Guide to Decking Installation – Face Screwing vs. Hidden Fasteners

Natural wood deck made from Ipe

Natural wood deck made from Ipe

While the amount of gap you figure into your deck installation is somewhat dependent on the decking species you choose, the installation format you choose is truly a matter of preference. Regardless of whether you choose to go with a tropical hardwoods species, domestic softwoods, or even a composite material, you have two main choices: hidden fasteners or face screws. More important than the method you choose is that you do so in a way that shows that you’re aware of the potential problems that can come with that kind of installation.

Hidden Fastening Systems

Most decking customers prefer the hidden fastening system installation method because of the unblemished face it offers their decks. The biggest downsides to using hidden fastening systems is that they take longer to install and can lead to an uneven deck surface.

For those who know what it’s like to work with tropical hardwoods, the fact that using hidden fastening systems lessens the need to drill through them adds an extra benefit. Species such as Ipe and Cumaru are infamous for burning out drill motors.

Hidden fasteners are installed by fastening clips into the deck’s sub-structure, which is often made from a softer wood. (If, however, you build your entire deck from Ipe, you’ll still end up having to drill into it.) Many clip systems still recommend drilling through the clip and the bottom half of the deck board into the joist, allowing one edge of the board to remain free to expand and contract according to the moisture levels.

Face Screws

The biggest benefit of face screwing is that it reduces the chances of some problems that can occur as a result of seasonal movement, when boards are not screwed down. Unscrewed boards can easily twist, warp, or create uneven gaps on the surface of your deck. If clips referencing off joists aren’t perfectly level, it can be difficult to align the clip with the groove.

On the flip side, by face-screwing the decking boards, you can channel the flexibility of the boards to secure them to the joists. Problems can come when more than one screw is placed along the width of a board, but as long as only one screw is used, the board will remain free to expand and contract as moisture levels shift.

Ultimately, the choice is one of personal taste. As far as how stable your deck will be, that issue is more clearly tied to using quality decking boards that have been dried properly, along with using proper spacing and installation techniques.

The beauty of natural wood decking

The beauty of natural wood decking

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company ( is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.

As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

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