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Protect new deck until able to stain in Spring...

lmdbc's picture

Hi, also a newbie here, and all apologies for the novel, I just really want to do things right, not the slapdash, cheap and easy way.


I have a new deck being installed, as we go into colder weather. Ideally, this would have been done in the proper weather, long story, has to be now. Contractors have delayed and caused damage that needs to be fixed, further delaying the install. It's an investment, and I had planned to use the best possible stain to best care for the wood, and to keep from having to re-apply it for a long time, as we all do. It's cedar, clear (if they kept their word, it's not yet delivered), will have powder-coated aluminum balusters, and the rest will be the cedar. The problem is protecting it from harsh winter and moisture. It's too late to stain it, we are into the 40's and 50's in daytime weather, and overnight is near or below freezing. The contractor says no worries, just pressure wash (an extra, but of course necessary task, plus I think a cleaner would likely also be necessary, there will be mud, and I'll not let anyone go salting it or putting any chemicals on it. I will have to shovel and I have coconut mats I can use for added safety.) in Springtime, and he says all will be fine. A pressure wash will raise the grain, and then I'll need to sand, and then I have aluminum balusters to avoid, and a mess.


So, I was hoping to get some professional, &/or "I did it this way and this is how well it did or did not work" advice from anyone who has been down this road. What NOT to do is every bit as important as what TO do. I'm more than appreciative to learn from other's mistakes and experiments. I would like to use a semi-transparent stain; the wood ordered is supposed to be center cut and clear. On my previous deck, no matter what I did to carefully prepare the wood, everything peeled almost immediately. No product netted a good result, and I've since forgotten all the things I tried. I don't know what type of wood it was, it was here when I moved in. I'm assuming likely it was redwood.


So my questions are, what can I do to best protect the wood until what will be May or possibly June before we have assured good weather (it will rain and snow a great deal until then, with plenty of semi-sunny days but they will be too cold, and I will want the wood to be very dry, so I'd very much appreciate some good advice on a safe minimum temperature and how many days to be sure a deck is dry following what may be a deluge, for example, would be helpful. Just some range of of temps and times before staining.   


I would have personally done almost any extreme measure to personally pre-stain it in a heat-controlled space to have at least something on it, but of course that's more than anyone would go along with. I've waited a long time to be able to replace the one that was destroyed, and only now can get cooperation that isn't reliable enough to risk the wait, so naturally it's a big deal to take the very best care of it from day 1.  So, once it is dry and warm enough, then what steps can I take to restore it to a tighter, finer grain? I feel like I will have to pressure wash, use a cleaner, and sand it, to restore it and have what I will have upon install, if that is possible. I'm not happy about having to wait, but it is all or nothing, This will be a big job for me, and hand sanding 300 sq. feet of deck and stairs is a lot of work. I'd want to know what grit she of sandpaper, lile whether to go from 80 and progress to 200 or to 400 or 800, or more. I have a DeWalt random orbital sander, (and a belt sander, so advice there is also good, I always default to the random because it's the easiest to use), and I'd want to know what to use to get all the dust off the best way, but it's a big price to pay for having to do it now, or not being able to get them to do it when the weather was good. I have several medical issues that will make it rather daunting, but whatever it takes to do it right and the very best the first time, that's what I want to do. I'd rather go to a lot of work and protect it than anything else  


I also wanted to know about the best stains. I'm told that would be an oil stain, which makes sense to me, but I don't know the ins and outs of the various brands and types and their pros and cons, I do want a dark result, a charcoal color, as that goes best with the house and existing structures. I'd use a boat stain if that was better. We get extreme temperatures, it can easily get -20°F or lower as an overnight low in winter and as hot as over 100°F in the daytime in summer, so it will take quite a beating that way. I am interested in knowing some good brands that offer a darker stain or one that is tintable. It would be nice to see some grain, or else I'd have gone with more opaque as some seem to think is better. Opaques have always had a very peeling result on the old deck as well, for whatever reasons. The products were not cheap, either. That much I know. Cost was not the deciding factor. Of course it's nice to not pay extreme prices, but I'd rather pay up front and not reapply constantly. I had built a cedar gate years ago and had used a rubberizer on it before I knew much of anything and it did ok. It's still standing.  After 20+ years, it's still doing fine. Aged, but sturdy, functional, and still lovely. 


