How to Refinish an Old Wood DeckRedoing our deck has been such an exhausting and gratifying project! It’s definitely been a lot more work than I had anticipated, but I’m learning that’s just how most home makeover projects go! I learned a lot in the process of making over the deck, so I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you all—starting with how we refinished our wood deck!

I’m lucky that my husband Phil was game for working on such a big project with me, and that he enjoys the same music playlists as we work. (That’s kind of a big deal!) After days of working in the blazing sun, we’re each rocking a farmer’s tan as we sip iced coffee on the newly finished patio, and I don’t care. I love it! (There’s your hint for what music got us through this project!)

Besides the so fresh and so clean deck, another big part of our patio makeover was the outdoor furniture provided to me by Article. Shown above is their Medan white lounge chair, which is made of coated metal and a synthetic wicker. I’m really happy to have beautiful new furniture that will stand the test of time, even though my new deck will surely need refinishing again before that chair starts showing its age.

Before + After Deck refinishingI’m not sure how our deck had been finished by the previous owners—or when—but it clearly needed a lot of TLC! You can see how faded and scratched the previous finish had gotten. Also, the wood was pretty damaged in some places. Seeing this before and after is so gratifying, honestly! Because in the midst of all the work, I think I lost sight of how bad it was before, and how necessary this work really was.

refinishing a wood deckStripping the Wood Deck

Step One: Wash deck thoroughly with hose water and a stiff bristle brush. Then apply chemical wood stripper* with a long-handled roller. Try to work in the shade if possible, as the sun will dry out the wood stripper faster than you want. Work in small areas so that it stays wet and can do its work.

*Be very careful when applying the wood stripper—it will burn your skin! I suggest wearing long pants, sleeves and goggles. I ended up splattering a bit on my legs and it was not good.

Step Two: Remove the previous wood stain with a long-handled stiff bristle brush or power washer, after the allotted time recommended by your wood stripper. The wood stripper I bought says to use a hose and a stiff bristle brush to wash away the old wood finish. This was very misleading for my expectation for this project, let me tell you! I’m assuming the old stain was a semi-transparent penetrating stain, and it was. not. coming. OFF! I brushed, brushed, hosed, brushed, let it dry, reapplied stripper, brushed, brushed, hosed, and cried as it seemed impossible to strip the finish. I spent hours and hours just scrubbing and rinsing the top deck level. It was a great workout, sure, but not very effective.

So we brought out the big guns—a pressure washer.

Be careful using a pressure washer to aid the stripping of a wood deck, because it will easily damage the wood, causing splintering and gouging of the wood. I never would’ve been able to strip our deck without a pressure washer, though, and while there was some damage to the wood, I was able to smooth out most of that damage while sanding in the next step.

refinishing a wood deckSanding the Wood Deck

Step Three: Sand smooth the wood to prepare it for staining or painting. I used 80 grit, and wish I had used 60, because there was a lot of dark spots still to get off the wood. (I used what sandpaper I had on hand.) I used a palm sander to get the perimeter of the deck, while Phil pushed a drum sander to get the rest of it.

Originally, I didn’t think we would need a drum sander, but after an hour of palm sanding with little to show for it, Phil ran to The Home Depot to rent a drum sander. It was SO worth the cost of renting for a few hours and buying a couple of sanding belts! We ended up with a 5-gallon bucket full of sawdust from all of the sanding.

When using the drum sander, Phil tried two techniques—walking along the length of the boards, and walking across the boards. When walking along the length, the sander is unable to get into the uneven spots of certain boards, but going across the boards helps out with this.

In addition to the palm sander and drum sander, I used a belt sander to sand down the wood posts. The belt sander was too difficult to manage on the actual deck, as it created grooves in the wood along the edge of the belt sander. I was hoping I could control the belt sander a bit better, because it’s so powerful! But in the end, we just decided enough was enough, and we would never be able to get the deck perfectly sanded, with zero trace of the previous finish remaining. You can see in the above right image that there are still some dark spots on the wood, but I’d much rather have some dark spots than spend an entire week of my life sanding the deck!

Safety

Don’t neglect your personal health and safety! When using a palm sander or belt sander without any kind of vacuum dust collection system, you must wear a respirator or breathing mask! Treated lumber makes this especially essential, as it is full of chemicals, even arsenic, which will find their way into your lungs without protection. Wearing goggles is also beneficial, which I did during the messiest parts, like belt sanding the fence posts.

refinishing a wood deckrefinishing a wood deckStep Four: Replace any badly damaged deck boards. Quite a few of our deck boards were very splintery and chewed up, but we decided to select the four worst boards to replace. It just wasn’t in my budget to do any more than that.

