Last fall a homeowner asked me to prepare a quote for replacing some worn-out decking. The 15-year-old deck faced west and was exposed both to full sun and to heavy squalls that blow off Lake Champlain in this northwest corner of Vermont. The owners opted for the same wood species - 5/4x4 red meranti - but they wanted to preserve the natural finish more carefully this time around. They also wanted to avoid the nail pops that were common on the original deck. I did some hasty research on finishes and fasteners; my own concern was how to complete the job before serious winter weather set in.

I divided the job into several tasks, some of which I assumed would require a helper. I figured the job would take a total of 120 man-hours. The 600-square-foot deck had three levels, and there were several rock outcroppings I would have to work around. The five-sided upper level had runs of 23 feet, and the lumberyard could supply lengths up to...

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