Working with real wood for your deck

In this new world of composite decking, why is pressure-treated lumber or cedar still a good choice for a porch floor or backyard deck?

Because painting or staining a horizontal surface isn’t such a pain in the butt. As a result, and until the solid PVC and composite companies render their products a little less expensive – and somehow manage to design a decking that doesn’t retain heat so effectively – real wood surfaces are going to continue to win the marketing battle by default.

As previously mentioned, real wood surfaces will absolutely require maintenance if their appearance is to keep up with the balance of your ‘touch-it-once,’ maintenance-free home.

Choices of decking lumber commonly available in most local markets include pressure-treated spruce, or western red cedar.

Brazilian decking lumber such as IPE (eeh-pay) is also available, usually under the status of a special order (which may require waiting a week or two), but I hesitate to recommend its purchase. Definitely a beautiful species of lumber, IPE can be as costly as composite decking. Furthermore, there’s one colour choice, which is basically a mahogany red type of tone.

Due to IPE’s wood grain being so tight, the surface pores won’t accept a regular semi-transparent or opaque stain, and must be sealed with a clear oil specifically designed for the IPE product. Left untreated, IPE, like everything else, will turn grey. Although a delight to the end purchaser, IPE (aka ironwood) can be a nightmare for the installer, due to its stubbornness in accepting a nail, screw, and even a drill bit.

With a core density and burn resistance equal to concrete, IPE is one of the few wood products that won’t float. Although a popular wood product to be used on the decks of many a luxury cruise liner, building a diving platform or raft out of IPE would fundamentally be a disaster for the uninitiated cottager.

The choice between treated lumber and cedar lies primarily with the user’s experience. Essentially, both species will require a pre-sanding, followed by the same install strategy using either the Camo (edge screw), or deck bracket (fasten from underneath) strategy of non-surface screw insertion.

Both species are coniferous, or evergreen types of trees. What makes cedar the premium product, or preferred choice over treated lumber, is cedar has a tighter grain than spruce, and contains natural oils, which causes cedar to be more stable over the long-term, meaning less chance of splits and cracks under the stress of our fluctuating temperatures.

Plus, as anybody who’s ever worked with cedar knows, the lightweight planks are a pleasure to handle, with its soft grain cutting and drilling with ease (essentially the exact opposite of IPE). Like any wood product, having a paint or stain properly adhere to the wood’s surface means first sanding the wood with an 80-grit paper.

Because cedar lumber is usually kept indoors, and therefore dry, it can be stained immediately after installation.

Treated lumber, due to it being stocked on a much larger scale, is usually kept outdoors. Although wrapped in protective tarps at least for a portion of the year, wind and general inefficiencies can definitely affect the consistent use of these tarps, so treated lumber is bound to absorb a little moisture. As a result, treated lumber will usually benefit from at least a few weeks of dry weather before attempting the sanding and staining process.

Protecting your wooden deck surface can be done using either a clear sealer (yearly application), semi-transparent (lasting two-to-three years), or opaque (solid colour) stain (generally applied every four-to-six years).

I love wood, so the option of a clear or semi-transparent finish is attractive to me because it accentuates the natural grain patterns of each plank. However, because I love my boat more, and cherish every summer weekend, the solid colour stain, which lasts longer and applies without having to sand between coats, is my go-to, outdoor stain product of choice.

Good building.

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

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