A great way to enhance your garden which gives you an opportunity to try out your carpentry skills is with a simple ground level deck. As your confidence grows, you can always add on features like posts and balustrade later.
How to prepare a site for decking
If you're laying a ground-level deck, try and do this on even, level ground. When you've decided on its size and location, mark out the area with pegs and builder's lines.
Start by clearing away any turf, plants or weeds - taking care not to disturb any drains or underground cabling. Use a straightedge and spirit level to check the whole area is level, sorting out any slight unevenness in the ground if you need to.
To stop weeds from growing back, cover the area in a layer of weed-control fabric and then 40mm-50mm of gravel.
How to assemble decking
Even a small deck is very heavy, so it's best if you build it on site. A ground-level deck is basically an elevated deck without the deck support posts. Start by building the sub-frame, then the outer and inner joists, and lastly screw down the deck boards. When you measure and cut the outer joists, it's worth remembering the timbers will overlap at the corners.
Top tip - Joining joists
If you're extending your deck further than the length of a joist, you'll need to join the lengths. To do this, clamp the joist sections end-to-end in a workbench. Then place a joist off-cut about 600mm long across the join, and clamp it temporarily to the joists. Secure it with eight coach bolts sunk from the outside of the frame. When you're joining lengths of internal joist that'll be hidden by the deck boards, use two 600mm sections of joist off-cut, sandwiched either side of the join.
Remember to wear gloves and safety goggles when you're sawing timbers. Make sure the work area is well ventilated, and wear a mask to avoid breathing sawdust. Always unplug power tools when they're not in use. And don't burn off-cuts of treated wood - the smoke and ash are toxic, so dispose of them as ordinary household waste.
Drill holes and build the sub-frame with two countersunk coach screws at each corner, and two others through the outer frame into each end of all the inner joists. If you want to join the deck frame to a building or add balustrade, it's wise to do this before laying your deck boards.
Use two deck screws or galvanised screws to fix the deck boards to every joist along the sub-frame. If you're using deck screws you won't need to drill pilot holes, but if you're using galvanised screws then you will. Make sure you space your deck boards 3mm apart to allow for drainage and expansion - a 3mm gauge deck screw makes an ideal spacer.
Position the joins between your deck boards exactly half way across a joist, so you can screw both boards into it. If you want more strength, stagger the joins and arrange them in a regular pattern for an attractive finish.
Remember to coat all the cut ends with end-grain preserver.
How to lay decking on damp ground
If drainage is a problem in your garden, you'll need to raise your deck off the ground on concrete pads topped with a layer of damp-proof course.
Dig holes roughly 150mm square and 150mm deep at intervals of 1.2m around the deck. Fill the holes with quick-drying concrete to just above ground level. Use a spirit level and straightedge to level the pads top-to-top while the concrete is still semi-dry.
When it's dry, cover the whole area with weed-control fabric (making cut-outs for the concrete pads) and a layer of gravel. Finally, cut squares of damp-proof course to sit between the concrete and the decking timbers.
How to make a walkway of patio tiles
Using patio tiles is a quick way to create an attractive walkway. The frames come in kits that are quite simple to put together (the patio tiles just slot into place). You can choose from lots of sizes, too. It's a good idea to lay them over a bed of gravel and weed-control fabric, which helps deter weeds.
Fit the frame together with deck screws or galvanised screws.
Add the cross-bars to the frame. The wooden struts are grooved to hold the tiles.
Drop the patio tiles in each of the square frames - you can create an alternate or continuous pattern with the patio tiles, depending on which you prefer. The frame will hold the tiles in place, but if you want a more secure structure that will stop your tiles warping, you can screw each one down using four deck screws per tile.