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How to Build a Freestanding Deck

Learn how to properly design, frame, and build a code-compliant freestanding deck, and take these skills onsite from start to finished product with expert builder and craftsman Mike Guertin.

  • Access to course material for 30 days.
  • Train with a Pro

  • Spanish Subtitles Available

  • Mobile Access

  • 37 In-depth Lessons

  • Certificate of Completion

  • Practical Resources

Lesson Plan

37 Video Lessons · 6H 30M

  • 1. Introduction to Building a Deck

    Craftsman and construction trades trainer Mike Guertin walks you through the skills and design approaches that deck-building entails, including excavation, footings, framing, decking and finishing.

  • 2. Planning the Deck

    Mike describes his process for turning the homeowners' ideas into a set of building plans, a material list and an equipment list so when the crew gets to the jobsite they can start building without delay.

  • 3. Deck Finishes Determine the Framing Plan

    The decking and fascia details have to be thought through during plan development to come up with the deck framing dimensions. See how Mike plans the decking layout and fascia to make a materials list.

  • 4. Deck Framing Methods

    Not all decks are framed the same way. Learn about the four common deck framing methods, the factors that influence the choice between one approach and another, and why Mike recommended the freestanding flush beam method for this deck project.

  • 5. Planning: Deck Joist Span

    Learn how to determine the joist span of rim-beam style deck joists that are supported by joist hangers.

  • 6. Planning: Deck Code

    Mike introduces the International Residential Code (IRC) and the different versions used by states and counties around the US. Learn how the deck section of the IRC has expanded over 15 years and why that can be useful to deck builders. During the course, he'll reference the 2021 IRC.

  • 7. Planning: Loads and the Deck Joist Span Table

    Learn what the three gravity loads decks need to be designed for, how the deck joist span table is arranged, and how to select a joist size based on a joist span.

  • 8. Planning: Deck Plan Development and Sizing Deck Beams

    Mike explains why including as much information and detail on the deck plans helps building officials understand your design and the field crew build the deck accurately. Learn how to use the deck beam span tables in the IRC to size a deck beam and locate the footings.

  • 9. Planning: Sizing Deck Footings

    Learn two methods to determine the size of your concrete deck footings: the IRC footing tables and by doing a load calculation. Along the way you’ll see how to measure the tributary area that loads a footing and how to measure the load-bearing capacity of the soil.

  • 10. Deck Framing Plan Review

    Mike takes you onsite to visualize how each component of a deck frame, the decking, and the finishes have to be considered when refining the deck design so that everything translates smoothly from paper to ground.

  • 11. Deck Framing Options: Ledger Support and Free Standing

    When building a deck, you have two basic framing options: ledger supported decks and freestanding decks. Learn the construction differences between them as well as the challenges and advantages of each approach so you can determine which is the right choice for your project.

  • 12. Deck Footing Positions

    Deck footings secure the frame of your deck into the ground. Learn how to take precise measurements and mark the positions for your footings following the deck plan.

  • 13. Footing Forms and Checking Grade

    Mike explains the round footing forms used to support the deck and the site-built rectangular forms used under the stair boxes. Then he shows how to use a rotary laser and story pole to check the existing soil grade to roughly size the footing form heights.

  • 14. Measuring Soil Capacity, Setting Footing Forms, Mixing and Placing Concrete

    Mike shows how to use the rotary laser to set screws indicating the top level of the concrete in each form. Learn how to measure soil bearing capacity - a measurement used to calculate footing size; a trick to mark a square line around a round footing form before cutting; and how to mix concrete for the right consistency before placing it in the footing forms.

  • 15. Post Base Hardware and Anchors

    Post base hardware connects the posts to the deck footings. Mike shows different styles of post bases and the anchor hardware that can be used to connect them to the concrete footings.

  • 16. Anchoring Post Bases and Prepping Beneath the Deck

    Once the concrete has set and the forms removed, you’ll anchor the post bases to the deck footings. See how to precisely locate the post bases and use a rotary hammer to drill for the expansion anchors. Mike will also prep the earth beneath the deck to block weeds from growing through the gaps between deck boards.

  • 17. Measuring the Post Height

    How tall do your posts have to be to reach from post base to the bottom of the beam? Learn how to use a rotary laser, receiver and measuring stick to accurately determine the post lengths so the beams will be level.

  • 18. Installing Beam Posts

    Learn about the different fasteners you can use to secure metal hardware to the framing like the post bases to the wood posts, and tips for installing them properly. Mike explains the building code requirement for treating field cuts in pressure-treated lumber and the products you can use.

