Retrofit your deck with composite

Use finish-free materials to escape the maintenance monster

By Steve Maxwell

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Invisible anchors

With material as expensive and long-lasting as composites, you should consider an invisible fastener system. Although a clean, fastener-free surface is much nicer than one riddled with screw heads, there are two problems that most invisible fastener systems have in common. First of all, most are expensive. They’re also much slower to install than face-driven screws. The FastenMaster system I used isn’t any cheaper than others, but installation is very fast compared to others. It’s based on plastic clips that anchor to the underside of the deck boards with small, flathead woodscrews that are included in the box. Flip the deck board over, then drive longer screws through an angled hole in the edge of the clip and into the floor joist. Clips on the next board interlock with those on the ones you just screwed down. From then on, you simply drive the long, angled screws into the outer edges of the deck boards only. Each clip includes a flange that ensures consistent spacing. Also, since the screws that anchor the clips to the underlying floor joists are angled, they automatically pull the deck boards tight to the previously installed row. Each clip also raises the deck board 3/16″ off the top of the floor joists, ensuring fast evaporation of rainwater.

Plugged in

There comes a point when even the best invisible fastener system can’t be used. In my case, this was at the outer edge where the bullnosed deck board overhangs the edge of the deck, and on the last course of boards along the wall of the house, where there isn’t enough room to drive the angled anchoring screws. My solution for both these situations is the same: counterbored galvanized deck screws driven down into the underlying floor joists, then covered with tapered plugs made from Trex. I used a plug cutter to make the plugs and glued them in place with weatherproof adhesive.

When making the plugs, you need to cut strips of the material so they’re as thick as the plugs will be. When you cut plugs this way on the drillpress, they’ll break away from the rest of the material as they’re cut, with the wood grain pattern on the bottom surface. Stop the drillpress, pull out the plug with your fingers, then start the machine and cut another plug. This process takes longer than cutting wooden plugs from a thicker block (then cutting them free afterward as a group), but it’s the only way to preserve the superficial wood grain on composites.

Added touch

Routed details add so much beauty and they take so little time. (In my opinion, these deck details are not used often enough.)

I have three routed profiles on my deck: a 1 1/2″-thick bullnose on all overhanging edges, a 45º chamfer on all board ends, and a 3/16″ radius milled onto long edges, to re-establish the factory-rounded profile whenever it was cut off while making boards narrower on the tablesaw.


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