DIY Guide: How to Lay Decking

The garden is a unique part of your home, a small part of nature developed and maintained by you and your sense of style. What better way is there to sit amongst this outdoor haven than a gorgeous deck? We’re going to cover everything you need to know on how to lay decking and what you’ll need to complete the project from start to finish.

It might sound like a big project, but with a little planning and preparation, you’ll be ready to get on with laying the decking and creating the perfect spot from which to enjoy all your garden has to offer.

Before starting to lay decking

It might be tempting to jump straight in there and start clearing the area where you want to lay your deck, but there are a few things to consider first.

You’ll find that some decks are harder than others to install, and the land you’re building it on also plays a part. While simple decks can be quite straightforward, the size, shape, height and decor can add more elements to take into account.

That means it can be anywhere from beginner to intermediate in terms of difficulty, with some examples of increasing complexity:

  • A small, square deck laid on easy to clear ground
  • Larger decks on easy to clear ground
  • Triangular, circular or other shaped decks on the ground
  • Raised decks with steps and handrails
  • Raised decks attached to your property with steps and handrails.

Depending on the size, shape and type of deck you want, as we’ll look at later, this project can take anywhere from 16 to 120 hours, depending on:

  • The size of the deck
  • The materials being used
  • How hard it is the clear and smooth the ground
  • Any help you may have
  • The weather
  • Previous experience from other or similar projects.

Plan ahead to make sure you know when you can work on this project.

Set aside ample time

As with a lot of projects like this, the time it will take to complete depends on you and the decking. With little to no experience, it’s going to take you longer than someone who’s done it before - and the same goes for doing it alone versus with help. Also, as you might expect, smaller decks can be finished quicker than larger ones!

We’ll give you some rough estimates on some parts later on, but don’t worry if you're faster or slower than these. The most important thing is to keep safe and go at a pace you’re comfortable with.

The tools you will need

There is a range of tools and pieces of equipment that can help with any project, such as laying decking. Safety is critical, so use tools you’re comfortable with and with anything new, read the instructions and take a bit of time to get used to them before using them on any decking materials.

Some things you can use include:

Choosing your decking materials

There are plenty of materials to choose from for your deck, but there are three common ones that most people will choose from. These are timber, composite and PVC. All have their own advantages and qualities, so take a good look at which works best for your needs before picking up any decking materials.

Timber decking is one of the most popular. It looks fantastic and is one of the easiest materials to work with and customise, so you can be sure your decking looks just how you want it to. There are soft and hardwoods, with varying tones and grains, too. It does require a bit of maintenance over time, so that’s worth keeping in mind.

PVC decking is made from plastic and is very low maintenance, giving it an advantage over other materials. Its durability also means it’s going to survive harder wear and tear over time a lot better. That said, it’s not the most sustainable material, so that’s worth thinking about.

The third option is composite decking. This uses both timber and PVC for a best of both worlds outcome. It needs some maintenance, but less so than pure timber, and it benefits from the durability of PVC decking. It sits in the middle for sustainable materials, too.

Planning your deck

Thinking of those sunny afternoons and warm, lazy evenings where you can sit outside and relax in peace or entertain guests surrounded by trees, flowers and such? Us too, but there are a few things to think about before laying any decking.

What do you plan to use the deck for?

Is this a deck to sit and enjoy the sun? Or are you going to be entertaining guests on it? These are just two questions that will help you decide the size and shape of your deck, and the materials you need for the project.

If you have garden furniture that you plan to set up on your deck, spend a bit of time in the garden and position your furniture in different ways. This will give you an idea of how much space they’ll take, what clear areas you’ll have left and what it might mean for the rest of your garden.

Consider the space you have

Every garden is different. Do you want a deck joined to your house, or one in the middle of the garden? Perhaps you want it in the corner where you get the most sun over the course of a day, or are there trees or other features that would make a nice backdrop and allow you to look out over the rest of your outdoor space?

A deck doesn’t have to be a square or rectangle shape. It can be round, a triangle - or any other shape that best fits your garden.

The big questions are; how big should it be, where should it be and what balance do I want to strike.

Think about the kind of deck you want

The final big consideration is whether you want a raised deck or one that sits on the ground. Your choice will not only change the look of your garden but will add some extra steps to the construction of your deck - as well as literally adding a step or two.

The material you need will also change, and extra features, such as handrails, might also be something you need. Thinking these details through now will make sure you’re happy with the end result.

Laying the deck

Once you’ve thought about the kind of deck you want in your garden, it’s time to get on with building it! The following steps will be all about how to lay decking, but as mentioned before, the time it takes will depend on your experience, the size and shape of the deck and whether you’re doing it alone or with help.