  • 19. Beam Assembly

    Learn how to select lumber to assemble a multi ply beam to support the deck joists. See how to fasten the beam plys so it complies with building code requirements and how to ensure the beam plys stay tight together.

  • 20. Post Cap Hardware

    Post cap hardware is used to connect the deck posts to beams. See some examples of different types of post caps and learn what to consider when choosing between them.

  • 21. Joist Layout on the Beam

    Mike explains common deck joist spacing dimensions and how your choice of deck boards and decking direction influences the spacing. Learn how to mark the joist layout on the beam.

  • 22. Joist Hangers, Hardware Corrosion and Lumber Crowns

    Mike explains the differences between the two styles of joist hangers used for building a deck and where each is used. Learn where corrosion is more likely to occur and what you can do to improve the lifespan of deck hardware. And see how to crown deck joists for an even looking deck surface.

  • 23. Setting Deck Joists

    Mike walks you through setting your joists into the beams and shares hardware tips, like how the right joist length can make the process especially simple.

  • 24. Squaring the Deck Frame

    Mike demonstrates two methods to check and adjust the deck frame square: using a good old fashioned measuring tape, and calculating with the Pythagorean theorem using a construction calculator.

  • 25. Lateral Bracing and Joist Hanger Functions

    Learn how to install temporary and permanent bracing to stabilize your deck frame. Mike explains important joist hanger functions and installation details that ensure the hangers do their job.

  • 26. Deck Stairs and Capping Joists

    Building wide deck stairs requires precision. See how Mike frames stairs using stacked boxes and how he determines the height of the stair boxes, lays out the runners, and assembles the parts. Learn how capping joists and beams can improve deck frame durability.

  • 27. Guards and Hand Rails

    Mike walks you through hand and guard rail uses and when the building code requires them to be installed on a deck. Learn how to apply the building code’s height measurement test to determine when a guard is required.

  • 28. Fastening the Stair Boxes

    Learn how to fasten the stair boxes to the deck framing and to each other while adjusting the alignment so they’re straight and equally spaced. And see how Mike anchors the stair framing to the footings.

  • 29. Load Paths

    There are three forces to consider when determining how to build a deck frame: gravity, uplift, and lateral. Mike walks you through each force, and how you can build safely and securely with each in mind.

  • 30. Tributary Area for Rim Beam Deck

    Mike demystifies the concept of the tributary area, and shows how to properly measure it. Tributary area is used to determine the size of your deck footings.

  • 31. Tributary Area for Cantilever Deck

    Learn how to measure the tributary area for a footing supporting a deck with a cantilever beyond the beam.

  • 32. Joist Span for Rim Beam Deck

    Mike describes how to measure the joist span on a rim beam style deck.

  • 33. Joist Span for Cantilever Deck

    Mike describes how to measure the joist span on a deck where the joists cantilever over a beam.

  • 34. Beam Span

    Mike describes how to measure the beam span when designing a deck frame.

  • 35. Blocking and Preparing for Finishes

    Mike walks you through the final step of preparation, installing blocking for the fascia boards.

  • 36. Fascia Installation and Pressure-Treated Lumber

    Learn how to install the fascia boards and riser boards which trim out the perimeter of the deck. And Mike explains the different levels of pressure-treated lumber treatment used for framing a deck.

  • 37. Decking Installation

    Mike describes the decking manufacturer’s profiles and how he selected the material for use as fascia boards and deck boards. Learn how to plan the decking lengths to minimize waste and stagger the butt joints. See how the hidden fastener system works for this unique decking work.

Who it's for: This course is designed for first-time deck builders, contractors, and even seasoned trade professionals who want to learn better techniques for their work.

Key Topics

  • How to build a deck

  • Deck building code

  • Choosing decking material

  • Deck joist spacing

  • How to build deck stairs

  • How to frame a deck

5 Out of
5 stars

Overall rating of 12 students

Become Job Ready

This course will increase your knowledge for jobs like:




Apprentice Carpenter


Construction Laborer


Carpenter Assistant


Carpenter Helper



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> 6 seats
Save $5 per seat
$70 per seat

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    MT Copeland helps you further your career in the building industry with expert-led online education that will make you a better, smarter tradesperson.

    Our training courses give you a foundation in construction fundamentals and trade skills with real-world applications and best practices to help you grow on the job.

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