Building decks is no walk in the park: Digging post holes, driving lag screws, nailing joist hangers, notching 6-bys, and screwing decking takes its toll on your tools and your body. Having some deck-dedicated tools can cut time off your next job and conserve your energy.
Digging Hydraulic Equipment. Shovels and digging bars work, but who likes digging holes? And in compacted clay or a tangle of roots, these tools struggle. The ultimate digging tool — well worth renting if you're staring at 30 post holes — is Gravely's Skidster outfitted with an auger. These machines are compact, powerful, and easy to operate, and they fit through fence gates and maneuver easily in tight confines. The augers won't cut through every obstacle (like a 3-inch tree root) but the time savings are still incredible. You also can rent these machines with forks (good for moving and lifting materials) and buckets for small earth-moving jobs common on these projects.
Combination Hammer. For smaller digging jobs, a 14-pound combination hammer can save you a trip to the rental yard for a jackhammer. When equipped with a spade-iron and set on chip mode, a combination hammer loosens clay and rocks in footer holes, which you can then remove with a shovel. Switching bits enables you to drill holes for setting ledgers on concrete or brick.
Leveling Lasers and Bubbles. The fastest, most dependable way to strike level lines for ledgers and beams — especially for multilevel decks — is a self-leveling laser level. Point a dot at each side of the deck, establish your reference points, and start framing. Once you start framing, your 4- and 6-foot spirit levels will be your guide, along with a good heavy plumb bob.
Making the Cut Circular Saw. Deep cuts on supporting posts — often 6x6s — are best made with an 8¼-inch circ saw, which will save time and energy finishing off any notches with a hand or recip saw. A worm-drive configuration will come in handy for cutting wild-running cantilevered joists to length in place. The nose-heavy worm-drive falls right through the cut and provides a nice line of sight along your cut.
Sliding Compound Miter Saw. Get set up for production when you're cutting beveled 2x2 balusters by setting a 10-inch sliding compound miter saw for a 45-degree bevel. Then set up a “stop” on your saw bench so you can gang-cut a number of them at the same time. The sliding compound saw is also great for cutting 4x4 posts in one pass and mitering handrails.
Fastening Cordless Impact Drivers. Not having an impact driver during a deck project is just costing you time. A 9.6-, 12-, or 14.4-volt tool packs a huge punch and works great for sinking ½-inch lag screws and cinching up carriage bolt assemblies, posts, and balusters. And for some under-deck fastening systems, these tools offer the mobility and speed you need, especially if you're tightening deck boards on your back.
Auto-Feed Screwgun. If you're using screws to fasten decking to framing, the only way to go is with an auto-feed screw-gun that shoots a wide range of collated, deck-specific fasteners. The long extension handles will give you great leverage and help save your lower back. And the corrosion-resistant fasteners are specially designed to penetrate into the surface, leaving a clean, finished deck.
Double-Duty Nailer. Nailing joist hangers and framing might require two tools, unless you use Stanley-Bostitch's N88RH-2MCN combination hardware/framing nailer. You can use its hardware nose to set hangers, then switch to the framing nose-piece for the lumber work.
Japanese Nail Set. A nail head sticking out of a handrail you just routed defeats the purpose, but setting 12d nails with a regular nail set is painful. A dual-pointed Japanese nail set provides the grunt you need to flush a framing nail into place. —Mark Clement is the executive editor of TOOLS OF THE TRADE magazine, where this article originally appeared.