Bending Composite Decking
HC 99-300 Heat Forming Kit
Street price: $3,000
Figure 1. In about 40 minutes, heat pads raise
the temperature of the composite board, making it bendable.
Insulation above and below keeps in the warmth.
I'm no stranger to bending composite deck boards by heating them.
Over the last 10 years, I've tried a number of different methods,
but only recently have I found one that's truly feasible.
In 1997, for example, I used a 20-inch Sonotube and some space
heaters to bend Trex. Unfortunately, this method was slow and
imprecise; just when I thought I had it fine-tuned, I'd break
another three or four boards.
Next, I built what may have been the first decking-bending tank,
with a 12-inch schedule-40 PVC drainpipe and four 120-volt water
heaters. It heated boards faster and more consistently than my
other system, and I used it to build three "ego decks" — the
kind that build up your ego, but not your wallet.
I attempted to use my drainpipe tank, one cold January in 1998, to
bend decking for what I planned to be the most awesome display deck
at the local home show — and I broke 26 20-foot boards in a
I tried one final bend, letting the deck board sit in the boiling
water while I ran an errand. The tank reached critical mass and
sagged, spilling the water and leaving me with a steaming pile of
trash and the realization that no one was going to pay for the true
cost of that bending procedure.
Heatcon HC 99-300 Kit
Off and on, I continued to play around with bending. Then last
October at the Seattle JLC Live show, I saw Keith Skogland and
Keith Cahill from Heatcon bending PVC trim and some decking. I
asked if they could bend EverGrain decking, and they said, "If it's
got plastic in it, we can bend it." As I've found that EverGrain is
particularly hard to bend, I was intrigued.
Heatcon has been manufacturing flexible heating blankets and
controls for the aerospace composite-repair industry for the past
25 years. Two years ago, a large PVC-board manufacturer hired the
company to design a system to bend PVC trim, and since then, more
than 500 PVC-bending kits have been put into the field.
Heatcon has now turned its attention to the decking industry with
the introduction at JLC Live of heat forming kits for bending
composite decking (Figure 1).
The 10-foot kit costs $1,700 and the 20-foot kit costs $3,000. All
heating blankets are 120-volt and run on house current.
I obtained a 20-foot kit. To test it, I had the perfect project: I
was replacing the decking on a curved deck I'd built four years
previously. At the time, I had wanted to bend the top cap of the
guardrail, but settled instead for jointing it at each post. Now I
planned to use EverGrain decking boards bent to the curve of the
deck to create a nearly seamless top cap.
I drilled a 1/8-inch hole in the side of the deck board and
inserted a digital thermometer to monitor its internal temperature.
One heat pad went below the board, and one above, with insulation
piled on top to hold in the heat. It took about 40 minutes to reach
the magic number of 265°F — hot enough to soften the
board, but not so hot as to scorch it.
My helpers and I pulled back the insulation and lifted the
"noodley" deck board. We placed the hot board on the deck and
pushed it up against the posts, bending it to the exact curve of
the deck but at a slightly tighter radius than ultimately needed,
to allow for some "spring back" (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Pushed tight to the inside of the
posts and secured with binder straps, the bent board is left to
cool. Working to the inside of the posts bends the board to a
slightly tighter radius, allowing for some "spring back" at
We used binder straps to hold the board in place while it cooled,
and stuck another deck board between the blankets to heat. Forty
minutes later, out popped another noodley deck board. We cut and
installed the first one, then repeated the process a couple of
times until we had created a beautiful curved railing for my
clients (Figure 3).
Figure 3. After its length is marked in place,
the bent board is bevel-cut to be joined to another (left). The
crew uses screws to attach the curved cap rail (right).
I have to tell you that EverGrain has not fully endorsed heating
and bending its products. But I will also tell you that this is the
neatest bending apparatus I've ever played around with. I'm already
thinking of all the artistic inlay designs, curved ribbon edge
boards, and curved railings that I will be able to offer my clients
— not to fill my ego, but to fill my wallet.
Okay, I confess, maybe my ego will like it, too.Kim Katwijk builds decks in Olympia, Washington; Linda Katwijk
helps put his experience into words.
A Pair of Cordless Impact Drivers
Street price: $280
Street price: $295
The rat-a-tat-tat of a cordless impact driver is music to my ears.
I've owned several over the past 10 years, and they're absolutely
essential to my business. So, I was excited to try out two new
drivers that use lithium-ion batteries as opposed to the previous
generation's nickel-metal-hydride batteries. With more than 2,000
lineal feet of bad decking to remove and replace, I gave them to my
crew for a head-to-head competition.
