How to select the best timber for your decking

Choosing the best timber for your decking should be based on several factors. Don’t be shallow and make a selection based on looks alone. Show you’re a deep thinker by considering durability and sustainability too. That way, you’ll create a deck that’s more than just really, really good looking.  

One of the first things to understand is the difference between hardwood decking and softwood decking. In most cases, hardwood is not really harder than softwood. It’s just a way of describing the differences between the species that provide the respective timbers. Hardwood decking is made from a number of different broadleaved trees, such as oak, ash or beech. These trees grow at a slower rate and produce a dense timber which gives the impression that hardwood is harder than softwood. All impressions aside, this density certainly adds to the durability of the timber. 

On the other hand, softwood decking is made from coniferous, evergreen trees such as pine or spruce. About 80% of the world’s timber is softwood as it grows quickly and is very affordable. It’s little wonder it is a popular decking material, but it must be suitably pressure treated with preservatives to protect it from fungal and insect decay, as well as deterioration from the environment. As you can imagine, treating softwood timber is a messy job but fortunately, it’s a pretty standard option from most timber suppliers.

Another difference to keep in mind is the one between sustainable and unsustainable timber. Whether you’re buying timber for decking, or ANY purpose, you must be vigilant as due to illegal and unsustainable foresting practices, you could buy something that has come from a dubious and very eco-unfriendly source. BUILDPRO is big on sustainability – just look at the number of products we sell using sustainable NZ pine – and we ask you to look for FSC certified product providers

Understanding what part of a log the timber has come from will help you in selecting good quality decking material. For example, boards cut from closer to the centre of the log will be more prone to warping and cupping, so look for the straightest grain as this will indicate it was taken from closer to the edge. The wider the decking you require, the more important it is to get timber with a straight end grain.

While great care is taken to avoid or minimize defects when sawing the wood to required sizes, some flaws will always remain. The number and location of these flaws determines the grade of the timber, and it’s up to you, as the purchaser, to choose the grade that is appropriate for your specific application. Because you are such a deep thinker, it is a given that you will choose the right grade of timber for your deck. To make that timber last even longer, we highly recommend that you stain it BEFORE you fix the boards down and not after. Staining is not just for the top of your boards; stain the bottoms, the sides, and the ends to combat moisture ingress from under your deck.

Finally, let’s talk about the visual appeal of your decking timber, because even though it is wise to consider all factors, we share your appreciation for the better-looking things in life. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we all have different tastes. Some of us might like knotty pine, others might prefer grainy hardwood.  Some might like a good all-over staining, and the rest might want to leave the timber to go grey. All options are available, but when it comes to assessing how the different dimensions will affect the overall appearance, we think you should worry less about length and concentrate on width. We think it’s the only dimension you should really care about, and in New Zealand, standard widths are 90mm and 140mm. By the way, when it comes to thickness, the thinner your wood, the closer together your joists should be.

One final word on aesthetic appeal. Sharkstooth deck fasteners will add so much to the visual appeal of your deck and make that timber really come into its own. They fasten your decking timber from underneath the surface; this means no rusty nails will pop up from the surface of the deck and into an unsuspecting bare foot. What’s more, because they’re hidden, there’s nothing to detract the eye from all that beautiful timber you’ll choose for your deck…after some deep-thinking consideration of course!