Do you want to spend more time “huntin,’ fishin,’ and lovin’ every day?” Then don’t spend it on your deck – or if you do, spend it grilling your game and fish. If you are a do-it-yourselfer with a wood deck, this article is for you.
Lots of articles talk about products to use, how often to refinish a deck, and hiring professional services. If you want to do your own deck refinishing, and save lots of time and money, here are some pro tips you won’t hear very often.
If you follow our 5 steps, your deck job will look great and last for years. So long in fact, you won’t need to do deck maintenance or treating for years at a stretch. Yes, composite lumber is more maintenance free, but it costs a heck of a lot more upfront.
Don’t let anybody tell you that a wood deck needs to be replaced often, or painted or stained every year, or even every 2-3 years. It doesn’t. We had a builder-installed cedar plank deck on the south side of our home, where it was beat on by the hot sun reflecting off our house and exposed to approaching storms. For years we fully stripped then reapplied stain and later on paint, every 1-2 years, thinking that was just what had to be done.
Then we finally learned – plain and simple, how to refinish a deck in a way that works really well. But most people don’t know, or even bother to follow these simple steps. Even the pros usually don’t do all these steps when deck resurfacing, because your job needs to fit into their schedule. Do them the right way in the right order, and your deck treating will last a long time.
1. Prep It Really Well Beforehand
It can be tempting to just throw on a new coat over the old when restaining a deck or repainting a deck. But did you know, by doing so you’re actually taking years off the life of your paint or stain job? Thispart might seem tedious, but taking a little longer to do these things (at least up front the first time) will not only make it look better (smoother and professional looking), but last a lot longer and protect the wood from rot better:
. If you are applying over an older coat, be sure to scrape or sand (power sanding goes real quick) any flaking or chipped areas until they have smooth edges and any old paint remaining is only that which is really well adhered to the wood.
. Better yet, if your pretty sure the prior paint or stain wasn’t applied well (you can test this by peeling it off by hand), pressure wash off the old until you are down to bare wood all over – read on for why.
. Apply a deck cleanerand rinse it off before you get to any staining or painting. Be sure to do this even if you are working with brand newwood! Here’s why – the deck cleaner not only cleans, it actually opens up the pores of the wood to make it more receptive to the stain or paint. This allows it to bond really tightly and is part of the secret formula for making your deck job last a long, long time.
. Again, pressure washing helps with this process by forcing grime out of the wood. Find the balance between close enough to really clean well, but not so close that you cause splintering of the wood – pressure washers can push a lot of force.
. Many cracks can be repaired with wood filler, but replace any boards selectively that are cracked beyond repair or have dry rot setting in.
. If it’s entirely new wood decking, allow the wood to weather somewhat which makes the wood more absorbent after the fibers break down a bit.
2. Only Apply During Sustained Low Humidity
This is another critical part of the secret formula to a long-lasting deck job. You might find something deep in the 4-point font on the paint can about humidity on the day you paint, but here’s what really works:
. Monitor the weather forecast and look for a 5-day stretch where you expect humidity to be under 45% for the entire period, in the 35-40% range is perfect. That’s right, 5 days (or longer if you apply multiple coats). Maybe August or September are the only months, depending on where you live, but if you want your job to last a long time here’s how and why.
Wait at least 3 days AFTER all the prep work in Step 1 is done including after applying the deck cleaner and hosing it off to dry. This is because you want the
wood to be not only dry on the surface, but deep within the wood pores and wood itself. You don’t want to trap even a bit of moisture underneath that would compromise adhesion or drying of the paint or stain. Then, after you apply the product, be sure to leave 2 days afterwards for it to thoroughly dry after the last coat you apply – before use or rain. So, if it takes you more than a day to apply multiple coats, then you may need 6 days of low humidity from start to finish. Be ready to adjust your plan if the weather forecast changes while you are waiting for it to dry. If you’re 2 days into drying, and the humidity goes up over 45-50% or the forecast changes so you won’t have sustained drying time after you’re done, then wait till you have another opening – it’ll be worth your patience.