Up against the 3.5-pound Hitachi 18V WH18DL was the 3.3-pound
Makita 18V BTD140. The Hitachi has an overall length of 63/8 inches
with a maximum torque of 1,330 inch-pounds. The Makita is slightly
more compact, with an overall length of 53/4 inches and a maximum
torque of 1,280 inch-pounds.
The first thing my crew and I noticed about these new drivers was
how much more torque they had than the old NiMH impact drivers. The
weight difference between the new and the old, though, is barely
Comfort and Performance
Round one went to the Makita, as the guys preferred its balance and
feel over that of the Hitachi.
The performance round, however, was a tie. Both guns removed screws
easily all day long, with no noticeable differences, and they both
did an excellent job driving screws and lags.
The Hitachi and the Makita both claim 3-amp-hour batteries, and,
again, there was no noticeable difference between the two. We did
notice a definite improvement over the old NiMH-battery tools,
Both impact drivers have lights. The Hitachi's is part of the tool
hook and sits to the left side of the grip. It can be turned on or
off. The Makita's light is integrated into the main tool body just
below the driver tip, and turns on every time the driver is
The warranties are difficult to compare. Makita offers a three-year
warranty on the tool, with a limited, one-year warranty on the
battery. Hitachi's impact driver has a longer, five-year warranty,
but its batteries are warranted for just 90 days. Because the
battery is usually the first thing to go on cordless tools, this
round went to Makita.
In the end, we called it a draw between these two tools. But
between them and the old NiMH-powered drivers, there was no
comparison. You definitely want a lithium-ion-
powered impact driver.
by John Wilder
The AIM Group
Street price: $189
Every year I go to the International Builders' Show looking for
something that makes me stop and say, "Wow," and this year I was
not disappointed. Among my favorites was the Jeep double-tired
wheelbarrow (it's licensed by Jeep and DaimlerChrysler, not made by
The sales rep who was demonstrating it — who weighed at least
200 pounds —threw himself into the wheelbarrow and then asked
me to wheel him around. Surprisingly, thanks to the well-balanced
bucket and the low rolling resistance of the wheels, it was nearly
As a guy who has wheeled far too much concrete uphill and over
rough terrain, I can't recommend this wheelbarrow enough.
A 3/4-inch-diameter axle (larger than the standard 5/8-inch
wheelbarrow axle) helps to earn this wheelbarrow a 500-pound load
capacity, while rebar-reinforced side stays support an 8-cubic-foot
HDPE tub. Long steel handles come higher off the ground than is
typical, providing a longer lever for lifting heavy loads, and a
shorter reach for an aging back.
The flat-profile, non-pneumatic tires are guaranteed not to go
flat, and are said not to sink as far into soft ground — such
as mud or sand — as regular round-profile pneumatic tires.
And for about $50, these wheels can also be had as replacements,
bored for a standard 5/8-inch axle.
The bad news? You can't buy this wheelbarrow just yet: It's not due
out until the second week of June. The projected $189 price is more
than most wheelbarrows cost, but probably less than a series of
visits to your chiropractor.
John Wilder is a deck builder in Jacksonville, Fla.
Clamp-on Joist Holder
Grabber Construction Products
Street price: $56/pair
One of the cool finds at Deck Expo this year was the Joist Jaw, a
forehead-slapping why-didn't-I-think-of-that tool. It clamps to the
top of a joist by means of an integral handscrew, and a heavy-gauge
steel tab extends past the joist's end to rest on a ledger or
flush-beam. With the joist thus supported, affixing the joist
hanger becomes a snap.
An added advantage is that the Joist Jaw automatically flushes the
top of the joist with the top of whatever member it abuts. If I
were still building on a regular basis, I'd take the padlock off my
billfold and buy a pair of these in a heartbeat. — A.E.
Arcus Radius-Cutting Circular Saw
7 1/4-Inch Carbide-Tooth Blade
Street price: $65
Is it possible to cut decking to a 35-inch radius arc with a
circular saw? It is, if you use an Arcus 7 1/4-inch, 24-tooth,
carbide circular saw blade. Just slip this blade into your favorite
circular saw (with a 1/2-inch arbor), and you can cut a clean arc
in almost any material at any depth up to the full depth of the
blade (2 3/4 inches). It's easy to guide and gives a smooth
Set the blade 1/4 inch deeper than the thickness of the material to
be cut. You can start cutting on the edge, or with a plunge cut;
the rest of the cut is done at a normal speed. Don't force the
blade through hard material — just take it slow and
On a recent deck job, I test-cut arcs with radii from 35 inches to
14 feet in EverGrain decking material using the Arcus, as well as a
standard carbide blade. The standard blade did fine on arcs with
large radii, but for arcs with radii from 35 inches to 6 feet, the
Arcus is the perfect blade. It is a bit expensive at $65, but worth
it if you cut curves regularly.