Hot Topics: Nails vs. Screws for New Decking

A handyman constructing a wood deck and using an impact driver.

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A new DIYer is installing new decking boards on an existing frame, and isn't sure whether to use nails or screws for the pine boards. As always, the forum has some helpful advice.

Original Post: New decking help

zeus2112 Member

I'm new to DIY and am going to take on this project of laying down new decking. My current decking is totally shot, meaning the boards are rotted and need to be replaced. The frame is fine, though. I was planning on pulling up the old boards and laying new ones down—seems pretty straightforward.

Deck specs: Approx 14' x 18.'

I will use PT pine boards that match the current ones.

The big question is: nails vs screws and nail gun or collated screw gun? I know there are many opinions on this, so I'm curious to hear them all.

Bruce H Member

Years ago, I justified a new air nailer by telling the wife I would use it to nail down decking with galvanized ring shank nails. At least twice a year every year I had to nail down the nail pops. Don't make the mistake I made—use screws! BTW, you might be surprised how fast it will be to use an impact driver. My deck was just slightly bigger than yours and I used my impact driver when I put down new decking. It certainly was not as fast as a collated screw gun, but close.

zeus2112 Member

I don't have an impact driver, but maybe it's worth buying one over a collated screw gun? Probably get more use from the driver? Any tips on which one would be good for this? And would I need to drill pilot holes for this?

Bruce H Member

The first time I ever saw an impact driver was on a job site where the contractor was driving Tapcons. I was amazed at how much better it worked than the cordless drill I always used! I bought an 18V Lithium Ion Makita and love it; I've always had good luck with Makita. The little LED light that I originally looked at as a gimmick is worth its weight in gold. If you get a impact driver, you'll never drive screws with a drill again.

I was using 5/4 treated pine on my deck and didn't need pilot holes. I held back about 3/4" and angled the screws slightly.

Pilot Dane Group Moderator

I would use screws and install them with an impact driver. It's a lot of time down on your knees, but the stand-up screw guns and screws that come loaded into strips for the guns are quite expensive and it's a specialized tool you'll probably never need again. Once you have an impact driver, you'll wonder how you ever did without it. They are relatively inexpensive and often come packaged in a set with a cordless drill.

zeus2112 Member

I'm going to look into this type of tool. So is the process to pre-drill the holes for a board and then use the driver to screw them in? Repeat for each board?

When you said that you "held back about 3/4," did you mean that your pre-drilled hole went 3/4 of the way through the deck board and joist? If so, is there an easy way to drill this depth?

Bruce H Member

I didn't predrill; I found it wasn't necessary with the treated pine I used. What I meant by hold back is to drive the screws about 3/4" from the end and 3/4" from the edge, and then angle the screw slightly so you hit the joist below.

zeus2112 Member

If you drill in on a slight angle, how do you get the screw heads to be flat to the surface of the decking? And without predrilling, did you just line up the screw and use the impact driver to drill them right into the decking? No problem?

I would also suggest buying a pair of knee pads if you don't already have them. Your knees will thank you!

Pilot Dane Group Moderator

I have predrilled and it does seem to help prevent splitting, especially at the ends of the decking boards. There is a drill bit just for the job and it has a drill and countersink all in one. It's not terrible if you have one drill set up for the drilling and another to run in the screws, but it does DOUBLE the work.

zeus2112 Member

Yeah, that's what I was wondering. It does seem to double the work, and since it's just myself and my wife doing this, I'm wondering if I'm better off getting the collated nail gun since they can be bought for around $100.


A corded drywall screw gun will allow you to control the depth of drive to put the screw heads at the exact depth you want them. You will need to make adjustments on the drive depth on the first two or three screws. And a drywall gun is fast!

I prefer to predrill to reduce splitting of the boards. Small splits will let in moisture and hasten rot.

zeus2112 Member

Sounds like predrilling and using an impact driver is the preferred method. More work, but probably better results?

I'm curious what types of screws you would suggest? And then what bit to use for the predrilling?

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