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Replacing Deck Boards

Updated: Feb. 20, 2023

Don't build a new deck if all you have to do is replace a few deck boards

FH98FEB_RPLDBS_01-2Family Handyman

Has your deck seen better days? You probably don't have to rebuild the whole thing. Whether you have one bad deck board to replace or many, the process is the same. We'll show you how on an old, weathered deck, because you can save hundreds of dollars in lumber by splicing in boards instead of replacing the entire decking.

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Here’s the strategy: Cut out the bad pieces so that the splices are offset by at least one joist width, and new boards are at least two joist spaces wide. Staggered splices look better and make a stronger deck. Removing the bad sections and making the splices work can be a bit of a puzzle, so get off on the right foot by marking the replacement boards before starting.

If you want a close match between old and new deck boards, you’ll have to match the species of wood. This is tricky, because weathered deck boards look alike. Remove a board, cut it with a circular saw, and smell the wood to identify the species. Pressure-treated pine has a sweet smell, cedar an aromatic smell, and redwood a more pungent smell. Ask your lumberyard to cut a scrap from each species and match the smell to your own board.

Since you’ll be cutting random-length replacement boards, buy the longest boards you can transport; they’ll yield less waste. Buy galvanized or stainless steel nails or screws long enough to penetrate the joists by at least 1-1/2 in. The length of the fasteners depends on the thickness of your decking.

Installation tips

Cut out the bad part of the board

Cut the section of bad board free from the joists at both ends with a jigsaw. Cut alongside the joist using a Speed square as a guide. Angle the saw blade a few degrees so the new board will butt the top edge of the old board tightly.

Pull the nails and remove the board

Pull the nails that hold the board in the middle. Drive a cat’s paw into the wood under the nailhead. Pull back on the handle to remove the nail. If the nailhead pulls off, use locking pliers to grab the nail shank.

Install cleats

Install nailing cleats to support the ends of the new board. Nail or screw the 12-in. long cleats to the joists after pulling them up against the bottom of the remaining deck boards.

Put flashing over decaying joists

If the top edge of a joist is soft and beginning to rot, place a flashing tin on top of it and bend the edges down. You can also brush on a copper-based preservative, available at home centers, before installing flashing.

Flatten the nail tip or pre-drill screw holes

Flatten the tip of the nail before driving it at the end of a board. The flattened tip punches a plug of wood from the board and reduces splitting. If you’re using deck screws, predrill the holes at the end of the boards.

Always cut out pieces that span at least two joist spaces. This keeps the new boards from splitting as they age. For best appearance, stagger the splices from one row to the next by at least one joist space. You may need to cut beyond the rot and remove intact wood to make the splices work.

Position the new boards so the growth rings cup down. The grain won’t split open and collect water as readily. For a really clean cut, identify the top side of the board, flip it over, and make the cut. The bottom of the board gets a cleaner cut because circular saw teeth cut from the bottom up. When you cut a board, don’t leave a knot at the end. To get a tight joint between old and new boards, angle the jigsaw slightly when cutting out the bad board so the bevel on the remaining deck board is longer at the top.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Cat's paw
  • Circular saw
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Extension cord
  • Hammer
  • Hearing protection
  • Jigsaw
  • Locking pliers
  • Miter saw
  • Nail set
  • Pry bar
  • Safety glasses
  • Sawhorses
  • Speed square
  • Tape measure

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Deck boards
  • Galvanized nails and screws