3. Choose A High Quality Paint or Stain
We’re not in the paint selling business, and know that you can make a good choice here. All we’ll say is this, from our own experience: paying a little more now will save you money in the long run. Yes, sometimes we
choke over the cost per gallon of the higher grade deck finishes, paints and stains. You can often get a discount on a holiday weekend, or for multiple gallons. Just bite the bullet and do it – the higher grades are truly better – actually different chemical formulas – and will last longer. This is true especially when you follow our 5 steps, otherwise you might as well go cheap and apply frequently – which defeats the point, it’ll still add up to more time and cost.
If you have a really worn or cracked deck, have no fear. Check out the best deck paint for old wood – the newer “elastomeric” products made for restoring older docks. They are so thick they can really fill in the cracks and re-seal the wood even if it’s been exposed for years.
If you are applying stain, use a brush not a roller, which helps it adhere better. If painting, rollers or brushes work better than sprayers to push paint into every crack and crevice. After the cracks are all filled in, we do like to spray on a top coat just to get that final, smooth professional look – as if the wood was brand new.
4. Seal The Underside Of Your Deck (First)
Think the underside of your deck stays drier, and is less susceptible to weathering and rot because it’s not facing the rain and elements? Think again. Here’s how to restain a deck underside, and how to repaint a deck underside in a way that prevents buildup of mildew, mold, and rot.
Water has a persistent way of dripping down and around all parts of your deck boards. Not only that, the shade harbors molds and rot that won’t take hold on top where it dries off faster.
If you want your wood deck to last, seal the underside well, and sides / ends of all theboards. Even an inexpensive neutral off-the-shelf porch or deck product is way better than leaving it unsealed. We have an elevated deck, so prefer to spray ours because it’s convenient. We can hit it from different angles, which helps get in between the slats and coat the sides of the boards – often the point at which rot starts to creep in after several years.
Even if you have to get on your hands and knees to get underneath (flush out any critters first!), or have to brush it instead of spray it, take the time to coat the underside. You’ll be glad you did – again your deck refinish or deck retain will last a lot longer. Be sure to get the junctions and edges where the boards sit on top of the deck beams, and as high as you can get in between the deck boards. In so doing you are cutting off rot and mold, and adding many years to your deck life.
The reason we say do this part first, before the top is two-fold. The more of the sides and cracks you can get from the bottom, the easier it is to focus on a quality smooth coat on top. Second, we tend to use a different color on the bottom, so we want any spray to be covered up by the top coat for a final professional look.
If your deck is low to the ground (too low to get underneath), it’s even more susceptible to moisture and rot. If you really want a long lasting deck, treat the bottom side of the planks before putting them down new, or for an older deck pull them up, treat the bottoms, and re-screw to the deck. Nothing a power-drill can’t make quick work of.
Don’t skimp on this step – in fact it’s even more important to do if you are putting an under deck material on – so it’s well sealed before it becomes impossible to reach and maintain.
5. Touch It Up Periodically With Deck Stain or Deck Paint
Congratulations, you’ve finished all the steps above and finished coating the top with one or more coats of high quality product. It looks fantastic and you’re ready to use. If you’ve done it as we described, it will last many years, at least 4-5 in our experience.
Because it lasts so long, it’s easy to let down on little touch ups that can extend your deck life even longer. So, keep an extra gallon or two on hand and always keep an eye out for:
These happen from the wood from winter freezing and thawing or summer heat (just like potholes in the road). Even the smallest cracks expose untreated wood so you want to hit them quick – only takes a few minutes but is worth it. If it’s a narrow crack, a quick dab of paint will do it. If it’s larger, apply some wood filler and let that dry (and sand smooth) before the touch up paint.
Board ends separating, wood boring insects, wood planks pulling free from deck, chips or scrapes from moving deck furniture or grills.
You get the idea – anywhere wood is exposed, get it back in place if needed then quick seal it with extra paint or stain. Again only takes a few minutes, but it’ll add years.
Oils and greases
…come from sizzling or leaking grills, deck lanterns such as Tiki style that need filling with lamp oil, etc. Try to prevent spills, and when they happen clean up with warm soapy water or a deck cleaner as these will stain or erode your awesome deck job.
There you have it – write us on or contact page and tell us how your refinish deck or restain deck project goes. Better yet send us pictures and tell us how much your friends noticed, as you were grilling your game or fish!