Together, Phil and I used crowbars and hammers to pull out four of the boards, replacing them with new treated deck boards that looked alarmingly new and bright against the old boards. Oh well! They needed replaced, and the lumber will darken over time to become more like the older boards.

To attach the new boards to the support beams below them, we used specially coated screws designed to be used for treated lumber. If you use standard screws, the chemicals in the treated lumber will cause them to disintegrate over time.

refinishing a wood deckStep Five: Wash your deck a couple of hours before you’re ready to stain. A quick wash won’t waterlog your boards, so you don’t need to worry about wetting it before staining. Just don’t go crazy and use a ton of water.

To wash my deck, I used dish detergent in a large bucket of hot water, and quickly mopped the deck. Then I rinsed thoroughly and towel-dried to speed the drying process.

refinishing a wood deckApplying New Stain

Step Six: Apply new wood stain. I used a large brush and hand brushed the deck to apply the stain. You’ll want to make sure that you aren’t putting it on too heavy, or it may not properly soak into the wood. Nobody wants a literally tacky deck!

Before planning to stain your deck, make sure that it has had a chance to completely dry out at least 24 hours since the last time it rained. In addition, be sure that no rain is in the forecast for 24 hours after staining it. Particularly if you are using oil-based stain, the wood will reject the oil and cause blotchiness in the stain’s finish. You also run the risk of trapping water inside the wood, which will cause splitting and buckling over time.

I used a water-based acrylic deck stain (Behr’s Waterproofing transparent deck stain in Antique Oak), and it was still tacky even two days after applying it. I was pretty nervous about that, but the can says to wait 72 hours for a full cure, so I gave it time. The weather I was dealing with was extremely high humidity with sprinkling rain off and on, so I think that affected the timeline for the stain setting up. Still, I wondered if I had made a mistake by not using an oil-based stain.

Although it’s technically permissable to put on the second (and last) coat of stain after two hours of the first coat, I waited because of the weather, and because of my concern about the tackiness of the first coat. Turns out, everything has cured nicely after finishing up the second coat during a sunny, rain-free week. Woo hoo!

refinishing a wood deckTimeline

All in all, stripping the deck took an entire weekend, with Phil and I working almost nonstop from about 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. We worked all day Saturday stripping the deck, and finished power washing when we lost all traces of daylight. On Sunday, we sent out SOS texts to our loved ones, and ended up with some extra hands to wield power sanders! We had four people sanding—Phil with the drum sander, me with a power sander or belt sander, and Phil’s dad or our friend Jared with the other two available sanders. My mother-in-law was also there to sand as I worked on prep for the next part of the job (fencing), and also to power wash the mildew on our siding.

So thankful for all of the help, and honestly, I’m not sure if we would’ve finished stripping everything in one weekend if not for them. Keep in mind that we were also stripping fence posts as well as the actual flooring of the deck, so there was more labor involved.

Staining the deck was pretty quick. I think the first coat took me a couple of hours to brush on. Walking around the fence to cut in on the other side was a bit of a time-suck. Phil helped me with the second coat, and it probably only took about 30-45 minutes to apply. We did this on two separate days because of the weather situation we were working around.

outdoor dining space beforeBudget

It’s difficult to advise what to expect as far as budget goes, because every deck is different. What’s the condition of the wood? How was it finished before? How large is your deck? Will you need to replace boards?

I will try to lay it all out so you can get an idea of the materials I used for our deck refinishing. Some things I had on hand, like power sanders, pressure washer (thanks, Dad!), a paint roller with long handle, paint tray, that kind of thing. So I omitted them from the list. Also, I had purchased a deck cleaner/conditioner, but decided after stripping so much of the wood during sanding, I didn’t need to use it.

How to Refinish an Old Wood DeckIn the end, Phil and I decided it would have been soooo much easier to just replace the deck boards than try to polish up the old and worn boards that were there. But, sometimes you just have to work with your budget and make do! Refinishing the deck wasn’t the cheapest project, but it was still significantly less expensive than replacing all of the deck boards. I will say, we do still have some damaged boards we probably should have replaced, but an outdoor area rug is super helpful with hiding that!

The deck obviously looks so much better than the old, worn finish that was on the deck when we bought the house. Worth all the work? Definitely! Can’t wait to share more of our deck project with you all! – Mandi

Credits: Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.

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