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.
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)
Beautiful job, thank you for sharing!
interesting – I don’t like the clip systems either.
Good looking finished product.
A shame they don’t sell just the screw guide separately.
Camo clips are the best…made of metal(stainless steel) . You only use half as many screws also. Install is also 3 times faster.
Nice review. I came across this tool a while back and have it saved for the future if/when I ever need it.
I used this product on my front porch, going through composite decking. It worked great, except for the edges where the jig couldn’t fit. I did some pocket screws from underneath to fill in a few gaps. Despite the hassle of dealing with edges where the jig won’t fit, I’d still recommend it.
I also used this the Marksman Pro on a 12×20 composite deck last summer. Came out great. Only complaint is the the system is a little tough to use on butt joints. Its difficult to get four good fasteners unless the butt joint is perfectly in the middle of the joist, which is not always easy. I ended up sistering some joists for more meat.
Also burned out a DeWalt lower end driver doing the deck. I definitely recommend a decent impact as the driver of choice for this jig.
Great review! Are these tools availsble on line? Prices? We have a deck to rebuild at my parents old place in Gatlinburg. No matter the screw type the traditional install leaves dark unsightly area…. Possibly b/c of ic freeze/thaw & occ salt/sand placement. Im surprised these screws dont split the edge of 5/4 PT deck boards. Thanks again.
There’s a link in the post for Home Depot online, but it is misformatted. You can also find them other places, like Amazon:
Sorry, I forgot to mention the price of the jig in the post. The one I used is about $35 to $40. The screws start from $12 for a 100, but get better at larger quantities: $35 will run you approximately $25. It depends on the type of fastener you choose too.
Why dos this tool leave gaps between boards. Do pressure treated deck boards not contract over time causing an even bigger gap between boards. Would hate for a high heel to get stuck in gaps. Sounds like a safety concern.
If there are no gaps, boards wouldn’t have any space to expand or contract, and rain would just puddle up with no way to drain.
Preasure treated boards will 100% shrink. Definatly do not gap.
Thank you for the review Benjamen – nice tool and deck! I have a question – not really related to the tool though. What finish did you use on the wood? Thanks. ~b
In the picture the wood is wet because it was drizzling. I intentionally choose cedar because of it’s weather resistance and because after weathering it turns a shade of lighter grey (plus I love the smell.)
The deck sticks out in the picture because of it’s color and the fact there’s no landscaping around it. We’re going to build up the landscape so the deck blends into the back ground and doesn’t stick out, we just ran into winter.
Once the deck acquires the grey weathered patina I want, I’m not quite sure what I’ll finish it with, if I use anything at all. I’d like a finish that didn’t look glossy if I use one.
Nice little deck. I’ve been curious about this system since Menards started carrying it around here….then it seemed to get clearanced out, only to reappear months later. Seems like a good setup for a one shot deck.
I’ve built quite a few TimberTech composite decks using TigerClaw clips and the proprietary air tool required to install them. They’ve all come out beautifully, but the cost of entry wasn’t cheap even though the gun was basically a freebie with the purchase of a bucket of clips ($$$).
I’ve also built one 5/4 cedar deck using the TigerClaw clips and routing a groove into every board. Took a lot of work, but it came out nice and has held up pretty well in the couple of years since I did it. Cedar is cedar, though. Limited lifespan no matter what you do.
I may have to re-examine the Camo system. As you mentioned, the availability and affordability of the screws is a big draw for me. As it is, my only source for clips is the local contractor supply, which isn’t exactly convenient for me.
Thanks for the review, and again, nice job on the little deck!
P.S. tell your storm door installer you want a refund and a right swing!
I’ve built a 16x 40 deck out of solid pic. Worked great. But as was mentioned above. Some place especially require sistering to provide meat where the screw is heading… And I would recommend doing so at the end of boards too. Pvc shrinks and expands a lot with temperature. I’ve had a few board ends come loose from the expansion/contraction. But over all I am very pleased with the camp system.
I don’t have it but am considering buying this guy which is from a great company and has interchangeable spacing jigs. I never even knew that made this until I was browsing their site one day.
Great write-up, thanks. What length of screws did you use for the 5/4″ boards? Everyone seems to be using 1-7/8″, but those seem short to me and the Camo manual seems to suggest 2-3/8″.
I used the 1-7/8 screws. I think it tells you on the box which decking it’s used for.
Here’s the selecting the right fastener PDF right off Camo’s website: http://camofasteners.com/wp-content/uploads/Selecting_the_Right_CAMO_Fastener-Final_OPT.pdf
For the boards next to the riser, place the board away from the riser, position the Marksman Pro, put the screws in the board part way as many as required, then position the board next to riser and drill freely
How are boards and screws holding up now, since a couple of winters have passed? I’m considering to use these Camo system for a deck, but I’m worried that continued wetting and drying will cause the boards to move and split… Do you see any sign of that?
Sorry I didn’t reply in the right place…see below.
I’ve had one or two boards crack where I put the screws an inch or so from the edge, but that’d probably happen to any fastener. Other than that I don’t think I’ve had any pull out (I just looked).
I am getting quite a bit of squeaking though, I wish I would have lined the top of the joists with the rubber roofing underlayment like I’ve seen some pros do since I built it.
I intentionally did not finish the top because I want the grey weathered cedar look. I’m sure that’s going to limit the life of the deck boards and accelerate problems.
Great post – will have good duration because of your steps and photos, thanks.
Can you mention how the fastener hole above the screw head has aged?
Does it show greater staining or aging compared to the untouched part of the cedar board?
Thanks again Benjamen, great work.
I just went out and looked. You can’t see the fastener holes standing up on the deck. You have to get down on your hands and knees and really search to find them (other than the few that have blown out too close to the edge like I mentioned above).
The ones in the field are hard to find, partly because they are on the edge of the board not the face. Many of the holes look like they’ve actually “healed” where the board just swells up around the hole and the only evidence of a hole is a few strands of misplaced wood fiber.
So no there’s not staining or aging that would betray the location of the holes. The screws are coated, so unless you damage them they shouldn’t rust.
Just completed a 12 x 28 ft deck 4.5 inch 5/4 cedar decking using camo system. Fantastic not one bad screw. Sistered joists for butt joints did a beautiful job. I would highly recommend this product
Have you noticed any oversize gapping due to shrinking?
I think that’s going to depend more on the materials, finish, and climate than the fastening system.
I suppose you could make an argument that the wood might move differently depending on if it was face screwed towards the middle or screwed on the edges. This might make it split, cup, or even pop the fasteners depending on how it’s fastened, because wood is going to find a way to move.
Short answer: no. The spacing on my deck seems to have been maintained over the years.