Deck Fastening Systems: FastenMaster IQ, Grabber and Smart-Bit

Deck construction is made easier and more efficient with these three fastening systems.
By: Mark Clement

Decks seem simple, but nothing these days is as simple as it seems, including decks. Here are three items for deck builders that not only promise to please the customer, but increase production and help with the bottom line.

FastenMaster LedgerLok Screws: Better Than Lags

If there's a product I've seen recently that speeds up cycle time on a deck assembly, this is it.

FastenMaster's LedgerLok ledger-board screw is the first of its kind, according to the company. The screw is designed to quickly and securely attach the deck's ledger board to the house's rim joist in record time. Because there's no pre-drilling and you don't need an impact wrench powered by your truck engine to set them, the screws look like they will deliver.

The big question on everybody's mind is usually: are they safe for ACQ and CA treated lumber? The answer, according to FastenMaster, is yes. The screws are multi-coated for guaranteed corrosion protection.

The next concerns are about safety and code approval. LedgerLok screws, though smaller than traditional lags, deliver higher shear values and are independently tested and approved for use under ICC and ICB codes. What's more, the super-size threads grab hard in solid sawn and composite rim joists.

What matters most, though, is how they help you achieve full-on production speed. The gimlet, or really sharp, point means you can forget about pre-drilling. And because you're not pre-drilling, you can install the fastener with a single tool. FastenMaster says a 14.4-volt cordless drill or better is the way to go. I'd use my cordless impact driver to send these puppies home in record time. The LedgerLok even has a washer-head so you don't have to fiddle around with cut washers; it also prevents you from over-driving the screw.

The screws come in 3 5/8-inch and 5-inch lengths in boxes of 50 or 250. FastenMaster suggests double checking local codes to ensure you're following your jurisdiction's fastening schedule for the deck.

FastenMaster even includes a 5/16-inch driver in the box, so when you can't find yours (you can never find those things, at least on the first try) you're good to go. To take a line from Ronco's Ron Popiel: "Set it and forget it."

Grabber Deckmaster Bracket and Screw System

More and more customers are demanding fastener-free deck surfaces, especially for high-end decks. And while they look good, they're labor intensive to install. Depending on the system, a deck-builder may have to go through several procedures to fasten one deck board to one joist.

Grabber's Deckmaster bracket and screw system looks like it takes a little of the sting out of blind fastening systems, can speed up installation time and leave the customer with uninterrupted wood grain across the surface of their deck.

The key is Grabber's system. It enables you to first fasten the bracket to the joist, then fasten the deck board to the bracket with the same screws. This means you're not swapping out tools or fasteners each time you fasten a board. Nice.

Deckmaster's system also comes with everything you need — the right amount of brackets and screws for the deck you're building — so when you're done, you don't have a mountain of one or the other left over. Deckmaster is compatible with hard and soft woods from 3/4-inch to 2-by, with composites and all decking patterns.

The brackets themselves are ACQ/CA compatible and come in two flavors: powder coated (which blends into the color of the decking you're installing, making them less visible through the gaps in the deck boards) and stainless steel which is the way to go if you live in a particularly harsh environment like on the coast. Powder coated brackets have a 50 year guarantee while the stainless have a lifetime guarantee.

It's tough stuff that leaves pretty deck boards.

Smart-Bit: Drill Bit and Countersink

Not every deck needs to be blind fastened and for very valid reasons. Perhaps the budget won't allow it, maybe the customer doesn't care about un-interrupted wood grain, or it could be that it'll make your crew crazy and you can't afford the therapy bills. But many decks do need to be screwed down. Most hardwoods like Ipe require screws as do composites. And those screw holes — especially in hardwood — need to be piloted and countersunk.

Smart-Bit is a drill bit and countersink all in one. While this kind of accessory has been around for a while, the Smart-Bit adds an extra feature: the wide collar around the countersink stops the bit at precisely the same depth every time. That means no over-drilling and no under-drilling. Just load the Smart-Bit on your drill and go to town.

Smart-Bit works with #7 and #8 trim drive screws as well as #10 flat head screws. What's more, Smart-Bit also offers color-coated screw heads to match the material you're installing.

While it's a bit harder to make the case that composite decks need to be countersunk before fastening, Smart-Bit does prevent mushrooming and delivers a nice clean finish in composites. There are screws that claim they seat without the storied mushrooming of the deck board around the screw head, but even if you don't pre-drill the composites, you still have to knock-down the mushroom with a hammer, leaving a blemish. Smart-Bit also looks like it's ideal for hand rails where you want the finish to be extra sweet.

Mark Clement is a remodeler and author of The Carpenter's Notebook and The Kid's Carpenter's Workbook, Fun Family Projects! Find out more at

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