Mike Holmes: How to sand and stain your deck — the proper way

If you've got massive decking, you're going to want to do it right the first time so it stays looking nice.

Mike Holmes, Special to National Post | May 23, 2015 | Last Updated: May 23 8:32 AM ET

I’ve heard a lot of talk about outdoor wood structures and maintenance. Some people might tell you that if you go with something expensive, like cedar, that you don’t need to stain it — that it weathers to a natural grey-looking colour. But I know I wouldn’t want my wood going grey, especially not after spending so much money on it. Before it does, make sure you protect it properly.

I’ve spoken to a lot of pros over the years and they all agree on one thing: If you have wooden structures on your property, whether that’s a deck, shed or fence, they require maintenance, no exception.

All wood, except manufactured products like composite wood — even pressure-treated lumber — need to be sanded and stained. If you want it to last, you have to put in the time and some elbow grease.

Here’s how the pros handle their wood:

1. Start with a pressure washer. If you’re working on a softer wood, such as pine, spruce or cedar, be careful with the pressure washer setting (you want to use the wide fan) and how close you hold the wand to the wood surface, because a pressure washer can damage a softer wood. Test it out first on a spot that’s hidden. If you see that the wood fibres start to lift, back off.

If the wood surface has a lot of old product on it, you might need to use a stain or paint remover. Follow the instructions and use protective gear if you go this route, but try to avoid using harsh chemicals if you can. This is also a good time to use an anti-mildew treatment. Go with one that’s biodegradable. After it’s been washed, let the wood dry for at least a couple of days.

2. The next step is sanding, but make sure there is no chance of rain. If the wood gets wet after it’s been sanded, but not before it’s been stained or painted, it’s back to square one — you’ll need to wash and sand it again.

Some homeowners will want to rent a big floor sander to do a large wooden surface like a deck floor. Don’t do that. These machines are heavy and they won’t be able to reach the entire surface of most wooden planks. Floor sanders can only sand surfaces that are perfectly flat, and deck boards are slightly curved. That means it will take off too much in some sections and not enough in others.

Unfortunately, the only way to do it right is by hand with a belt sander, palm sander and sanding sponge — not to mention the proper safety gear, too, such as safety eyewear and respirators. If you can’t do it safely yourself, hire the pros.

Pros start with a belt sander using a heavier grit belt (something like 50) working backwards on the boards. Then they’ll use a palm sander for the areas the belt sander couldn’t reach; followed by a sanding sponge wrapped in sand paper for the areas the palm sander couldn’t reach. Then they’ll repeat that process using a lighter grit (60/80). This leaves a nice, smooth surface that will take the stain consistently.

3. Finally, it’s staining time. The general rule is the thicker the stain, the better the protection.

Clear coats provide no protection; so don’t waste your money. Translucent or semi-transparent stains are also very thin; you will need to reapply every year. For smaller structures, such as an arbour or a pergola, it might not be a big deal, but for larger surfaces such as a wooden deck, you’ll want to go for something thicker that lasts longer.

For maximum protection, use a solid stain or paint, at least on the surfaces that get the most wear and tear. Then you can have a more natural-looking stain on the other areas.

And always use a proper stain brush!

How often do you need to do this? It depends. I’d say at least once every two years, but Mother Nature has her own agenda. If the next time it rains, water beads and pools on the wood, that means it still has some protection. If it doesn’t, it’s time for some maintenance.

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.

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