Cutting Tools for Deck Building
A circular saw will be your constant companion when framing a deck; a beam saw helps too.
Framing marks the start of the carpentry phase of the project. If you haven’t put on your tool bags up to this point, now is the time because almost all the tools in the bags are essential for framing (See “What’s in the Bags?”). In addition to hand tools, you will also need a circular saw. Other tools to consider are levels, drill drivers, and a pneumatic hanger nailer (one brand is Teco®).
It used to be that Skil® and Porter-Cable® brands were the standard-bearers for portable worm-drive or sidewinder saws. However, there are now many brands that make reputable saws in either or both categories including Ridgid, Makita®, DeWALT®, Bosch®, and Milwaukee®.
The question of whether a worm-drive saw or a sidewinder is better is a never-ending debate. Both categories have advantages, and which saw you buy comes down to personal preference. If you have experience with neither saw, see if you can test some saws before making your purchase because while they may be equal in quality they are definitely different. The photos here show author Scott Grice using a worm-drive saw because, starting as a framer in the western United States, this is the type of saw he learned carpentry with. If you ask a carpenter in the eastern United States what saw he or she works with, most likely it will be a sidewinder.
Beam saws can make a deep depth of cut. A 4x beam is 3 1/2 in. thick, and the typical circular saw can cut only 2 1/2 in. Of course, you can flop the beam over and cut from both sides but that gets tiresome, and for larger beams a 2 1/2-in. cut from both sides still wouldn’t be enough. Fortunately, Makita makes a beam-cutting saw with a 16 5/16-in. blade for a maximum cut of 6 1/4 in. At almost $800, this is certainly a tool you’ll want to rent instead of buy. Most equipment rental stores will carry this saw. A Prazi attachment is also a common beam-cutting option you can rent. This attachment is basically a chainsaw arm that mounts to a standard worm-drive circular saw. The Prazi can be a little less intimidating to operate, but the blade can wander off line if you are not careful with the cut.
Reciprocating saws can be used to finish a beam cut that didn’t go all the way through. However, because its blade tends to wander, it’s difficult to justify the purchase or rental of a reciprocating saw for a deck project, unless you need to do some demolition beforehand. The finish cut on a beam can easily be made with a good handsaw in about the time it would take to fetch the reciprocating saw from your truck. A multi-tool, on the other hand, has a way of finding itself useful, especially for cutting back siding. If you think you might use it for other projects, a multi-tool is a good investment but certainly not essential.
Cutting Tools for Deck Building
Make no mistake, circular saws are important for framing, but building a deck can involve a wide range of tasks and tools. Besides the right-angle grinders and multi-tools already mentioned, here are a few common cutting tools found on deck-building job sites.