How to stain in the great outdoors

Steve Maxwell applying deck stain as part of his ongoing deck trials. Many deck finishes don’t work, no matter how well you prepare the surface first. Photo credit: Robert Maxwell JPG, CO

Staining your treated lumber deck need not be so ominous a task, and can generally be accomplished in three steps.

One: pick up the necessary preparation and finishing materials.

Two: print out a clear list of instructions regarding the proper use and disposal of said products.

And three” load your golf clubs into the trunk, double check the cooler to confirm all sandwiches, snacks, and alcoholic beverages are in order, then kiss your wife goodbye and let her know the teenager you’ve hired to do the job should be arriving shortly.

Three easy steps, and that’s it.

Why hire a young person to do this task? Because when done properly, staining a deck doesn’t do an aging lower back, knees, and shoulders any favours. And two, the odds of failure, including/but not limited to, peeling, crackling, and early wear or product deterioration in our temperature zone, fall somewhere between likely and guaranteed.

So, you might as well get a decent game of golf out of the day, strategically positioning this kid as the fall guy.

Why don’t deck stains last as long as advertised? Because the homeowners fail to follow procedure.

Basic procedure No. 1: timing. Because exterior staining puts you at the mercy of the elements, you’ve got to choose your two- to three-hour staining window wisely. Basically, you’ll need to avoid early mornings (dew on the planks), too late in the evening (dew, cooler temperatures), full sun (stain will dry too quickly), too cold (stain will freeze before absorption), or eminent rain in the next 48 hours.

As a result, success will be had while staining on a semi-cloudy day, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with expected temperatures between 18 C and 26 C, with of course little chance of rain.

Unfortunately, achieving this sequence of temperature and climate would have you moving to Fayetteville, Tenn., or somewhere in the central U.S. With that being unlikely, we time our staining the best we can.

Basic procedure No. 2: clean the deck surface the week beforehand. Best results will come from either scrubbing the decking planks with a soap and water solution, or using a deck-cleaning product, which can be applied with a spray-type canister. The deck cleaner is a convenient choice because the solution need simply sit on the decking planks for about 15 minutes before rinsing. In both cases, the soap solutions should be rinsed off with a garden hose.

In an age where emotions relating to impatience and immediate satisfaction are as common as adding cream and sugar to a coffee, pressure washers are an attractive alternative to rinsing.

However, a pressure washer is simply too much tool, and would be akin to calling the SWAT team in to break up a disturbance between two toddlers at the Tots n’ Tubbies Daycare. A tool that was basically designed to clean barnacles off a ship’s hull should not be used on treated pine and spruce softwoods. Pressure washing will result in clean, but your decks surface will be permanently etched (which will attract dirt and mould), and be left saturated with water, requiring at least a week of dry weather to cure.

Besides a simple clear finish, stains come in either semi-transparent, or opaque finishes. A semi-transparent stain is like an interior stain, in that it highlights the wood grain as it provides colour. However, and like an interior piece of furniture about to receive a stain, the decking planks should be sanded. Sanding the decking planks beforehand opens the pores of the wood, and allows the stain to effectively penetrate the decking, creating a more beautiful and lasting finish.

Opaque stains are like a paint, in that they provide a solid colour that hides the wood grain. However, opaque stains differ from paints in that they aren’t as slippery to walk on, and can be applied directly to a clean deck without the need to sand.

Application tidbit: apply the stain with a roller, then back-brush the stain into the wood.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

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