Spring doesn’t really exist anymore. The belief that a season actually occurs between that last dumping of snow and when your smartphone weather apps start to sweat is mythical at best. What we get now is essentially a two-week meteorological reprieve during which we need to squeeze three months’ worth of work. To make sure those precious days aren’t squandered, we’re dishing out the goods on how to git ‘er done so you can make the most of this summer — and it starts with resealing your deck.
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First thing’s first: if you’ve got painted timbers, this isn’t the place to look. You need to head to aisle 10 at the Depot, grab some tins of Benjamin Moore and start calling in some favors. Don’t get us wrong; a painted porch is all well and good, but the Rockwell approach lacks the warmth that a natural finish can deliver, and that’s what we’re concentrating on here.
So instead, head to the shed and grab your leaf blower (or rake and broom if you’re kickin’ it old school) and take care of those last couple of leaves you neglected to hit last November — and make a note to get off the couch next time. Left to its own devices, that decomposing foliage will make mincemeat of untreated areas of wood. Like a piece of un-flossed steak melting between molars, it slowly rots the fibers of the wood away, and before you know it you’ve got a weekend with the pry-bar and air-nailer lined up.
Once the deciduous detritus has been blown into oblivion, it’s time to take stock of exactly what’s ahead of you. If your deck was around for the first round of Hope and Change and you are trying to recapture that glory, you’ll want to take care of any cracked or splintered areas with some 80-100 grit sandpaper (trust us, there will be a few toe-pokers here and there to be dealt with). Look to the Miyagi method for optimal results. Once everything has been smoothed over, it’s time to start prepping the wood for a deep clean by wetting everything down. Your trusty garden hose equipped with a sprayer nozzle should suffice here.
Next, you’ll want to apply your chosen cleanser to the deck, making sure to follow the included directions, including those concerning goggles and skin coverage; we don’t need you looking or seeing splotchy. If you’ve noticed some graying over time (underfoot, not above your ears), make sure your cleaner has a brightening agent to it as well; this will make those especially sun-bleached areas (like the ones under your glass-top table) pop back to life. Not unlike your skin, wood can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays (regardless of whether it’s pressure treated or cedar), which can penetrate up to 1/64-inch deep to dry things out and cause some premature aging.
A paint roller with an extension pole paired with a stiff bristled broom for “problem areas” will save your knees here. Pay attention to the time of day, as you don’t want areas of decking dry out during its chemical peel. Aim for a shady time, and if your deck makes most Caribbean resorts jealous of its size, tell the hired help to hustle up or tackle things in sections.
WHICH FINISH IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Clear water repellents: $5 car wash with Turtle Wax. Waterproofing will last until next summer. Some UV protection and minimal mildew prevention is included, but don’t expect miracles. Woods will patina naturally, minus the splitting, warping, cupping or cracking inherent with an unprotected finish.
Wood toners: Cover-up. Similar to clear water repellent, but with a hint of hue to add a little youth to your wood. They deliver the same results but tend to last a little longer. That being said, don’t make any plans for next May.
Clear wood preservatives with UV protection: SPF 30. Often used on cedar and redwood, and traditionally oil-based, these sealants last up to two years, but come with the inherent pains of any oil-based product.
Semitransparent stains: SPF 50 with bronzer. These subtle tints allow the grain and texture of wood to shine through. The pigment itself lends protection against sun damage and adds a little splash of color where needed. Oil-based will last longer, but you may still be cleaning up when it’s time to start all over.
Solid stains: Essentially paint, with wood grain. Looks fantastic when finished and lasts long enough for you to pat yourself on the back, at least in high-traffic areas. Save the solid stains for benches and railings to add accent colors — unvarnished stains fade faster than Lindsay Lohan’s youth. If your deck has already been sullied by stain, you’re stuck with it, unless you use a deck stripper (and believe us, that’s not as fun as it sounds at all).
Now it’s time to break out the big guns. To take final care of all of those leaf outlines and that nasty spot where you dropped that burger, there’s no substitute for a pressure washer. Your choices here run the gamut, from portable electric models that give quite a bit more boost than a hose with your finger over the end of it, to gas-powered industrial brutes that would slice and cauterize that finger if you tried the same trick. Look for something with an adjustable pressure setting, a good selection of nozzles and a secondary solvent mixer (which can be used to apply the cleanser in some cases) and you should be in good shape. Again, it’s a good idea to consult the directions here and dial back the power a tad (or at least use the right bit) so it doesn’t look like you tried to laser your magnum opus into the deckboards. This isn’t like pissing into the snow. Once everything is clean and rinsed, take the rest of the day off (and tomorrow too) to let everything dry out properly — but if you’re looking to score bonus points, this is the perfect time to spray down the windows, siding, driveway and all those other jobs that wives will tell you a pressure washer can make “fun”.
When it comes time to apply your chosen finish, the procedure is usually similar to the cleansing. Trimming in with a brush and then switching to a foam roller will help avoid any “framing” occurrences. We want to stress again that at least glancing at the manufacturer’s recommendations won’t actually cost you any money at the man bank — in fact, it might earn you something. Regardless, you’ll want to make sure you’re protected at very least and that you apply the finish in the shade to ensure an even drying period, especially with tinted sealants and stains, to keep all parties involved a uniform color.
Whatever you do, don’t shake your tin to get it “ready”. Use the stir stick it came with, unless you want to sit and wait
the length of a playoff game three hours to let the bubbles settle. After that, simply bookmark this page for next year, throw some burgers on the grill and start muddling those Mojitos. Summer is officially here.