Building Your Own Portable Deck: A Shopping Guide for Beginning Women Woodworkers

When my father passed away last November, he left a well-stocked woodshop behind — so well stocked, in fact, that it was impossible to step foot inside the shed without bumping into something or knocking over something else. I knew that underneath the stacked boxes and random objects, I’d find a whole workshop full of tools I could learn how to use, but getting there required lots of moving boxes and lots of sorting. Now that I’ve reached the stage that I can see the floor again as well as the tools, I realized that I would need to build a lot of projects to use up all that wood, but more importantly, that I would need to store the wood elsewhere in order to effectively use the space.

I started looking around for a pre-built shed, but even with all my research skills, I quickly realized that buying a pre-fab shed was going to be too expensive for my meager budget. If you are interested in purchasing a pre-made shed, figure out your size before you shop. If you can make do with a small shed, in the 4 x 6 foot range, you can probably get something to meet your needs in the range of $800 – $1200. Larger sheds, 14 x 16, run upwards of $2000. Note, too, that these prices are for the lower end priced sheds. If you want a longer lasting shed of quality materials, you’ll pay double. I decided to build my own, but first I needed to do some planning. Building a whole shed was beyond my skill level and time constraints, so I decided that a wooden floor on which to stack more wood then cover with plastic / tarps was a great first step. Later, I can building up walls and a roof, if I desire.

If you are planning to build your own wood shed, you have a few things to consider. First, you need to plan your space. We decided to place the wood shed on the side of the workshop, but that involved cutting down a few overgrown sumac trees with the best chain saw and clearing out a jagger bush, and let me tell you, that was fun. If you don’t have the tools already, you’ll likely need at least a pair of heavy duty shears, a pair of work gloves, and metal flat rake. You can buy all of these pretty inexpensively at your local hardware store, but I recommend buying a higher quality pair of shears, if you can afford them. Around me, Big Lots had a flimsy pair for $10, which would have probably done the job then fallen apart, but at Busy Beaver, I paid a few extra bucks for a solid pair that should be around for at least a couple of years.

Now that the ground is prepared, see if it’s level. Again, if you don’t have a level, you can pick one up pretty cheap at the hardware store. If the ground is only minimally uneven, rake it out yourself, if it’s moderately uneven, you can accommodate for this with gravel added to the site, or with the legs of the portable deck. Figure out how big a deck your space can accommodate and evaluate the materials you have on hand. Here’s an approximation of what you will need:

4 2×6 boards, all the same length

1 2 x 6 board, twice the thickness of the 3 (i.e. plus 3 inches, ish)

enough 1 x 6 boards to cover the frame

galvanized decking screws

thompson water seal

Tools you need:

A saw – we used a miter saw, hand tools will work but take longer.

Measuring tape

Pencil  amp; paper – for marking  amp; recording measurements

Electric drill with a drill bit smaller in diameter than your screws  amp; a screwdriver bit

Tips for buying wood: When you are beginning, work with pine. It’s an expensive and easy to work with softwood. My 2 x 6 8 ft boards were $2.88 plus tax at Lowe’s and $3.49 plus tax at Busy Beaver. When buying wood, try for boards that have minimal knotting, no splits, and no warping. You aren’t going to find a perfect board for $3, but don’t just grab the first one off the top either. To tell if a board is warped, twisted, or cupped, place one end of the board on the floor and look down the length. You’ll be able to see any defects easier this way. Even if you are unsure when you are shopping for wood, act confident and just try this method, even if you are embarrassed to look like you don’t know anything. How can you learn if you don’t try it, and believe me, you don’t want to end up with a messed up board just because you were shy. If you are shopping and someone hands you the wood, like they did at the one hardware store I went to, don’t be afraid to check it out and decline it if it looks bad. However, if you are looking at 10 boards and rejecting them all, you are either expecting too much OR shopping somewhere with bad wood. Use your judgment and either leave or suck it up and just choose one already.

Buy a large box of the screws. You don’t need the most expensive screws out there, but don’t buy plain stainless screws either. The galvanized ones will work best with your deck, and should cost about $8 for a box of 100. Don’t skimp on the waterseal either. You might be able to get a store brand, which might be just fine for your needs, but a gallon of Thompson’s is $17 and will cover 200 – 300 feet of boards (i.e. enough for this project and a few others).

Build a frame with the 2 x 6 boards. We built the frame to suit the length of the 1 x 6 boards, so we only had to cut the frame boards, but if you have tight size requirements, you might need to cut all of your boards. Follow the adage: Measure twice, cut once, and don’t rush the process. Once you’ve built your frame, which will need at least one center support (which will divide your frame evenly into two parts. Floor boards will lay across this perpendicularly), but depending on your size, might need more. (Our 95 x 72 inch deck needed 3). Once you’re done building the frame, using 2 screws per join, attach the floor boards by screwing the boards to the frame on each end and to the center supports. When you are done, paint the whole thing with water sealant and congratulate yourself on a job well done.