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Proper Deck Restoration & Refinishing (6 Steps)

By Mike Holmes

Mike’s Advice / Exterior Renovation & Landscape Construction

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 @ 9:00am
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The main steps for refinishing your wood deck are:

  • Inspecting and repairing
  • Removing stains
  • Cleaning
  • Sanding
  • Staining and sealing
  • Enjoying

#1 Check for Rot


Before you start the process of deck refinishing or restoring a deck, it’s important to do an inspection to check the state of your deck. Where wood meets wood (butted boards) or wood meets concrete are the most common places for hidden rot.

If you haven’t protected your deck in a long time or not at all, take something hard and pointy like a flathead screwdriver and poke around.

You will probably find soft or even hollow boards that require replacement.

Counter sink nails and tighten screws on the salvageable floorboards. Poke the joists as well to see if they are rotten. Your joists should be pressure treated wood, at least 2×8 in size and no more than 16” apart with hangers attached to the ledger board if your deck is attached to the house.

Read more about problem areas on decks here.

#2 Are Your Posts Cracking?


Look under the deck to see if the posts are cracked and/or crooked. Are there concrete piers under the posts and if so, have they heaved? There is no sense in refinishing the surface if the substructure is rotten and/or unsafe. Check it for movement and rot. Your rail should have 4×4 (at least) posts every 4-5ft secured to the deck with bolts.

Your balusters must be vertical, secured by 2-2×4 rails and spaced no more than 4” apart. Check the building codes in your area.

RELATED:

Easy Tips On Maintaining Your Deck

#3 Clean Your Deck. Should You Use A Pressure Washer?


A power washer is a removal tool and not a finishing tool. It can also be a weapon in the wrong hands. If you really want to use one, use a wide fan and determine how close the wand should be to the surface by experimenting on an area that is relatively unnoticeable.

Follow the instructions to avoid damaging the wood.

I would recommend just using a soft bristle brush and a garden hose. If you see the wood fibers starting to rise (bur) back off slightly.

#4 Removing Stains


If your deck has a significant amount of old product on it you may want to apply a Stain/paint remover. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the container, wear proper protective gear and protect your cherished gardens.

If the old product is raised and chipping the washer will remove most of it without harsh chemicals.

Some experts recommend using a specialized deck wash. Test the cleanser’s strength in a small area before you start.

Let your deck dry for a couple days before starting the sanding process.

RELATED:

DO’S AND DON’TS OF Outdoor Home Projects

#5 Do’s and Don’ts of Sanding


If you plan to stain the deck, sand the surface before doing so to make the wood better absorb the coating.

On a typical wood deck you will need:

  • Four-head random-orbit sander
  • Sanding sponge
  • 60- or 80- grit sandpaper
  • 80- or 100-grit for handrails
  • Proper protective equipment (do not forget your respiratory mask, tight fitting work gloves and goggles.)

Many people use the upright floor sanders that you can rent at your local home improvement store. The problem I have with these machines is that they are made for indoor hardwood floors, they are heavy, 8” wide and perfectly flat.

Your deck boards are not generally 8” wide nor perfectly flat.

If put in correctly (crown up) your floor boards should be slightly convex if not, over time they may become slightly concave (cupped). Neither surface can be sanded with that large machine without taking too much wood off some boards and/or not enough on others.

The palm sander helps to finish the board ends and other areas that can’t be reached by the belt sanders.

Finish Sanding

Finish sanding is meant to create consistency in the porosity of the wood so that stain coverage will be consistent and absorb as much as possible. Use a lighter 60/80 grit for this.

Remember large open pores take a lot of stain and crushed pores take no stain.

Detail Sanding

Detail sanding means that every nook and cranny has been addressed so that we will have a well-protected work of art when completed.

Watch out for this

  • If you leave your belt or paper on too long it will crush the cells and not allow stain.
  • If you use the wrong grit on a bare surface it can leave marks or scars that won’t show up until you stain.
  • If the finish is inconsistent your translucent stain will go on blotchy.
  • If it rains during your project and you can’t protect the surface, your finish sanding is a do over because the moisture has furled your surface.
  • Direct sunlight will cause discoloration so the part you sand today will be a different shade than what you sanded yesterday. This will be a big deal if you want a natural wood grain finish.

Vacuum all surfaces thoroughly after sanding.

#6 Staining Your Deck


After all that hard work and now that you have a better than brand new deck or other structure, it is time to decide on how to protect it.

The best method to apply stain is by brush. This ensures that the stain is applied evenly and has a nice uniform finish. With a brush you can work the stain in to the surface of the wood and control the consistency.

Sprayers don’t give you that luxury and can get very messy with floating stain landing on windows, pools and even automobiles. Rollers will keep you off your knees but can create pooling that will peel. 

READ NEXT:

Nothing says summer like a beautiful deck, a barbecue, outdoor mood lighting and a fire pit, but because many decks are made from wood there is the potential for fire, so proper fire safety must always be practiced. Here are some tips on deck safety

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