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Deck Fasteners and the Three Little Pigs

deck clipsWhich of the three little pigs would you rather be? The one with the strong brick house seems the obvious choice. Unfortunately, not all construction projects are as obvious as this familiar fairy tale. Sometimes, a single subtle aspect of construction can make or break an entire project.

When it comes to decking materials, fasteners are a crucial element. From nails to screws to clips, you have plenty of options for attaching the decking material to its frame. Like the houses of the three little pigs, some fasteners are stronger than others. This article will provide an overview of the types of deck fasteners on the market. It will also explain the structural and aesthetic reasons for preferring deck clips to other fasteners, especially for cedar decks.

Why Deck Clips Are Important

Whether you’re planning to hire a contractor or build a cedar or composite deck yourself, deck fasteners are a key consideration. They hold the decking material to the frame, thereby keeping the whole deck in place over the long term.

Rain, wind, and sun take their toll on all deck parts, but structurally, certain areas of a deck are more susceptible to decay than others. For instance, footers (where the deck comes in contact with the ground) are structurally vulnerable, since soil moisture weakens wood. The fasteners are another key area. If you don’t choose steadfast deck fasteners for your project, you could be dealing with screws coming loose, nails protruding, or the wood around the fasteners staining and splitting the face of your deck. In other words, fasteners often determine the strength and beauty of a deck over the long term. The most common deck fasteners include:

Nails. The advantage of nails over other fasteners is that they are the fastest to install and are typically the least expensive fasteners available. When it comes to using nails, choose galvanized rather than electro-plated. Spiral groove or ring shank nails are also preferable. If you have a deck installed using nails, it’s a good idea to examine the boards regularly for splitting or popped nails.

Screws. Screws are generally considered an upgrade to nails, as they provide extra strength over the long term. They take about twice as long to install and come with a higher price tag, but many homeowners consider the upgrade worthwhile.

Those who would use screws are advised to choose ones with self-cutting tips, so they are less likely to snap off as you screw them in. Stainless steel screws are best for cedar, since they are resistant to corrosion and won’t attract stains. (Cedar takes on a black color when it comes in contact with moisture and iron.) Screws with spiral shafts and bugle heads are good for decking projects because they are unlikely to work free of the wood. They also leave no extraneous indents, which is too often a side effect of hammering nails. Avoid drywall screws; they’re too weak for outdoor projects.

Deck clips. When it comes to deck fasteners, deck clips are the newest kid on the block. To return to the three pigs analogy, deck clips are the “brick house” of deck fasteners. The first advantage of using deck clips is that they are virtually invisible—you won’t see stains, holes or splitting on the surface of the deck if you use clips. Nor will you see rows of nail heads or screw tops.

The installation method also distinguishes deck clips. As we’ve seen, nails and screws are driven down through the surface of the deck to connect with the framework. In contrast, deck clips are inserted between boards, not through the top. Their placement makes deck clips much more visually pleasing than screws and nails.

Structural strength is another important reason to choose deck clips. They are driven through the deck joists, meaning there will be very little structural shift as the deck ages. A final benefit of deck clips is that they lend uniformity to any deck’s surface. They create consistent spacing between each board, which is pleasing both to the eye and to the handyperson who must refinish your deck.

All in all, it’s best to choose deck clips if you have the chance. Not only will deck clips beautify your deck, but they are also the strongest fastener available.

~Colleen Welch, 2010

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