Also, I'd appreciate any advice on regular maintenance regarding how often to re-apply, and how to prep for that and not raise the grain or cause other damage to the wood that I might be completely clueless about. I want to know how to properly care for this investment, and treat this deck well. I will likely add rugs and curtains to help with that once it has been properly stained and set up/cures.   


Thanks to anyone who has some input. This deck will be a main living space for me year 'round. I BBQ and sit outside, day or night, hot or cold, rain, snow, or dry. I like being outside, so it's a very important space. Thanks in advance...

I've mostly just dealt with (post #215557, reply #1 of 10)

I've mostly just dealt with redwood, but I've always found it worked better to let the wood weather for 6 months or so before staining.  And lighly wash/scrub but don't sand or use a high-intensity pressure washer. 

Sikkens semi-transparent stain used to be the best stuff, but they changed the formulation about 15 years back and it's not as good as it was.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

Thank You... (post #215557, reply #4 of 10)

Hi Dan H, thank you for your input on this. Yes, I wasn't comfortable with a pressure wash. Just like dentists, of course they recommend things like store-bought toothpaste that contains abrasives which are harder than tooth enamel (or contractors recommend being harder on your wood than you need to be). It ensures that they will have job security further down the line...and I highly agree with your signature quote, thanks:)

Lengthy reply w photos (post #215557, reply #2 of 10)

   “It's cedar, clear (if they kept their word, it's not yet delivered)” Premium cedar will still have some tite-knots.

“It's too late to stain it, we are into the 40's and 50's in daytime weather, and overnight is near or below freezing.” By all means, stain/protect the boards on faces and edges…everywhere! A quick-drying OIL-BASED stain should do fine in cool weather. Do this BEFORE the boards are installed. Do it in a garage if possible. The contractor should seal ALL cut ends. Make sure you check that this is being done!

“The contractor says no worries, just pressure wash.”Wrong! The contractor will merely shrug when you call him/her back 8 years hence, asking to have rotting boards replaced at his expense…sigh. My gut tells me you have the wrong contractor…sigh.

“So my questions are, what can I do to best protect the wood until what will be May or possibly June before we have assured good weather..” Have the wood delivered to your garage. Test for moisture and let dry accordingly. Stack the boards so that air can flow between them.I use 1” PVC pipes for this purpose. They don’t stick to the drying wood. Keep a fan handy. When moisture content is down, coat each piece with a fairly fast-drying, oil-based (penetrating) stain. I like to give the non-visible face and edges two coats. One coat on the show face. The stain can have color or it can be clear. Examine and lay aside flawed boards and have your contractor replace them.

Installation can happen in cool weather, though my preference always is to work in 50+F. If the primed boards are installed now, they will do fine through one winter. Keep in mind that sanding them in Spring is not a undertaking. Deck boards are never in a perfect plane. You want to sand board-by-board. Then you apply an additional one or two coats of finish.

I avoid pressure washing as much as possible.If you do use a washer (down the road), be sure to let the deck boards dry thoroughly.

For sanding, avoid the belt sander. A random-orbit sander may do the trick. If not, try a 6” or 8” rubber sanding base with Velcro backer. Put it on your grinder. Start with 80 grit. Go higher if possible. You won’t need to go above 150. I stop at 100 grit. You will need lots of sanding discs as they quickly gum up. Remember, you are just prep-sanding for the final coats of stain/finish. I don’t recommend using a hardwood floor sander. If you do, you run the risk of digging into screws. In any case, deck boards rarely lie in the same plane. If you do want your deck boards to resemble an indoor hardwood floor, then brace yourself for lots of sanding. I prefer to sand board-by-board. Sweep thoroughly. Use compressed air if needed.

Consider using Cabott Gold ($45+ per gal) or a similar oil-based stain with UV/UA inhibitors. While latex stains may look good, they don’t provide the level of protection that penetrating oil-based stains afford. Most latex stains are followed up with clear finish. Check for first signs of weathering each year and apply a fresh thin coat as needed. Eventually you will need to do a full cleaning, sanding and re-staining. There is no solution to maintaining wood. You do it the proper way or you don’t…sigh.

