Last fall we removed the concrete stoop in front of our house. Besides being cracked, it was so small that people had to step backwards onto the stairs when we opened the door — a real safety hazard. To replace the stoop, I built a 6×10 deck with a treated lumber frame and 5/4 cedar decking.
I wanted to try using a hidden fastener system. Since I dropped the extra money on cedar, I didn’t want a bunch of screw heads ruining the look of the new deck. There have been several hidden fastener systems on the market for a while now, but after some research, I settled on the Camo Hidden Deck Fastening System.
The big selling points of the Camo system were: 1) if I ran out of screws I could pick them up locally at Home Depot or Menards. 2) There are no extra clips to buy and install. 3) Usually with clips, if you need to replace a board you have to take all the other deck boards off to get at the rotten one, but that’s not the case with the Camo System.
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To use the system you not only need special screws and a special driver bit, you also need a special jig. The Camo System has several different jigs you can buy depending on the size and type of boards you use and the spacing you want between the boards. Since I was using 5/4 by 6″ cedar boards and wanted 3/16″ spacing, I chose the Marksman Pro.
The Marksman Pro works with treated, hardwood, cedar, composite, and PVC deck boards, and automatically spaces the boards 3/16″ apart. The jig will clamp over boards from 5-1/4″ to 5-3/4″ wide and provide guides on both sides of the board for driving in the hidden fasteners.
Since I was using 5/4″ decking I used the 1-7/8″ fasteners. These fasteners aren’t typical screws. They start with normal threads, but these threads end about halfway up the screw. Next comes the smooth part of the shaft which then transitions to a reverse thread. This funny configuration actually helps to pull the deck boards tight against the joist.
The screws are hard to start because rather than a point they have a “reverse rake” tip that removes wood as it’s driven. This prevents the screw from splitting the board when it is driven close to the edge. Good luck trying to drive them at an angle without a guide. I found it is possible to drive them straight into the face of the board, but if you don’t push down hard, they tend to skate all over the place.
Lastly the head is very narrow, almost giving the fastener a profile similar to a finish nail. When you use the correct jig, you drive the head with a special T15 bit that sinks the fastener to precisely the right depth.
Using the Camo Marksman Pro
I started with the decking on the steps first. With this system there is no way to drive fasteners against a wall, so right away I had to drive the back screws through the face of the cedar. That really isn’t as bad as it sounds though, the small head on the screw leaves a tiny exposed hole, so when you step a few feet away you really don’t notice.
Another problem is that the Marksman Pro jig won’t fit over the board closest to the riser. So right away I had to break the jig to use the system. For some stupid reason the thumbscrew that allows you to change the board width is captured on the bolt, it’s not meant to come off so you can take the back guide/spacer off. Well I forced it off and broke the bolt, but I got access to the back guide so I could use it.
The back end of the jig is quite usable on its own. It stays in place when the next board is butted up against it.
I was finally able to use the Marksman Pro like it is supposed to be used on the outer board. It worked really well. I put the Marksman Pro back together as best as I could — it actually held itself together pretty well without the thumbscrew, I just had to make sure the guide it clicked into place correctly because there was no screw preventing it from moving.
For some reason I always have to make the project more difficult for myself. So rather than run my boards perpendicular to the joists, I decided to run them diagonally.
Running the boards diagonally makes using the Marksman Pro more complicated. First you can’t just place the tool and drive both screws, you have to place the tool to drive the fastener into the joist on one side of the board and then move the tool to drive the fastener into the joist on the other side of the board.
Secondly since you’re driving the screws at an angle, you have to make sure that you place the tool off to the side of the joist so that when the screw is driven it’ll go into the meat of the joist rather than poke out the side.
I don’t think I missed the meat of the joist once on the entire surface of the deck. Other than having to move the Marksman Pro jig twice as much as with normally oriented decking, fastening all the deck boards went smoothly. If you want to see the rest of the deck build, you can check out the full project on my workshop blog.
I might have been better served by buying the Marksman Edge rather than the Marksman Pro, and for one, it would have been $20 cheaper. Maybe I should have just bought it anyway rather than breaking the Marksman Pro.
What I learned later while writing this review is that, even though the Camo Marksman Edge is made for a no gap installation, supposedly you can use secondary spacers to increase the gap.
There’s no mention of where you get these secondary spacers though: are they included with the Marksman Edge or do you have to buy them separately? Then there’s no instructions on how you even use them. Still it would have been handy to have the Marksman edge instead of destroying my Marksman Pro to get the same functionality,
I didn’t even see the Marksman Edge at my local Home Depot, I only saw it at Menards. If you go to Home Depot’s website is says “nearby stores may have this item.”
With either Camo Marksman jig, you’re going to want to calculate how many screws you are going to need, and then add some, because if you go under by just a few, you are really going to pay for it.
A 350 fastener box says it is good for approximately 100 sq ft of decking and costs $25. My deck was 80 square feet, including the steps, and I used all but 2 screws out of the 350 fastener box. But then again, my joists were 12″ on center rather than 16″. Towards the end as I was running out of fasteners, I was worried that I’d have waste money on buying a 100 count package for $12, just for a few more screws.
I am very pleased with the end result. If you don’t know where to look, you’d probably never notice the hidden fasteners. Standing on the deck, I only know the fasteners are there because I can see a little bit of wood fuzz on the side of the deck board. I have to get down on my knees and look close to actually see the fastener.
Buy Now (Camo Hidden Fastener System via Home Depot)