Deck Screw Versus Hidden Deck Fastener

Although many deck owners opt to use deck screws over deck nails, another increasingly popular alternative is the hidden deck fastener. Here is how this fairly recent entry in the deck building scene compares to the more conventional deck screw.

Deck Screw

Deck screws are specially designed to handle the rigors of outdoor living. Distinguishing features include corrosion resistance, a sharp tip that allows the screw to be self tapping, a flat countersunk head, and the ability to withstand lateral forces so the screw will bend rather than snap off. A typical deck screw is 2 1/2 to 3 inches long, a length that accommodates conventional 5/4 inch decking.

Galvanized deck screws are the least expensive and least effective in terms of corrosion resistance. Coated deck screws are the most popular type and are slightly more expensive. These screws come in different colors, such as brown or green, to better blend in with the color of the decking. Stainless steel screws offer the best in terms of strength and corrosion resistance, but are also the most expensive.

Hidden Deck Fastener

As the name implies, the hidden deck fastener is a concealed fastener for attaching decking. It is made from a variety of materials including plastic, reinforced fiberglass, powder coated steel, galvanized steel, and stainless steel. Some use a combination of materials. For example, the Ipe Clip is made from stainless steel covered with plastic to match the color of the deck.

The major advantage of hidden deck fasteners is that there are no unsightly screws or nails to look at or to trip over. This is both an aesthetics and a safety issue. If you've ever caught your toe on a nail that is projecting above a deck surface, you'll really appreciate hidden deck fasteners.

Hidden deck fasteners also result in less damaging water penetration into the board since the surface of the board is not punctured.

Fastener Designs

Side mount fasteners generally are quicker and easier to install although some require the use of a biscuit joiner to cut a groove into the side of the decking for the connector tab to fit into. Some of the easiest to install side mount deck fasteners employee sharp teeth or claws that are impaled into the side of the decking. Some popular side mount fastener brands are Tigerclaw, Ipe-clip, Ebty, Trex, Deck-tie, Invisi-fast, Dec-Klip, Ipe Clip, and Lumber Loc.

Bottom mount fasteners rely on a track or other type of bracket that is screwed into the side of the joist and then another screw attaches upward into the underside of the decking. This design is typically more labor intensive than the side mount design. However, depending on the type of bracket, the fasteners may be virtually invisible from above. Some popular bottom mount fastener brands are Aphano deck fasteners, FastenMaster IQ, Grabber deckmaster, Invisi-Fast, and Shadoe Track.

Some hidden fasteners install from the side of the decking while others install from underneath. Some have teeth or claws that are driven into the side of the board. Other fasteners employee a groove cut into the side of the decking into which a biscuit or clip fits into. Some composite decking systems are available with the grooves precut in order to accommodate a proprietary fastener clip from the manufacturer.

Depending on their design, hidden fasteners may not provide the same rigid fastening of the traditionally built deck, resulting in greater movement and creaking. This is mostly an issue with tongue and groove fasteners where the mounting screws do not pass-through the decking material; that is, only the fastener is secured to the floor joist.

Making the Choice

Deck screws are less expensive than hidden fasteners, easier and faster to install, and are relatively easy to replace if necessary. They have a proven track record and generally result in a very solid, creak-free deck. They are also readily available at most hardware stores and don't require any special training.

Cost and installation issues aside, hidden fasteners appear to have a very bright future because they allow for a cleaner and safer deck surface. For a consumer, the challenge is selecting a brand/design that has a proven track record of long-term performance and reliability. With the newest designs, the primary data source is often the manufacturer's literature.