While it’s up for debate whether the economy has gained ground in the last year, there is no question that new deck-building tools and products are a vast improvement over what was available before the housing market took a dive. New fasteners and attendant air guns promise to speed up the process of attaching decking, and several new clamping tools will help you keep your decking straight. Rounding out this year’s offerings are improved synthetic and natural wood deck boards that should last longer and increase production and profits.

Fasteners and Guns
The big news in fasteners is the increasing popularity and availability of pneumatically driven screws. These threaded fasteners are driven (not turned) into wood and synthetic decking with a compressor-powered nail gun. They’re available in stainless steel and other materials; in various finishes, including ceramic-coated for corrosion resistance; and in different colors to match synthetic decking. Plus, they can be fired by most major manufacturers’ nail guns.

The beauty of these fasteners is that if you need to remove one, you can back it out like a screw (Figure 1). Air-driven screws have pull-out resistance between that of a ring-shank nail and a coarse-thread screw, according to W.C. Litzinger, head of product development at Universal Fastener Outsourcing, which sells its NailScrew fasteners under the UFO brand (800/352-0028, 911-nails.com). Other companies sell pneumatic screws as well (Figure 2).
Tiger Claw (800/928-4437, deckfastener.com) makes a line to use with its concealed fasteners. Fasco America (800/239-8665, fascoamerica.com) markets a line of pneumatic screws called Scrails (SCRew nAILS), which can be used with Fasco’s hidden fasteners and — like UFO’s offerings — are available collated and coiled for general decking installation.

Along with being used to face-nail decking materials, some pneumatic screws can be used to attach joist hangers. Deck builders who have ever put a hanger in the wrong location will appreciate how much easier it is to remove a hanger — without mangling it — when it’s been fastened with pneumatic screws rather than nails. UFO’s pneumatic screw for joist hangers has a bright-white coating on the tip that makes it more visible in low light — a nice feature when you are checking to be sure all the holes in the hanger are filled.

And why stop at attaching decking and joist hangers? According to Dave Martel, director of research and development at Tiger Claw, the company will soon release a new hidden fastener for attaching fascia with pneumatic screws.

To take advantage of screw nails and speed up what can be a tedious installation process, manufacturers have developed guns to drive the screw nails into hidden fasteners. Tiger Claw’s Installation Gun (Figure 3) works with its pneumatic screws and hidden fasteners on most grooved-edge decking. Also, according to the company, most solid-edge boards thicker than 7⁄8 inch can be grooved to work with the gun. Tiger Claw also makes a gun to use with Trex Hideaway fasteners (trex.com/hideaway).

Although Tiger Claw had the first hidden fastener gun on the market, it now has competition. UFO’s Eliminator gun (Figure 4) is designed to work with the Mantis clip (Ty Lan Enterprises; 800/742-3632, shadoetrack.com); UFO says it’s developing adaptations to the gun so it will work with clips from all the major manufacturers.

If you visit the UFO and Tiger Claw websites, you’ll find videos that compare the speed of using their pneumatic screws and guns to that of using other fastening systems, including bulk screws and a drywall gun, and collated-screw auto-feed guns. The videos show how fast the new fasteners are and point to the man-hour savings you’ll realize. Near the top of the UFO home page, you can even download an Excel spreadsheet that will compute your projected savings. Pretty nifty, but consider the source before you get all giddy.

One other UFO product, the SOS Screw Bolt (Figure 5), promises to be a time saver. The bolts, available with a hex or Torx head, have a self-feeding, lag-bolt–like tip that enables you to drive them into and through wood — for instance, two joists that you want to double up. Once the SOS is through the stock, you use a hammer to snap off the lag-bolt-thread tip. The second set of threads on the bolt are machine-bolt–like, which enables you to slip on a washer and then a nut to cinch the joists together. An ingenious product, it’s available in lengths from 31⁄2 inches to 13 inches.

A new player on the deck-clip and pneumatic-screw-gun scenes is the Danish company Hetra Works (877/574-3872, hetraworks.com), known more in this country for cool tool bags. The company not only makes a variety of deck clips that will work with Trex and TimberTech decking, but also has a hidden clip that will work with pressure-treated wood and softwood boards like cedar and redwood. That clip requires the use of a proprietary router bit, the cut from which allows the clip to accommodate the wood’s seasonal movements (Figure 6).

All Hetra clips are designed to be installed with the company’s new pneumatic screw gun, the Power Driver (Figure 7). This gun offers a couple of advantages over the other products on the market. To use the Tiger Claw and UFO pneumatic screw guns, you have to stand in front of the board to be fastened to fire in the screws. That’s not a big deal on a ground-level deck, but it is awkward — and potentially hazardous — if you’re up off the ground and balancing on open joists. On the other hand, to use the Hetra pneumatic screw gun, you stand on the already-fastened deck boards, lean over, and fire the screws back toward the finished decking — which is safer and more ergonomic.

Board Benders
Clamping boards tight has become even more critical than in the days when the goal was only to straighten warped wood. While that’s still important, clamping has taken on the added role of fully seating hidden fasteners in both wood and synthetic decking, thereby ensuring a uniform gap.

Cepco Tool’s BoWrench (800/466-9626, cepcotool.com) has been straightening hooked deck boards since its invention in 1992 (Figure 8), and it’s been followed by several other products that work on the same principle: levering a board into place using the relative stiffness of a perpendicular joist as a fulcrum point.

