Staining a Wood Deck

Submitted by Scott on Thu, 2011-03-17 13:24

It's that time of year again.  Spring is in the air, flowers are blooming, snow is melting and your deck coating is no longer hidden.  To put it nicely it probably looks awful.  I'm amazed how many people believe that they need to completely re-finish their deck every year.  If that's you then you're getting bad information and more than likely using the wrong product.  This article will guide you through the basics of making your deck last longer and look better than you ever thought possible.

To start, prep is crucial.  It's important with every painting project but absolutely crucial with decks.  Putting a good coat over a bad coat is still a bad coat.  If your existing stain is lifting it needs to be removed, especially if its a latex stain put directly over bare wood.  I've yet to find a latex stain that properly adheres to bare wood and if someone tells you otherwise they're misinformed.  Even Benjamin Moore's new Arbourcoat, which uses a smaller molecule for better penetration, still recommends an alkyd base-coat.  Unless the existing base-coat is an alkyd I highly recommend removing everything down to bare wood.

Stripping a deck can be done with sanding or using chemical strippers.  When using a chemical stripper follow the directions to the letter.  Used improperly they can do serious damage.  In most cases apply to a dry surface, wet any greenery around the deck first and keep the stripper damp.  When you're rinsing it off keep the pressure on your power washer low so you don't etch or splinter the wood.  Be sure to use a neutralizer to balance the pH after it is removed.  Strippers are typically a strong base (high pH, like strong soap) and the new coating won't bond properly if there is a residue left behind.  You'll more than likely still need to sand afterwards but this step can help ease the process.

Sanding a deck is tedious at best and can be time consuming, it's also the most important step.  You can try renting a commercial sanding machine but if the wood is warped this can cause more headaches than it solves.  Most of the time we use belt and palm sanders, plus some elbow grease in the corners.  It's not complicated, it's also not easy.  Keep even pressure, change the paper often and be patient.  Pretend you're being trained like the karate kid if you have to, just take the time to do it properly.

With a nice clean, bare surface you're ready for coating.  If you're doing a solid colour my personal favorite is still Flood Solid Stain.  Although vibrant colours will fade because of it's alkyd component it out-lasts any coating that I'm aware of.  It's guaranteed for 5 years on most surfaces, just check to see if any conditions around your deck may void the warranty.  In my experience it delivers as promised.  If you're using another coating please, please use a quality alkyd base coat first.  You'll thank me later.  

For a transparent stain Sikkens has led the pack for a long time and has its reputation for good reason.  Sansin is a newer player but it's tints are outstanding so it's fantastic for vibrant colours and is much, much more eco-friendly.  Many transparent stains have a ton of toxic chemicals in them so check the label and use gloves and a mask if necessary.  As always, technology changes fast.  Talk to specialists (speciality wood and painting stores) in your area to find out what the new innovations are and what works best for your local conditions.

To maintain your deck, just keep it clean.  Dirt will damage the finish faster than anything.  If it was prepped properly the first time a simple power wash and scuff sand should be all you need to apply a new coat, especially if the existing coating isn't lifting.  Solid stains should last 3-5 years and transparents 1-3 years depending on exposure.  Most importantly, enjoy it!  A beautiful, smooth deck is a great place to spend time outdoors.  Happy Painting!


Scott Appleby has been a professional painter since 2002 and currently operates a franchise of Appleby Painting Ltd. in Calgary, AB. A self-professed 'paint geek' he has trained over 20 people how to paint.
He can be contacted at 403-607-2225 or infoatapplebypainting [dot] ca

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