When I bought my house in the mountains, I was a little put off by the condition of the deck. It was well made and sturdy, constructed of ironwood on a steel I-beam, but it hadn’t been treated so it was that awful light gray, the result of UV exposure and mold.
While the gray matched the house paint surprisingly well, I’d been raised to consider fine wood the ultimate in materials. You protected it, displayed it, sometimes stained it, and you certainly never painted it!
I decided to do something about my painfully gray deck, partly because I hated the gray, but mostly because I knew ironwood to be absolutely beautiful, a lot like mahogany or teak, and I wanted to bring that out.
How to restore your deck
First, you have to wash it. My deck was filthy, so I hired a contractor to power wash it, but you can do that yourself if you have a decent pressure washer. This is not a quick or easy job; it took hours to clean my fairly large deck. I was amazed at the grain that was exposed by the cutting stream of water, but the deck was still killer gray. Next step, stain.
I would have preferred to restore the wood to its natural color, but that was no longer possible. You can’t sand ironwood. I selected Australian Timber Oil in Mahogany Flame to approximate the original color and it worked exceptionally well. The grain jumped off the surface in a rich, warm red-brown that glowed with natural beauty, even after all those years of neglect.
Then I noticed gray in the spaces between each board that jumped up in an entirely different and unacceptable way. I tried to get into the spaces with a brush, but that didn’t work very well so I bought a crack tool, which would have worked perfectly if my boards had been properly spaced. As it was, I did the best I could, but you can still find gray peaking up from the decking.
You can use a sprayer to apply the stain that will get into the cracks, but you end up using more stain that way and if you don’t know what you’re doing, as I didn’t, you’ll probably make an unholy mess.
I didn’t apply the product under the best circumstances (it rained each afternoon), but even without the 24-48 hours it should have had to dry, it still provided protection. That protection has faded as the Sun has worked on it, but I live at over 7,000′ so those of you at sea level should fare better. After all, this was my deck’s first treatment in many years, perhaps ever.
So was it worth it?
Yes and no. While I think the deck looks much better now, I’ll have to apply a new coat of stain every year. And stain scratches. If you have patio furniture, move it very carefully or you’ll scrape the surface rather noticeably. Before the restoration, you couldn’t see the scratches; they blended in with the gray (or if they didn’t they would soon enough), but a dark stain is very prone to damage.
However, it’s more likely you don’t have ironwood for your decking. You probably have pine or redwood. These woods are soft so be careful with the power washer our you’ll literally scar the surface with the cutting spray. And remember, dark stains show scratches so pick your stain accordingly. Light colors wear better.
You do have another option with these softer woods that I didn’t have. You can sand them back to their original color, then simply apply a preservative. Then if you scrape the surface, it won’t really show much as the scratch will blend with the color of the wood underneath it. You will, however, still have to deal with that gray between the boards, if you have any.
I’m glad I stained my deck. It looks fantastic now, but I realize I’ve taken on a yearly project that’s time consuming and expensive. That stain costs $45 a gallon and I needed over 3 gallons to cover the deck and railing, not to mention the $320 I paid the contractor to clean it. If you can live with the gray, your life will be easier, but you’ll miss out on all the beauty your deck has to offer.