How Do I Build a Low Deck Over Dirt?

Lynne Haley Rose

Building a simple deck is a straightforward carpentry project that requires only basic tools and rudimentary woodworking skills. Even a small one-level deck, however, has the power to transform an outdoor space into a living area for relaxation and enjoyment.

Even a novice carpenter can complete a simple deck in a weekend.

Should you wish, you can expand on your simple deck in the future, adding levels, stairs and railings. However, you can easily complete a low deck over dirt in a weekend to provide a platform for family fun.


Make sure the ends of the boards are perfectly even before applying screws. Use an extra board to align them.

  1. Remove any grass, weeds or debris from the dirt where you plan to set your deck. Smooth out any visible high spots in the dirt with a shovel, and fill in any low spots. To lay the foundation, begin with a row of three pier blocks spaced 5 feet apart from center to center. Check for level by laying a 12-foot 2x6 across the three blocks and using your level. Raise or lower any blocks that aren't level by moving dirt. Place a second row of pier blocks 1 foot, 11 1/4 inch from the first row, measured center to center of blocks. The second row must be parallel to the first, with blocks aligned. Check for level on this row as above, plus cross-check between the rows and adjust as needed. Place the third and fourth rows of pier blocks 2 feet from the previous rows, measured center to center of blocks. The final row should be 1 foot, 11 1/4 inches from the previous row. You should have a grid of 15 pier blocks in five rows of three blocks each. Recheck level by laying a 2 x 6 vertically and horizontally across all rows until you are satisfied.

  2. Build your deck frame by centering a 12-foot 2 x 6, on its 2-inch edge, across the first row of three pier blocks. Place an 8 foot beam perpendicular to the 12-foot board, on edge as well, with the end of the 12-foot board abutting the side of the shorter board. Support the 8-foot beam at each end until you have secured the frame at all four corners. Insert three wood screws at the corner junction of the 8-foot and 12-foot beams. Place a second 8-foot beam in the same way at the other end of the 12-foot beam, supporting it as above. Match the ends of the two pieces at the corner and join with three deck screws. Place a 12-foot beam across the final row of pier blocks and match corners with the two 8-foot beams. Secure with deck screws at the corners.

  3. Add the cross beams within your frame by setting the remaining three 12-foot 2x6s across each inner row of pier blocks, securing them to the side beams with three deck screws at each end to complete the underlying structure of your deck.

  4. Your power drill doubles as a power screwdriver with a change of drill bits.
  5. Starting along one 8-foot side, begin attaching 8-foot 2x6 decking pieces to the framework. You should place them flat on their 6" surface against the frame. Insert deck screws at each underlying cross piece. Position the next 2x6 parallel to the first, leaving about a 1/8- to 1/4-inch space between the two boards to allow for expansion of the wood. Use spacers, such as nails set between the boards, to ensure your decking is installed in a uniform fashion. Continue affixing decking boards until nearly finished. Lay out the final three or four boards prior to screwing them to the framework. Space as evenly as possible to prevent having to cut a board narrower to fit a non-uniform space at the end, and attach with screws.

  6. Sand the deck with a power sander, paying special attention to smoothing the corners and board ends. Finish the wood with a protective water-seal stain.