Tract builders lay decks with enviable speed, firing nails faster than a Metal Storm automatic, but because homeowners increasingly desire a fasten-free look to their upscale composite and hardwood decking, most contractors who work on such projects have had to slow down–until now. Manufacturers are finding ways to put the power into concealed fastening systems. Be it with clips, biscuits, screws, or even plugs, going invisible has been semi-automated.
"Now manufacturers are making these special guns to automate the clip installations," says Dave Lombardo, owner of American Deck Inc. in Baltimore. He says it's all about looks, durability, and time: "These variables are driving fastener companies to say, 'What's the fastest way we can do it with the best appearance and at the lowest cost?' So it's gotten to be real competitive."
Pneumatic guns are not the only tool driving deck fastening trends. Small changes like a guide gadget, a counterbore, or a tweaked glue nozzle design transform tedious techniques to meet consumers' demand for hidden fasteners and contractors' need for speed.
"When we started out, the biggest hurdle to get over in the entire hidden deck industry was awareness," says Don Martel, one of Tiger Claw Hidden Deck Fastener's founders. "People just didn't know about them. Over the past couple years, that's absolutely changed; awareness is much greater. The end user is asking for them–they don't want to see the screws anymore."
Tiger Claw designed an 11-inch pneumatic gun adaptable to its TC-G clip as well as TimberTech's CONCEALoc clip, Trex Hideaway fasteners, Fasco's InvisiDeck clip, Beck's Hidden Scrail Fastener, and Guardian's Ghost Grip. As long as the deck board has a groove, you can install the clips twice as fast, says Martel–"just pull the trigger and shoot them in." The gun nose holds the clip until you insert it in the board's groove, press the tool against the joist, and fire.
The Ballistic NailScrew driver by Fiberon inspired "gunnable" versions of its hidden Line and Butt Joint Fasteners, cutting installation time in half, says Fiberon. Once the builder sets the clips into the groove and aligns the nailer, the clips install with screws as fast as by firing nails.
Another gun-compatible concealed system is the Mantis Deck Clip from Sure Drive USA, which receives screws fired from the RCS Eliminator Auto Slide and works with composite, hardwood, and pressure-treated decking.
One tool that does away with clips and screws altogether is the Hid-Fast system, which resembles a hardwood floor nailer and fires collated 3-inch fasteners.
"Once contractors learn the new tools and the speeds they can get, they don't want to go back," says Glenn Tebo, inventor of the Hid-Fast. He patented the tool after building decks for 25 years. The Hid-Fast secures most deck materials except CorrectDeck and green pressure-treated lumber.
While not a firearm-type tool, Trex's Hideaway Universal Hidden Fasteners still shave time for contractors and shelf space for dealers, says Adam Zambanini, director of marketing at Trex. Designed by Tiger Claw, the Hideaway clips come preset with screws positioned so builders can drill them straight down between deck boards and back them out just as easily. The clips fit most grooved composites, spacing the boards 1/4 inch apart, and will slide along the groove, making it easier to replace a board. Dealers who stock several brands of decking can reduce their inventory: "Rather than carrying four or five different fasteners, they only have to carry one," says Zambanini. "It's going to make them a lot more efficient and tie up less working capital."