How to make your old deck look new again
Deck prep tips that will help you determine which treatment is right for your deck
Putting a finish on your deck isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. By that, I mean you might get to stop and rest for a while, but the job of preventing your deck from slowly decaying into old barnboard never really ends. The trick is achieving the best possible results for the least investment of time and effort.
There are three questions you need to ask before you settle on a deck-refinishing strategy. What does your deck look like now? How do you want the rejuvenated deck to look? And what kind of work are you willing to commit to maintain your deck? Consider this checklist of refinishing questions as you look for a very specific surface condition on top of your deck boards.
Begin by pressure-washing your deck, let it dry, then get down on your hands and knees.
Do you see weathering cracks, or is the wood still smooth? Wood that’s young enough to be still smooth (even if it’s grey and peeling at the moment) offers the widest range of possibilities because you can finish it as you would any brand new deck. Film-forming tinted products, soak-in stains or clear water repellants are all reasonable choices. As long as the product is dependable (not all are), and as long as you prepare the surface properly, you can expect optimal results. So, how long is optimal? Today’s top film-forming finishes can last as long as 36 months before they need to be redone. Clear repellant-type products typically need to be reapplied every year, making them one of the most labour-intensive options.
Does your deck show weathering cracks? Are these cracks wider than the thickness of cereal-box cardboard? This condition means that you have fewer refinishing options, because this wood is less able to hang on to film-forming finishes. Even with proper preparation, moisture is still able to sneak underneath surface films along the edge of each crack, promoting premature peeling. A film-forming finish that could last three years on smooth wood will probably show signs of peeling in less than 18 months on a weather-cracked deck. In cases like this, consider a soak-in, semi-transparent stain. These create no surface film, so they can’t peel. The colour that’s part of soak-in stains also hides grey areas well.
Regardless of your deck’s condition, sanding improves the performance of most finishing treatments, because it dramatically increases the grip that the finishing can have on the wood. In fact, sanding can double the working life of a typical deck finish, especially after pressure-washing.
Here’s why: every deck needs to be cleaned before refinishing, but the scrubbing and blasting action of a pressure washer almost always loosens surface fibres. This results in fuzzy boards that seem very thirsty when dry. The trouble is those fuzzy fibres are also loosely anchored to the underlying wood. And as the fibres break off, your finish peels off with them. This is why sanding is so important, even if it is a pain.
Use a 60- or 80-grit disk in a 6″ random-orbit sander to condition the surface of your deck. Get down to bright, new wood wherever you can. If your deck is large and the boards are flat, rent a pad-style floor sander to speed the work. Don’t bother with a quarter-sheet finishing sander or a vibrating pad sander–they just don’t move enough wood to be practical on decks.