Deck refinishing

Cleaning, sanding and staining a deck and a balcony. South 40th Street, Lincoln, NE

It's all in the details...

In October of 2011 I was awarded this deck refinishing project. The deck and the balcony were originally finished with a solid color stain. It’s been a few years since then. The deck has been well maintained, but after being subjected to a severe hail storm, the stain started to peel in many places, primarily on the decking and handrails.

Inspecting a deck and a balcony in Lincoln, NE

The unique feature of this deck is a soffit-like drain system installed by the homeowners to prevent rainwater from dripping on the patio underneath. The system covers most of the joists, but there are openings that expose parts of the ledger -

Inspecting underside of a deck in Lincoln, NE

and supporting beams -

Inspecting beams and joists of a deck for stain failure in Lincoln, NE

The balcony does not have a defined ledger, but there are siding boards between the joists -

Inspecting underside of a balcony for coating failure in Lincoln, NE

There are some other intricacies, that will require a lot of attention and patience.

Let’s begin...

The first step is pressure washing. Water removes most of the loose stain and dirt.

I let the deck dry for a while before getting back to it...

Here is what I see a few days later:

Inspecting a deck after pressure washing in Lincoln, NE

Just as I expected, the edges of the old stain are lifted and the grains of the exposed wood are raised. I inspect all the surfaces and do not see any signs of rot. That’s good - no need for any replacements.

Sanding is next...

Sanding a deck in Lincoln, NE

I employ two electrical sanders: a dual action orbital for horizontal surfaces, and a pad sander for spindles and fascia boards. I switch between 60, 80 and 100 grit sandpaper, depending on how rough the surface is. There are quite a few tight spots where sanders do not reach. Those require scraping and sanding by hand. Once all the edges are feathered out and the exposed wood is splinter-free and feels smooth to the touch, I sweep up the debris and vacuum up the dust.

Now it’s time for a fresh coat of stain.

The owners expressed a desire to switch to a different, darker color. We agreed that the decking and handrails should receive two coats of material, while all the other parts would be just fine with one coat.

The stain I’m about to start working with is a solid color acrylic stain. It has a much thinner consistency than a typical acrylic paint, so it penetrates deep into the grains. It’s relatively easy to apply, unlike semi-transparent or clear stains which are less forgiving to application mishaps such as drips, sags and lap marks. Besides, those would require a complete removal of previous finish. But I digress...

Initially, I was planning on using a “spray and back-brush”’ method on most surfaces, especially spindles, but the forecast called for windy conditions for the next few days, so I made a decision to abandon that idea and to proceed with a traditional roller and brush. I realized that actual application will take me a bit longer that way, but on the bright side, there are advantages: virtually no material loss, no waste of time and supplies on bagging half of the house, no possibility of over-spraying neighbors’ homes.

I use a 4-inch roller with a ⅜-inch synthetic nap -

Applying a solid stain on a deck in Lincoln, NE

and a stiff, “seasoned” 3-inch brush for the decking boards -

Brushing a solid stain on a deck in Lincoln, NE

I need to push the brush deep in between the boards and into the grains. This action puts quite a bit of stress on bristles, so I prefer to spare my fine brushes from the grind.

I can’t emphasize enough that regardless of whether a stain is put on with a sprayer or a roller, it must be worked into the wood with a brush to ensure even distribution and proper adhesion. You can find this statement being confirmed on every label.

Once the first coat on the decking is done, I switch my setup. I now use a 4-inch foam roller for putting the stain on the spindles and fascia. It allows me to control the release of material better and, if needed, to dab off the excess -

Rolling stain on railings of a deck in Lincoln, NE

A medium-stiff glide brush does a great job for corners and cut-ins -

Cutting in stain with a brush under a fascia on a deck in Lincoln, NE

As I mentioned earlier, the stain is pretty “juicy”, so naturally, I have a few drop clothes underneath my work area.

Solid color acrylic stain brush and roller set

Under the deck, I remove two downspouts from this post to get good access to it -

Downspout removal in preparation for deck staining in Lincoln, NE

A short-handled sash brush is the only way to get to spots like this -

Staining the underside of a deck in Lincoln, NE

To have a result like this -

Stained beams and joists

And like this -

Stained railings on a deck in Lincoln, NE

I must say, that despite being thin, the stain provides superb coverage. Even with the first coat, the deck is looking really good already.

Inspecting a deck after the first coat of stain

The second coat will further even out irregularities on the handrails and walking surfaces. It will also provide much better resistance to wear and tear.

Before putting my brush and roller back into the stain, I give the handrails a gentle sanding with a 180-grit paper -

Checking the rail caps for smoothness.

I also check a few spots on the decking and then make sure that there is no dust or debris present.

The second coat goes on quicker. I work it in in the same manner -

Applying a second coat of stain with a roller.

with a softer sprig brush -

Back-brushing a second coat of stain on a deck.

one board at a time -

Inspecting coating consistency on a deck.

I’m pleased to see how it forms a smooth, silky film behind me -

Drying stain on decking.

The next day I give the whole deck a thorough inspection, touch up all the “holidays”, reinstall the downspouts and check the surroundings.

Inspecting a newly stained deck.

I recommend to my clients that they give their “new” deck adequate time to cure up before putting their grill and furniture back.

Newly stained deck and a balcony in Lincoln, NE. South side.

And here it is - all done!

Newly stained deck and a balcony in Lincoln, NE. North side.

6 years later…

I am back at clients’ request in November of 2017. And this is how the deck looks like:

Inspecting a deck 6 years after staining - Lincoln, NE

There are obvious signs of wear such as fading and minor substrate exposure, but overall most surfaces are in a good shape. There is no rot or significant wood deterioration, except for a few new surface checks due to aging:

Inspecting decking surface 6 years after staining - Lincoln, NE

It is best to refinish the decking, treads, rail caps and fascia now. The spindles and posts will be just fine for another couple of years after a few minor touch-ups.

I will spare you from detailed documentation this time since the preparation process is practically the same. Here is the surface that is ready for staining:

Deck Preparation for Staining - Lincoln, NE

As previously, two thin coats of stain are applied to ensure uniform appearance and longevity:

Deck Staining - Lincoln, NE

Will the stain last for another 6 years? Time will tell. But I would have no reservations to bet on it.