The photos below may help. Thank you for your detailed request. It shows that you truly care to do the project “right”. Nothing is cheap…especially a project done “just so”. I wish you a satisfying outcome. If you lived close by, I'd love to do the project :)

Mel Fros

Mak_deck_3.jpg50.63 KB
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BTW (post #215557, reply #3 of 10)

BTW, I'll lightly sand and apply a 3rd coat of Cabott Gold in early spring.

Mel Fros

Thanks For Taking The Time For A Detailed Answer! (post #215557, reply #5 of 10)

Hi user-2409187, (I have one or

two short followup questions at the bottom of this novel...)


Thanks also for your input. I really appreciate it!  I copied it for off-line reference, it will go in my database for future reference and for now. 


Re: The center clear, yes, I do expect some knots, just not a lot of knots and twisted boards;) I mention that, because as is often the case, while I try to ink every detail, many contractors try to start cutting corners wherever they can at times after verbal agreements, hence the inking of the deal... in fact, the concrete removal guys did indeed cut an outside corner of my foundation (smash!). And of course they tried to say "it would've happened sometime in the future"....


I have two contractors. One for concrete removal (someone decided it would be great to tear out my former deck and pour concrete with some odd and uneven steps while I was stuck in the hospital for 3 months. It was not great. It was poorly done and completely unusuable as a space, not one level plane, no usable footprint, even if I did like it---and I didn't. I liked my it's going back in), and one contractor for the deck install. 


I did ask the deck contractor to pre-deliver so I could do just that, pre-stain, (you've given me much, much more on doing it right), and they, of course, balked at the very idea. Deadlines and all that. Deadlines that are carved in stone...unless, of course, they have an issue, in which case they're very flexible. Sadly, this was the best contractor I interviewed. And because it is being replaced by the person who destroyed my first one, there are some limitations. 


In fact, with this contractor, I had to educate him on one of the products his own company offers, and its use. Yes, I even sent him a few educational, short, product videos to bring him up to speed. Whether he took the 3 to 4 minutes to watch each one is doubtful. A child could do it. Scarily enough, I had to source the product (the metal balusters and hardware) myself in order to get it to the site on time for their schedule---which they've since shifted. I'm flexible on time frame for doing it right---and in order to get the right product at all. I had requested square, he "liked the round", and tried to get me to choose that instead. There is zero difference in the difficulty of installed...well, the square would be easier because one could better clamp a guide board in place for the mounts. 


Too bad the person replacing what they had destroyed (my deck) already inked this deal. I had some say, but in order to avoid an outright brawl on the other's parts, and not be accused of being uncooperative when everyone is "trying to do it right", I did concede somewhat, to choosing from a pre-selected short list of contractors. This is what happens when I take my eye off the ball and trust anyone else to do any part of the homework...). His turnaround for acquiring the premade, single powder-coated aluminum balusters, with their install mounts for a quick and easy install, was 2 to 3 weeks. My consumer-sourced, online turnaround time was 3 days. At least now I know I will have the right stuff. 


Looks like you're one of the rare residential contractors who cares about long-term results and design. This guy is the one that listened the most, for what that's worth. Other contractors were the type making a-little-bit-too-hyped- up assurances as to their abilities, but failing to provide any proof of licensing, bonding, or insurance; or those saying they would "try to not to" take out/damage all the shrubbery, because "things like skids and buckets are hard to control" and the shrubs on the far side of the access point to the proposed deck "could get in their way". (I assure you the shrubbery is not "in the way". I also know that if someone offered them $1 million not to damage a single leaf on any shrubbery they would be completely able to do it. I could do it...for free. As it turned out, so far the concrete removal guys that I did choose did no damage to any plants. They just took out a small corner of the house's foundation...sigh indeed...) 


I wish I could have found someone like you that also insists on acclimating the wood and sealing the cut ends. It's like asking a carpet layer to off-gas the carpet. Few even know what that is, and no one will do it. I do not have enough space in my small garage (older home, single garage, usable footprint far smaller than the finished deck, power tools and cabinetry already take up a sizable footprint), but there are storage units nearby, or close enough, and I would rather do as you said, if they would deliver the wood to one. I think they are the ones "being difficult" to not want to pre-deliver the wood to any site for more than a day ahead of their planned construction, and refusal to pre-stain. I'll be pushing to do it myself (if you want something done right… ).


