What’s New in Decking Fasteners

by lbanyay@solagroup.com

Deck building is a key proficiency for remodelers today. The rapid growth in outdoor living projects demands it. Yet prevailing trends in decking nails and fasteners die hard. We see it in deck board statistics. According to Principia, pressure treated lumber remains by far the No. 1 deck board choice by a factor of nearly four times the nearest alternative. We also know that thousands of those wood decks are still assembled by nailing from the top with galvanized steel. This option is code-compliant, reliable and still very relevant, but the last 10 years have given rise to rapid innovation among screw fasteners and hidden fasteners. 

Some of the change has been driven by new standards in wood preservatives implemented beginning in 2004. It has also been driven by homeowners seeking cleaner looks. The new variety of fasteners — from screws with augers to clip systems to angled pinning methods — allow for uninterrupted beauty in wood decks as well as the beauty of composites and other materials. And from a contractor’s standpoint, new fastening systems come with specialized bits and jigs that aim to make installation easier and faster.

This article is by no means intended to be a comprehensive guide of all available types of fastening systems but rather serves as a round-up of newer and current fastener offerings that remodelers and contractors who occasionally build decks should certainly consider.

Edge Fastening

Chip Manger, vice president of business development for CAMO, a unit of National Nail in Grand Rapids, Mich., is a proponent of what is called edge fastening. His company pioneered the concept several years ago: specialized, self-boring screws that connect deck boards to the substrate at 45-degree angles using a jig.

“Our company was selling decking, and we were looking for a better way to put the decks down,” explains Manger, regarding the development of the CAMO fastener five years ago. “Complaints were coming in. On wood decks, homeowners were tired of seeing fasteners as well as the cracking and the splintering they would experience. They were also concerned about constant splintering and the popping of the screws and nails that would happen each spring. So our engineers looked at what we could do, and it ended up being the birth of our fastener. It was the first time where we attached a deck board to the substrate by going through the side of the deck board. That was the birth of CAMO.”

One of the issues resolved by the product is a set of long-standing problems associated with using conventional screws without predrilling. Predrilling is very time-consuming and expensive, so fasteners were simply applied which can lead to issues like cracking and splintering in wood. In composites and PVC types of decks, they created compression. One of the key innovations offered with CAMO’s fastener is an auger tip that removes deck board material as it makes its way through it.

“When you use our fastener, you will notice there is a small pile of fiber or composite product that sort of piles up just outside of the fastener hole,” Manger notes. “And that’s because the auger tip is actually removing material. It’s acting like a drill as the fastener goes into the material.”

Simpson Strong Tie and Starborn Industries, among others, also make auger tip deck fasteners. Though they vary in the angle at which they are applied, they similarly alleviate problems caused by not predrilling. But the angled applications found in CAMO, those offered by Kreg Tool Co. and others present benefits to consider. First, the screw heads tend to be smaller for angled applications. This stands to reason as the fastener itself, not the head, provides the holding power when applied at an angle, adds Manger. “We have a small head on our fasteners because they pin boards to the substructure, and we do so along opposing angles on the edge. This way it is the full length of the shaft that is holding that board in place, not just the head.”

Non predrill screws, color matching

A more straightforward approach to hiding fasteners is offered by GRK Fasteners, a division of Illinois Tool Works, which markets a variety of fastening systems including those for residential decks. Their Kameleon line of screws are coated in several hues to match common composite and wood decking colors, says Jacek Romanski, GRK’s director of sales and marketing.

“With composites, we have a product called Kameleon,” Romanski says. “It is a product we’ve had for a number of years that works with a variety of different composite decks. And it is also color coordinated with many types of decks — it is a color-coated fastener that hides in plain sight.”

Romanski notes that all of GRK’s Kameleon decking screws and many of its multipurpose screws suitable for decking applications have specially designed heads to avoid the need for predrilling. These work well with composites and treated-wood applications. “Our four multipurpose screws are so finely engineered that you do not have to predrill. And not only do you not have to predrill, they have special cuts into the screw that minimize the amount of torque, so they go in very quickly. They also do not split the wood, so you have a nice clean hole,” he says. “Our screws are hardened to prevent breaking. We hear a lot about screws breaking from other products out there. Lastly, starting back in the 1990s, our screws were the first to offer a star-drive head.”

The prevalence of exotic hardwood decks like ipe at the very high end of the decking market begs the question about the suitability of using auger-type screws and possibly risking damage to such expensive material. Romanski, who has been in the industry for many years says he’s yet to see a screw that obviates the need for predrilling with hardwoods.

“When we think about hardwoods like ipe and teak, we base it on how brittle they are,” Romanski explains. “We definitely recommend predrilling. Based on our analysis, many people claim predrilling on hardwoods is not required, but I have tried them all and there is really no screw today that can back that up. And really, you are spending so much money on ipe, that it really is better to predrill.”

Clips and claws

Many hidden fastener systems require slots along the length of both ends of decking boards. Ipe, teak and other hardwoods can be purchased with slots as can many composite and PVC offerings. FastenMaster is well known for its Tiger Claw line of hidden fasteners which take full advantage of slotted or grooved decking. The company offers several types of clips and claws designed specifically for each application — from slotted and unslotted hardwoods and softwoods to composites and PVCs. These are the company’s “TC” line of products, which are numbered to correspond with each application.

In general, the number of decking fastening options available to remodelers and contractors is expanding. Careful consideration of a variety of factors must be given. But in general the landscape has shifted.

“The biggest thing is, and it may seem obvious, there is a wide variety of fasteners that are priced in a number of ranges,” GRK’s Romanski explains, “but you are talking about the smallest percentage cost of a job, especially when it comes to a large remodeling job where decking is just one aspect. Some people might like to save some money on the fasteners, but they are arguably the most important part of the application because they hold everything together. So why would someone who does quality work not go for a premium, quality fastener? This way they don’t have to worry about having any type of issue as they are installing it and afterward when the project has been completed.” QR

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