My company builds 40 or more decks per year, so we've become extremely efficient at it. Our crews' experience and know-how are important factors in our success, but tools play a part, too. Most of our tools are the same ones any builder or remodeler would use, but one benefit to specializing in a particular trade is that investing in specialized tools pays off. Those that I've found especially useful in my deck business are the ones I'll concentrate on here.
Almost every project we do involves some kind of demolition, from tearing off an entire deck to removing deck boards and railings for a resurfacing project. There is nothing glamorous about demo, so our goal is to take the deck apart as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Most carpenters use generic crowbars for deck demo. That works, but it's slow going and awkward, since you're prying against a 1-1/2-inch joist and have to work from the side where the deck boards have been removed. We've used a lot of different pry bars, and our go-to tools for removing deck boards are The Gutster and the Duckbill Deck Wrecker.
The Gutster. This tool (1) provides excellent leverage for prying apart framing and removing the first couple of deck boards (2). It will fit over single or double joists and has two pointed "fangs" you can jam into cracks and joints to gain purchase. The tool is ergonomic but heavy enough to split a 5/4 x 6 cedar deck board in half if used in a downward stabbing motion. It also has nail-pulling slots — much like those on a roof shovel — that are useful for quickly denailing joists during resurfacing projects. Since the design of the tool requires that the user stand on the joists while prying up deck boards, we don't like to use it for board removal — but we use it for everything else. Sometimes we even dig with it.
The Gutster has been through several design incarnations since its initial release. The original was extremely durable. We still have our first Gutster and have demoed hundreds of decks with it, though it's now beat-looking and bent. About three years back the manufacturer switched to an oval-tubed design, and those tools were nearly disposable. We had a couple of them, and the head weld would crack after one or two jobs. The manufacturer has since gone back to a round handle, which seems to have fixed the problem. We've used one of the current model tools to demolish 10 decks, and it's still going strong. Price: $75. www.thegutster.com.
Duckbill Deck Wrecker. We use the Duckbill Deck Wrecker (3) to remove deck boards. That's all it's designed to do — and without a doubt, it's the fastest way to get this job done. The long handle provides plenty of prying power and the head (4) spans the joists and presses up from below in such a way that the user can stand on the deck while levering off boards with amazing speed.
The tool works on boards that are nailed or screwed. Although I've never actually timed it, I would guess that a two-man crew can deboard a 250-square-foot nailed-down deck in about 15 minutes. The boards come off so quickly a helper can stay busy clearing and stacking deck boards as they're removed. The job's not quite as fast without a helper because the operator will have to stop every so often to clear the boards.
We like that we can reverse the head by pulling a pin, because when we get close to the house where there's not enough room for the handle to be levered, we can still get into tight spaces. This highly specialized tool is worth every penny, and I would recommend having one for your next project. Price: $60. www.duckbilldeckwrecker.com.