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I am repairing my wooden deck and I read that someone was using cleats and nails instead of steel wood screws. What is difference and how do I know what will work for me?

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What is the difference?

Nails are stronger in shear than screws. Screws are harder but more brittle.

I expect most people use decking screws since they are designed for fixing the planks to a frame.

I believe cleats, as in a piece of wood used to fix two other pieces together, are mostly used where you need to hide the fixings or where it would otherwise be difficult to fix the parts together. Cleats can be nailed, screwed or joined in almost any fashion depending on the circumstances.

how do I know what will work for me?

The easiest way is to follow established convention. Some DIY shops provide leaflets describing how to construct a deck. To fix an existing deck I'd just do whatever the builder of that deck did - unless you have reason to suspect it was poorly built.

More generally, I'd work out what direction the forces were in the finished structure and aim to have those forces transmitted across wood on wood joins running perpendicular to the force.

This

        _o_
         |
        / \
.------------------------
|
+------------------------
|      |
|      |

not this

.-----+------------------
|     |
|     +------------------
|     |
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Another thought on screws is that they are less likely to "pop" or back out and in some cases you can use the twisting force - torque - of the screw to draw a board in tighter or force a small bow or crown out of a board. RedGrittyBrick made a great point about screws being more brittle. I have learned to always buy really good quality screws, cheap screws are the wrong place to save money.

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