Selecting The Best Hidden Deck Fasteners

By Steve Getsiv, 07/31/19

Nova Blog Photo

Decks are meant to be enjoyed. They're the place you barbecue, gather with friends and play with your kids. As outdoor living becomes more popular, more people are beginning to see the value in decks and are building them at impressive rates.

What people want in a deck is something that's going to be functional, that will hold up well for years and that will also be beautiful — adding value to their home and to their home's appearance.

That's why it's important to pay attention to all the little details that go into building a deck. Yes, the decking you choose is important and so is the style, size and stain. But equally important are the other materials you use to build your deck with: the nails, brackets and fasteners that hold your deck together and keep it functioning well.

When you want the ultimate in appearance and function, the right hidden fastener system might by the best option available.

What Are Hidden Deck Fasteners?

hidden deck fastening system

Normally, a deck's boards are fastened to the joists by driving nails or inserting deck screws right through the face of the board, two fasterners per joist intersection. The fasteners penetrate the top of the boards, and the fasterners are clearly visible when looking at the deck. With softwoods or non-durable hardwoods, the holes made by the fasteners allow water into the center of the board and can lead to rot and decay at each screw or nail hole.

The best-designed hidden deck fasteners install inside grooves in the edges of the board and are spring-loaded to apply tension without penetrating the wood. The bottom of the fastener is screwed into the support joist from the top, in between the deck boards, so only the support joist has a penetrating screw - not your decking. This type of construction has several benefits that can enhance the appearance and longevity of your deck. A proper fastener also sets the spacing between deck boards at 1/4" so that when swelling occurs, the boards will not buckle. They need some room to move.

While all fasteners serve the same purpose, they are not equal in their ability to function. Nova USA Wood Products is one company that offers a unique, patented hidden deck fastener system. Nova's ExoDek QuickClip fasteners are the only ones on the market that are spring-loaded to better support the expansion and contraction of real wood decking.

Moves With Your Deck

Wood is one of the most popular deck materials for many reasons. But wood is subject to expansion and contraction with humidity and moisture. When wood absorbs excess moisture, it swells and then shrinks back again when the wood dries out.

With traditional screws, the wood has to swell around the screw, which gives it no chance to expand naturally. When this occurs, two things happen. The boards can begin to warp over time, and the screw can begin to loosen in the board, no longer holding the board securely in place.

The springs within Nova's hidden fasteners are designed to allow the flexibility to move, so when the wood swells, the springs move with it, and when the wood dries, the fasteners simply pull the board back into its correct position. This keeps the boards in place and secured to the deck, helping to prevent warping, lifting, twisting and uneven ends.

The spring action ensures that your decking will stay properly secured longer, and you won't suddenly find a loose board after a long winter.

Watch Out For Those Nails!!

According to one local homeowner, "when I chose nails for the deck I built a few years ago, I used nails with a pneumatic gun on composite decking. Although installation was easy, if I had the right air pressure (which I never did) the nails worked themselves out due to the weather. Every spring I would have to pound a bunch of nails back in. Also if the air pressure was too high, it would push the nail completely though the decking and leave a hole where the nail should have been. I did not use screws because between the -10 to 100F range that the deck experienced, the composite would move so much that it would have broken the screws."

Cleaner Appearance

installed hidden deck clip

Hidden fasteners are visible if you go looking for them between the boards of your deck. But there are fewer of them than there would be screws, and at a casual glance, all you'll see is an expanse of clean, blemish-free decking. There are no screws glinting in the sunlight and detracting from the appearance of your deck. This is helpful with dark stains in particular, where normal, stainless steel screws are sure to show up clearly.

No Rust, No Damage

Decking has changed a lot over the years, with the introduction of composites and the removal of chemicals such as arsenic from treated softwood. This has meant that decking fasteners have had to change, too. But unless you're a professional decking installer, you probably haven't kept up with deck fastener changes.

Using the wrong type of fastener with your decking can lead to several issues with your deck's durability over the years. Standard metal fasteners will rust, which means that your screws or nailheads are likely to breakdown, leading to failure of your deck over time.

Screws put too far into decking break the surface, which lets moisture penetrate more easily into the plank. This can lead eventually to rot, necessitating board replacement.

Well-designed hidden fasteners are better for your deck. Because the screws aren't penetrating the deck boards, they aren't going to damage, or let the elements damage, the boards over time. They're also designed not to rust, so you can be sure that they'll hold your decking where it needs to be for the lifetime of the deck. The same can't be said about other materials, some of which will need replacement over the long term.

Cost of Hidden Deck Fasteners

When compared to other deck fastening options, like deck screws, hidden deck fasteners have a slightly higher initial cost. However, they tend to be a more durable option that will last much longer than the average deck screws. In addition, they provide a cleaner look since they are installed between and under the deck boards where their presence is much more stealth.

Another benefit to consider when debating the cost of hidden deck fasteners is their added safety. Unlike deck screws, there is no chance of someone tripping or hurting themselves on a screw that has popped up off a plank.

Beyond that, there is less risk of water penetrating your wood deck, as fasteners are screwed into the joist, rather than the top of the deck boards. This means that there will be less concern about issues like rot and decay, from water seeping into holes in the wood that screws would have caused.

The size of your deck also plays a role in the cost of deck fasteners. Fasteners are to be placed on every joist, which is equal to about 175 fasteners for every 100 square feet of decking in 1x6 or 5/4x6 nominal boards. When building with 1x4 or 5/4x4 boards, you'll need about 50% more fasteners since the boards measure only 3-1/2" as opposed to 5-1/2".

Installing Hidden Deck Fasteners

A poorly-designed hidden deck fasteners can require a much more labor-intensive installation process. But, how intensive it is will depend on the style of hidden fastener you choose. Side-mounted fasteners force you to work one coarse or one row at a time. Even though you may be using half the number of screws, working one row at a time will slow down the installation significantly.

On the other hand, fasteners that are installed directly from above, between the rows of boards, allow you to work on multiple rows at one time. You can lay down 5 or more rows and then just screw down the last row after ensuring that everything is lined up and the spacing between boards is correct. A bow wrench or DIY lever may be necessary if you have boards with side bend that needs to be pulled out. You can literally lay out the entire deck with screws every 5 or so rows and then come back and finish up installing the remaining screws from the top, between the boards, once everything is full assembled.

When starting the installation, the first row of boards should be screwed through the face and plugged with a dowel. This will give the deck a stable starting point.

Get the Best Hidden Deck Fasteners

beautiful hidden deck clips

Whether you're building a new deck or repairing an old one, utilizing the right hidden deck fasteners will give you a better end result. You'll install the decking faster and easier, have fewer problems long-term, and the end result will be a better-looking deck. Opt for the best hidden deck fasteners rather than screws (or a poorly designed hidden fastener) to secure your planks and reap the benefits for years to come.

And be sure to check out Nova USA Wood's hardwood decking options to find the right wood for your next decking project.

By Steve Getsiv, 07/31/19

"QUESTION: what happens if fasteners are used ONLY at the ends of the deck boards? gravity holds down the boards and very little sideways forces are in effect. if the planks are trex there will not be expansion contraction."

By norman on 05/07/22

"Hi Norman, Trex will still move with changes in temperature rather than changes in moisture. I would recommend taking a look at our new clips, which can be found under the "Decking" tab on our website. A big advantage of our ExoDek QuickClips is that they lift the decking 1/8" off the joists, which helps to prevent mildew and mold. Feel free to give us a call if you'd like additional information or pricing. Thank you for reading our blog!"

By Keaton Smith on 05/09/22

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