How to Prepare Your Wood Deck In Easy Steps

Mar 29, 2024

A skillfully refinished wood deck not only enhances its appearance and prolongs the lifespan of the wood but also has the potential to increase the real estate value of your home, making it more attractive to prospective buyers. The comprehensive refinishing process for a wood deck typically encompasses several key steps such as cleaning, power washing and other steps we will mention.

Ready to Start?

The initial step in your wood deck refinishing endeavor should entail a meticulous inspection to identify any loose surface boards or structural issues, such as rotting or severe splitting wood. If there are any damaged or rotten deck boards or other components, it's crucial to address these issues with necessary repairs before commencing the overall refinishing project.

The approach to cleaning the deck will vary based on its current finish and your refinishing objectives.

For varnished or painted wood decks transitioning to a stained wood finish, it's imperative to strip off the existing paint or varnish using a chemical stripper. Subsequently, the surface should be cleaned and sanded before applying the new stain finish. Conversely, if you intend to repaint, the process is relatively straightforward: clean, sand, and then repaint.

In the case of a deck finished with a clear sealer or a transparent/semi-transparent wood stain, cleaning the surface with a wood deck cleaner suffices, eliminating the need for paint stripper. It's advisable to utilize an oxygen-based wood cleaner specifically formulated to remove mildew stains, sun-induced graying, and dirt deposits from the wood surface while cleansing it effectively.

How to Power Wash 

Deep-cleaning the wood is a critical step in the refinishing process, but caution must be exercised. While power washing can effectively deep-clean a deck, it can also damage the wood if not done correctly. Using excessive water-jet pressure, positioning the spray nozzle too close to the wood, or using an inappropriate sprayer tip can result in etching the wood and potentially ruining some deck boards.

When employing a power washer for cleaning wood, it's essential to utilize the lowest pressure necessary to achieve effective cleaning. For softwoods like cedar or pine, the pressure should typically range from 500 to 600 pounds per square inch (psi), while harder woods may tolerate higher pressures, but not exceeding 1200 to 1500 psi.

Alternatively, if you prefer not to use a power washer, you can opt to hose off the deck using a garden hose equipped with a strong spray nozzle. Subsequently, you can scrub the wood with deck cleaner/brightener, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Sand The Dirts Away

Sanding a deck before refinishing is advisable, particularly if the boards are rough or severely sun-damaged. However, if the main deck surface is in relatively good condition, you may opt to sand only the handrails and conduct spot-sanding in damaged or discolored areas. Ensuring smooth handrails is crucial for preventing splinters.

Using a random orbital sander facilitates deck sanding, but selecting the appropriate sandpaper grit is crucial for achieving satisfactory results. Sandpaper that is too fine may leave the wood pores clogged with dust, hindering stain absorption, while sanding with excessively coarse paper can potentially damage the wood, particularly softer woods like cedar.

For the main deck boards, utilize 60- or 80-grit sandpaper, and for the handrails, opt for 80- or 100-grit. Thoroughly vacuum all surfaces after sanding. Avoid washing the deck again, as this may raise the wood grain and roughen the surfaces you just sanded. In the event of rain, allow the deck to dry completely before refinishing; there is no need to sand again in this instance.

Next Step

In the past, it was common practice to first stain wood and then apply a clear surface sealer over it. However, contemporary products typically offer one-step applications—penetrating stains that both color the wood and penetrate to protect it. Additionally, there are clear sealers available that solely penetrate and seal the wood without altering its color. Nevertheless, these clear sealers provide less UV (sunlight) protection compared to pigmented deck stains.

Within the realm of staining products, there are various options to consider. Semi-transparent stains allow the wood grain to remain visible through the stain, whereas opaque stains color the wood more akin to a coat of paint, concealing the wood grain entirely. These products also come in both water-based and oil-based varieties. While water-based stains offer easy cleanup, most experts concur that they do not last as long as oil-based products and may not penetrate the wood fibers as thoroughly.

For optimal results, many individuals find that a quality oil-based, penetrating, exterior semi-transparent stain yields the best outcome. While such products may not be readily available at big box home improvement centers, sourcing them from a professional paint store is often recommended despite the extra effort and cost involved.

Right Brush & Right Size

When staining or sealing the main deck surface, it's typically recommended to use a paint pad applicator, while detail work requires the use of paintbrushes. For oil-based products, a natural-bristle brush is preferable, whereas water-based stains are best applied with a synthetic-bristle brush. It's advisable to have several brush sizes on hand to accommodate various areas and intricacies of the deck.

Last Step

Staining the deck is the pinnacleof your efforts, showcasing the transformation of your outdoor space. It's crucial to ensure the deck is completely dry for approximately two days before staining, particularly with oil-based stains. Any moisture within the wood pores can hinder proper absorption of the stain.

Begin by staining the handrails and progress downward to the deck boards. Utilize various brush sizes to effectively stain smaller areas such as handrails, balusters, and trim boards. Complete all brushwork before proceeding to stain the decking surfaces.

For staining the surface decking boards, a flat paint-pad applicator is recommended. This facilitates swift coverage of large areas, enables you to maintain a wet edge effortlessly, and results in an even application of the stain. Apply the stain generously using the applicator, allow it to soak in for the recommended duration specified by the manufacturer, and promptly wipe away any excess with a rag. Avoid leaving pools of stain to dry on the surface.

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