Step 1: Preparing the area for your deck

You’ll need:

  • Builder’s line or peg and string
  • Gravel
  • Shovel
  • Spirit level
  • Weed control fabric


Start out by measuring the space for your deck. Using a builder’s line or peg and strings to mark out where it’s going.

In this space, clear away anything that prevents a smooth surface, such as grass, weeds, plants, roots, rocks and anything else you find.

If bordering the lawn, use a trimmer to keep things neat and even out the ground as best you can with the help of a spirit level.

You now have two choices:

The first is to build your deck on this evened out surface. If you opt for this, cover the site in weed control fabric followed by gravel. Then move onto assembling the deck.

The second, and recommended choice, is that you use concrete pads for extra stability and support.

Work out where these pads are needed (at about 1-1.2m intervals) and dig holes 150mm squared and 150mm deep around the area.

Fill with quick-drying cement and use the spirit level to ensure they’re even.

Once dry, cover the area with weed control fabric (with holes for the pads) and add gravel.

Step 2: Assembling the deck’s frame

You’ll need:

Before you start cutting and connecting any of the materials for your deck, it’s time to start with a dry run. It doesn’t have to be perfect but arrange the panels and pieces together so you can see if you have everything you need and can start measuring for any cuts you have to make.

Remember to take into account the gaps at this stage as not everything will be connected together. You’ll be looking at around 6-8mm gaps between deck boards and 3mm at each board’s end.

Once you're happy, you can go ahead and start cutting. Make sure you use the appropriate tools and have a workbench and the right safety equipment, as we’ve listed above.

On each end of the deck’s outer joists, make two pencil marks (meaning eight marks in total, at right angles to the inner joists) for the coach screws.

Drill the holes for the screws and then a slightly smaller hole in the inner joists as a guide for the screws. The end result is the screwheads will be smoothed into the joist for a neat finish.

Take one corner at a time until you have a finished frame over the area you’ve cleared.

If you need to extend the joists, you can use another piece to connect them and keep it inside the frame, showing only the bolts on the outside.

Inner joists are pieces that run from end to end inside the frame, allowing more opportunities to attach the deck boards to the frame for stability.

Step 3: Laying deck boards

You’ll need:

For timber decking:

Start in one corner and position the first deck board. Make sure it is at an opposite angle to the inner joists for more stability. Attach the board to every joist it covers along the frame.

Once the first board is in place, repeat with the second and subsequent boards, leaving enough of a gap for expansion. Keep the gaps even for a good finish.

For composite decking:

You can use the same tools, however, there is a fastening system that, for some people, might be easier.

This uses a series of clips at each end of the deck and between each board, screwed to the joists from the frame. The edges of each composite deck board have been designed to slot into these fasteners.

After assembling the frame, attach start clips along one edge of the outer joist with screws. 

Slide the first board into the clips and then use a hidden fastener on the other side. Screw halfway down, but do not tighten.

Slide the next board into the groove and apply the next hidden fastener in the same way as the first.

At this point, you can tighten the screws on the first hidden fastener you put between the boards. Repeat this process until you reach the last board.

You can finish with an overhang, or a fascia board, which matches the deck surface, by drilling holes at an angle on the final board into the joist. This is then covered by the fascia board.

With an overhang, a fascia board can sit under the overhang for a smooth finish.

Step 4 (optional): For raised decks

You’ll need:


  • Trimmer

While many steps for a raised deck are similar to one on the ground, there are a few differences.

You’ll prepare and clear the area in the same way as outlined earlier, however, the holes for concrete pads will instead support wooden posts that the decking will rest on.

You’ll need four corner posts, but leaving no gaps between them larger than 1.5m along the edge and some in the middle for extra stability.

The outer joists will be attached to the outer posts (once the concrete has dried), while the inner joists can be a mixture of attached to the posts and the outer joists, depending on the size of the frame and how many posts are available.

You can lay the deck boards in the same manner as with a ground deck.

You may need to add steps or a handrail, too, depending on the height and size of the deck. You can find these available to buy or make your own.

Step 5: Maintaining the decking

You’ll need:


  • Paint
  • Stainer

After laying your decking, it’s a good idea to use a sander or sandpaper to go over any cut ends.

You can also use a stainer or paint for a better finish and to protect it from the elements - but this mostly applies to timber decking.

Check over your deck every few months to make sure you spot any issues early and can fix them timely.

Then, all that’s left to do is enjoy your new deck!

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