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I’m Gonna Deck You

November 12, 2012

I’m going to be real here a second, so bear with me. This post IS about how I stained our deck and what you need to know, but I have a preface.

If I could choose, I would be a stay-at-home mom. But because we have a unique situation regarding health insurance, I’m a full-time employee. I don’t want to complain because I’d much rather be a working mom than just a working non-mom, so know that I am extremely grateful to have Maggie in our life. All that to say, being a working mom has some giant disadvantages. One of which is the incredible guilt with how I spend my time after work and on weekends. All I really want to do is spend time with Maggie and JD. Especially in the evenings, I pick her up around 4:30, and she’s in the bath and bed by 7. That’s nothing! No time at all! Then, on weekends, even though I’m itching to do projects and fun crafty things that I used to do, I don’t really  want to. I just want to play on the floor, read with my cutie pies, and have fun new adventures with my family.

But sometimes things around the house call for our attention, and you have to pull yourself away from the adorable giggling to stain a deck. The wear and tear was too bad to let it go another season untreated, and October is the best month (at least in Nashville) to stain a deck. It pained me to take two plus full days away from Mags and JD to do this project, but I really enjoyed putting the sweat into it, and I think it came out pretty well.

I say all that to give some explanation to why the project took so long to complete. Any drop of rain to endanger the integrity of the project set me back another weekend… a handy excuse to hang with my sweeties! So, keep this in mind while judging my timeline.

Ok… onto deck staining.

Our poor deck was the pits. We bought our home in 2008… I’m unsure if the deck was stained then or when it was first built in 2004, but by this past spring, it was rough. The railings were breaking, there was no stain left on the high traffic path, and sometimes I could hear it crying. (Just kidding!) But, it still had a good bit of stain on certain places, and it needed a good cleaning. Here are my steps to an extremely elaborate project:

RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH… there’s no Googling when your hands are full of stain. I found a couple good resources, but really, I just read as much as I possibly could about staining. I also emailed a friend who had just stained his deck the summer prior. He gave me his tips as well. Honestly, once it became time to buy the actual stain, my Lowe’s paint guy Dave said I “knew more than most at this stage.” Confidence really does help when you’re in the middle and worried you’ve done something wrong.

I had read some stories online and from a friend, both of whom recommended taking a lot of time on this project. Over and over I read, “Don’t try to rush this project.” The more time you have to make the stain stick in dry weather, the better.

Therefore, my next bit of advice: plan to stain at the best time of year. The weather can’t be too warm, too cold, or rainy at all. So that leaves September-November in Nashville, and many of my weekends that I had planned to work on the deck were rained out. If the wood on the deck is not completely dried out, the wood can warp and ugly bubbles can surface on your stain.

The pressure washer is your friend. Before staining your deck, you have to strip down any remaining stain on the boards. I knew pressure washing would do the trick, but once I had rented it, I was too cautious with it, and I ended up having to go over it again. There’s a fine balance between getting the stain off the boards and denting the wood… so yeah, be cautious. Also, rent that baby for the day, and pressure wash the heck out of anything and everything. I ended up getting the back patio and was later disappointed that I had forgotten to pressure wash the drive way and sidewalk. Just rent the thing for the whole day and enjoy it. Pressure washing was fun… yes I know that’s weird.

Pressure washing took the whole day. I had anticipated a morning project, but then when I started going crazy with the washer, I didn’t come back in until dinner time. It was fun but much longer because I was thorough.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to stain until three of four weeks after this because of crazy weather and other commitments. I can’t say enough, though, about being ready. Be prepared to jump in when the weather is great. Knowing I didn’t want to waste precious sunlight or time with Maggie and JD, I had everything out: stain, stirrers, rollers, brushes, rags, cleaning agents, even the clothes I was going to wear. I did a lot of preparation at night so that I wouldn’t waste daylight.

Onto actual staining… here’s everything in a gist:

  • Take off all your jewelry, even wedding rings. Just do it. It’s messy. Better yet, just wear gloves. (My mom of course reminds me this after I’m pretty much done.)
  • I would recommend the Van Morrison Pandora radio station to keep on while staining. That was the perfect cadence for the necessary staining stamina.
  • Stain… stains! So, keep this in mind when pouring it out into your bowl. I put everything into the grass, rather than on our patio.
  • Stain acts like the opposite of paint: coats aren’t really a thing for stain. You have to do everything while the stain is wet. Coats won’t really cover up mistakes.
  • Stain drips… a lot! Just keep that in mind.
  • I used a combo of brushes and rollers: brushes for the spokes, stairs, and posts; rollers for the floor. And use a big brush. This seems obvious, but really: the wider the brush, the more stain you can apply, minimizing how many times you dip into your bowl.

Below is my progress halfway through the spoke-painting.

When I stained next to the brick, I used a cardboard box to protect the brick from getting hit with stain. This worked pretty well, but, honestly, a little careful detailing will be just as effective.

Actually staining took me four different days for frustrating reasons: once, I ran out of stain, then I forgot to stain the bottom of the railings, and then I decided to throw caution to the wind and add a second coat to the floor. The floor was much lighter than the border and spokes, and that annoyed me because I knew it was going to get the most traffic. So, I went against my better judgement and recoated the floor. But, it actually looks so much better.

Another added component that many restaining-deck-DIYers might not run into is replacing boards. Our top railing boards were U-G-L-Y. So, we pulled them up and purchased replacements, which we stained and installed.

Our across-the-street-neighbor (who is a saint) ended up cutting and beveling the railing boards for us, and he clued us in to an important fact: boards have outsides and insides. If you look at the end, you can see the tree rings etched. If the rings are in a sunset shape, the top is the outside of the tree. If the edge is a smiley face shape, the top is the inside of the board. (Check out this example.) You want the outside exposed to the sky, because after some aging, a board will round toward the inside. So, we kept that in mind when we were placing our boards.

I’m not thrilled how the railings turned out where the stair rail meets the top rails, but I’m not sure how I could have made it better with the resources we had.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the project. I learned a lot, had a ton of time with my thoughts and the Van Morrison Pandora station, and saved money rather than hiring a professional (supplies cost about $180 total, including stain, boards, brushes, and the pressure washer rental). I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2012 8:58 am

    Kate, you did a great job! I also like doing these projects or any projects myself. Don’t beat yourself up about taking time away from Maggie rondo such things. Instead, allow her to watch or be a part of what you can. This way she is spending time with you as well as being exposed to new adventures. She will pick up your craftiness along the way,too! I am fortunate that my kids turned out loving to do things themselves with no fear of getting dirty or learning something new! Projects are fun and good bonding time for all of you. I can see it now that Maggie will turn out as creative as her Mommie and her Grandmom! Include her in everything you can as your parents were so hands on with you! How do you think you turned out so amazing, it was with all the fingerprinting, dirt digging. Craft making adventures you were allowed to have! Enjoy and keep in adventuring! ,

  2. November 12, 2012 9:00 am

    *fingerpainting that is.

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