Refinishing a Wood Deck Takes a Little Work

“Refinishing your wood deck” is sort of a broad term. What you are going to have to do depends on what condition your deck is in when you start. Do not panic though, as long as it is not a termite eaten, rotted and collapsed ruin you can probably work with it. If it is a termite eaten, rotted and collapsed ruin then you probably should be looking for an article on how to build a new deck.

Now, to get started, determine the condition your deck is in. Is it pretty good, the wood is sound, fairly smooth and you basically just need to reseal it for weatherproofing? Is it pretty rough, the wood is turning gray, starting to warp and you get splinters from it? Or is it bad where it is beyond rough and you even have some unsound pieces of wood which will need replacing but it is not quite to the point where you are better off tearing the whole thing down and building a new one?

Obviously I cannot assess the condition of your deck, you must do so. Generally speaking, most decks which are not new will fall into one of the three above conditions; sound, rough, or bad. Think of them as green, yellow or red respectively. We will start with the worst case, “red” condition deck, and then move up from there. If your deck is in better shape then just skip down to where you come in.

The worst condition “red” deck. Start by going over your deck checking for unsound wood. If wood appears to be rotted, broken, or otherwise unsound you will have to remove it. Prior to removing it you should carefully note where it is, how it is positioned and its proportions (size and shape). This will help you to replace the piece later. Take notes, measurements and you may even take pictures if necessary (digital cameras are a wonderful thing). Once you are sure you know all there is to know about replacing this piece, go ahead and tear it out. Be sure to completely remove all pieces and parts of it and pull out and nails or remove any screws. If it was rotted you will want to sand down the wood underneath and apply a good wood stabilizer for rot, just in case. Do not replace the missing wood just yet.

Then you will want to check the stability of flooring and steps. Experience shows that, if you have any wood beginning to rot, break or otherwise wear, then your steps and flooring should be beginning to go and may need to be replaced in places. Follow the same steps outlined above.

Once you have removed all bad wood from your deck you will be roughly caught up with the person with a “yellow” or rough condition deck, other than the fact you will have to replace the wood. Now you will need to sand down the rough wood and handle any warping.

Let us deal with warping first. You are always going to have some warping. It is natural to wood and is caused by the wood getting wet and then drying at different rates for different sections of the piece of wood. It varies from piece to piece and depends on the type of wood and how it was treated. Kiln dried wood is the best for avoiding warping followed by woods treated with water repellent chemicals. However, no wood is immune to it.

If you have warped pieces of wood you need to look at them and ask yourself, “Are they bad enough that I really need to mess with it?” Seriously, if just have a handrail with a little bit of a curl to it, is it really worth the potential time, effort and money it will take to fix it? If so, start simple, try running a few screws into the warped part to hold it down. Use screws instead of nails since screws have much better holding properties than nails do. With nails the wood will just re-warp and pull the nail right back out. The ridges of the screw will grip and hold it in place. If a screw or two does not work you may try removing the piece of wood and flipping it over. Then screw it back down, thus flattening it back out. If that does not work, you will probably going to have to replace it just like you would a broken piece of wood.

Next we have rough or splintery pieces of wood. On many old decks this may include most of the deck. Sanding them is the only way to smooth them out. If you really want to hand sand your whole deck, then go ahead. I am sure it will look really spiffy when you get done and you will look like Popeye the Sailor Man with your muscular forearms. However, I would recommend you use a power sander. Progress from coarse to fine grit sandpaper until you achieve the finish which is right for you. This is, after all, your deck. Make sure you do the whole deck evenly and not just the highlights or it will look really bad when you are finished. Also, you will need matching sheets of sandpaper for hand sanding the corners and other “nooks and crannies” where the power sander will not go. Sorry, the machine doesn’t do it all. Be sure and wear eye protection while using the power sander as it can throw up small pieces of wood which you do not want in your eye.

When you have finished sanding the deck it is time to replace any missing pieces of wood. This will require carpentry skills which will not get into here. This will also be where you will understand why you needed the detailed notes and photographs showing how the pieces looked before you removed them.

Once you have replaced the wood you should have a stripped, sound deck equal to the “green” condition which just needs weatherproofing. Good news, there are many, many different kinds of weatherproofing out there. It depends on the type of wood you used to build your deck and the environment you are in. For example, my deck is built of salt treated pine and I live in Virginia. When we sealed it last year I used, or actually my father used, since he sealed it for me, a basic wood sealer for decks. I believe it was Thompsons. It said it was “one coat” but we put on two just to be sure and, a year later it still looks good. I will put on another coat as soon as I have a free day which is sunny and hot.

If I lived where I used to live, Alaska, and I had, let us say, a cedar deck I would need a different sealant. I would choose one formulated especially for very humid environments and for cedar wood. The same would be true for living in a hot dry environment like Arizona. The point is, carefully consider where you live and what kind of wood is in your deck when you purchase your sealant. Even if your sealant states it is “one coat,” you should consider putting two coats on for safety sake. Then, a year later, put on another coat. Pick a warm dry day for applying the sealant. Good sunshine will help it to dry faster. Apply it evenly and be sure you get all the “nooks and crannies” of your deck. Sealants come in either clear or tinted so you do not need to stain your deck if you want it a different color. Simply select a sealant in the color you like and use that as your stain.

Once you have sealed your deck, and it has dried, you are finished. Just remember to add another coat of sealant next year and watch for any wood warping, if you catch it soon enough and screw it down you may be able to prevent it from becoming a major problem. Maybe all of this took a little work but you can always tell your friends that you did it yourself, that is usually impressive. Enjoy your deck.

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