The Ipe Clip Fastener Co. (866/427-2547, hardwoodwrench.com) makes the Hardwood Wrench (Figure 9), which works the same way as the BoWrench but has a hardwood handle and aircraft aluminum parts, instead of welded and painted square tubing stock. (On the Ipe Clip website, you can also find the BoWrench for sale.)

Another lever-operated deck board straightener is the new BowJak (Figure 10), made by Vaughan & Bushnell (800/435-6000, vaughanmfg.com), the company that makes my favorite hammer. Unlike the previous two board benders, the BowJak doesn’t grip the sides of a joist. Instead, you temporarily drive the tool’s steel spur into the edge of the joist and pry against that. While it might chew up your 2-by stock, this tool could be used to straighten interior flooring as well as exterior decking.

Two new board benders, one from Tiger Claw and one from Hetra, differ somewhat from the other tools on the market in that they are primarily designed to push one deck board onto the hidden clip of an adjacent, already-fastened board.

The rear flange of the Tiger Jaw (Figure 11) hooks onto an already fastened board. When you push on the long, orange handle, the tool forces the unfastened, loose board onto the teeth of a Tiger Clip. The Jaw can be used with the following drive-in Tiger Clips: TC-3S, TC-4S, and Proclip. According to Tiger Claw, the Tiger Jaw can remove a bow from most wood and composite deck boards.

Hetra’s Power Hand (Figure 12, page 54) can bend a deck board by two of the aforementioned methods. Similar to the Tiger Jaw, the Power Hand can hook onto an already fastened board and pull a loose board into place. Alternatively, by slipping an adjustable bracket onto the front of the tool and placing it around a joist, you can push the loose board toward the already fastened one. Because of its dual functionality and its relatively low price of $135, the Power Hand might be the best bender yet.

Synthetic Decking
The big news in decking in the past year has been the introduction of so-called capstock boards by many of the major manufacturers. The components are coextruded with a composite or PVC core and a tough vinyl-like outer layer. Capstocks clean up with soap and water and are available in dark, rich colors.

Manufacturers are reluctant to discuss the chemical composition of the outer layers of their capstock products, but all tout the same benefits: increased durability along with stain, scratch, and fade resistance. In short, they are claimed to combine the best traits of composite and PVC deck boards with none of the detriments. The lengthy warranties — most up to 25 years — indicate that manufacturers stand behind these products (though perhaps you’ve heard that before).

Trex’s capstock, Transcend (800/289-8739, trex.com), is available in grooved or square-edge boards (Figure 13) that are capped on the top and two edges, but not on the bottom. The reason for that, the company says, is so the underside can breathe, which should help prevent surface separation. Transcend railing components are available in the same four colors as the decking, as well as in black and white.

Fiberon’s (800/573-8841, fiberondecking.com) capstock decking, called Horizon, is covered on all four sides with its proprietary PermaTech layer (Figure 14). One advantage to this is you can use either side of a board. Horizon decking is available grooved or square-edged in six rich colors, along with matching fascias and railings.

Capricorn (Figure 15), a capstock style in Universal Forest Products’ Latitudes decking line
(ufpi.com), is also covered on all four sides. Square-edged and grooved boards are available, in two deep wood-tone colors; grooved boards can be attached with the company’s Equator hidden fasteners. The company makes matching railings too.

As capstock decking and railings hit the market with huge advertising campaigns, smaller companies that make chemically altered and improved natural woods began touting their products as well.

Bamboo flooring, a longtime favorite of the building greenies, is now available as outdoor decking (Figure 16). Several companies, including SunDeckAmericas (877/828-3884, sundeckamericas.com), Pacific Western Wood Products (323/266-6200, pacificwesternwoodproducts.com), and Cali Bamboo (888/788-2254, calibamboo.com) are marketing the product, which is made overseas from compressed bamboo fibers and then milled into decking. The decking has a rich brown color and requires periodic sealing and maintenance.

Thermally modified, or “cooked,” wood was developed in Finland, and it’s now gaining a foothold on this side of the pond as more companies license the process and increase distribution networks (Figure 17). The idea behind it is that heating wood up to about 500°F makes the wood’s sugars inedible to mold, mildew, and insects. The heat also makes the wood harder and gives it a pleasing toasted color, which can be maintained by periodic coating with a UV protectant. Companies offering thermally modified decking include Cambia (866/960-9663, cambiawood.com), EcoVantage (888/481-3268, ecoprem.com), Bay Tree (816/581-6190, purewoodproducts.com), and Radiance (866/318-9434, radiancewood.com).

One other promising chemically altered wood is called Accoya (Titan Wood; 972/233-6565, accoya.com), which is the brand name for sustainably harvested radiata pine from New Zealand that has gone through a process called acetylation (Figure 18). The procedure — akin to pickling — reduces the wood’s ability to absorb water; improves the wood’s dimensional stability and ability to hold paint and other finishes; and renders the wood inedible, making it resistant to insects and microbes. The wood has a 25-year in-ground or under-fresh-water warranty and an unheard of 50-year above-ground warranty. The U.S. distributorship of the Doug-fir-colored wood, which can be milled into decking, railing parts, or trim, has been taken on by Universal Forest Products.