seasoned expert in areas like lawn care, DIY, HVAC, and pest control.

3 thoughts on “29 Essential Tools For Building a Deck”

  1. Avatar photo

    I’d recommend adding a water level, pipe and quick grip clamps for straightening boards and deck spacers

    • Aaron Green

      The list could go on forever, but certainly great additions Bruce!

  2. Avatar photo

    Just a word of warning to any new DIY-ers – when you’re buying a drill (and probably a saw and nail gun too for that matter), be sure you get a good one. If you’re regularly doing big tasks like building a deck, you’ll be glad you made the investment. Leave the cheap drills to people who only need them for hanging curtain rods and stuff.

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