Deck projects vary in complexity and so will the layout tools you’ll need. You might be able to lay out a simple deck with a 25-ft. tape measure, layout string, and a few stakes. As the deck plan increases in complexity, a laser level that judges distance as well as elevation can be very useful on uneven terrain. (Sometimes these are called laser measurers.) Other items that are useful during layout include a 100-ft. tape measure (and a helper to hold the dumb end of the tape), marking spray, and some lumber to make a batter board.
The bare bones of layout tools
It’s nice to have tools to make the job easier, but if you have more time than money, these measuring and marking tools will get you most of the way there. Tools shown are an awl for marking and holding the end of the tape and string line, a chalkline that can double as a string line, a 25-ft. tape measure, and a Speed Square.
Batter boards placed outside the deck-framing area enable you to set and mark string lines for footing locations. You can remove the strings while you dig and then reposition them quickly to check the footing location. You can purchase metal batter boards (shown) or make your own from scrap wood.
A quality laser level is invaluable for accurate layout and pretty much essential if you are working alone. The model shown has a remote control so you won’t spend time walking back and forth to adjust the settings.