The contractor said he didn't want to pre-seal the wood, nor have me do it, because it would be "too sticky" for his workers to you...sigh... I'd personally arrange to haul all the wood back to my own home if I had to, since it's too much a challenge for them. Again, sadly, they act as though trying to do things right is some sort of nitpicking thing.


I don't expect a high-quality finish, but I asked about the grit because #1, I didn't know where was the best place to draw the line (I usually err on overkill, but I like to ask and learn from people who are smarter than I am, and not overkill too much), and #2, I do buy my random orbit sanding discs in bulk, and I have on hand a good stack of 60/100/120/150/180/240/320 and 400 grits for average uses, depending on the need. I like to have my options there:) Board-by-board was definitely the plan, and I'm not fond of belt sanders unless I'm trying to remove layers of paint and/or wood. I appreciate the confirmation there. 




A digression on use of my sander...tiling jobs...


Speaking of it, I do like my trusty random orbit sander a lott; we've done lots of projects together. I don't have a grinder, so I even used it to custom shape and finish the hand-cut limestone mosaic pieces, (leaves and vines), the rounded outside corner and front edges of the counter, and the thickly-constructed corner shelves in the tub surround (not just a single tile as some do, but I think it was 4 sandwiched pieces, cut diagonally of course, with a rounded edge front piece to cover the layers--for a total of 6 shower shelves, but well-spaced--two larger shelves in each corner at normal-shower-use heights for shower sundries and for candles when the tub is in use (along with the wider tub surround, wide enough for big candles, a drink, and a sitting edge)....and one smaller shelf up higher in each corner, the smaller one being for candles to well-light a nighttime soak in the tub, and give extra ambience, and they're high enough to keep nice candles up out of the shower water. 


Design is absolutely everything. It really didn't cost anything more for me to customize it, 6" decorative borders were $150 a linear foot, and not what I wanted... I also used the Rotozip and sander to round over an arc I created above the shower outlet, to add interest) in my bathroom, and the tile-to-floor transition is angled nice and smooth, so there's no uneven edge for toe-stubbing. There was no room to make it flush with the way the subfloor had to be. Worked like a charm! A Rotozip and that sander, and over 4,200 pieces of custom-cut tile with my tile saw and nippers, and I have exactly what I wanted. 


It's interesting that after I showed it to a few contractor friends, who each happened to take a few photos of it, and while helping another shop for tile, I saw a similar (tried to be identical but wasn't) knockoff pattern, which appeared for sale some time later in a local tile store as a custom-designed piece....most uniquely mine, it was my limestone interpretation of a tesserae-and-inlaid-metal mosaic from the Palace of Versailles, so I'm pretty sure it's a stolen idea:) They even used the exact same material and tones that I did. Since their vines went into the border pieces (mine did not, the only variation besides their terrible execution of it, so mine is still unique), and they did not hand-sand every vine and leaf, the whole thing looked rough and terrible, if I might say so. They also did not cut the leaves out with the Roto zip, they clearly cut them with the tile saw, so they have straight lines everywhere. I can even do better and get a round edge from a tile saw by making small cuts and using the blade edge as a grinder, if I want to abuse it a little bit... I meant mine to look a little bit like an old Roman bath, so I didn't expect it to look absolutely perfect, plus I was still learning to install mosaic, but other than some very slight movement in a few background pieces, it's flush and smooth. I almost did The Three Graces in an oval center mosaic on the floor, glad I didn't, it would have been too much for the space.  The vines were very delicate, and very hard to sand without breaking them. 


To create the mosaics for install, I had to cut a board, and I used a clamped-on straight edge and pieces of packing tape to secure the front edge of the borders and mosaic as I went along, taping over the tiny pieces as I went so they wouldn't wiggle, and then when I got all the sections completed, I could put a few layers of the tape over the completed sections for support, then I could just set them into place, board and mallet, and wait for it to set before removing all the tape and grouting. It took countless hours of hand-cutting and hand-sanding each piece. I rarely sanded the background fill mosaic pieces, of course, but sanded all the leaves-and-vines of the border for the counter and shower surround, and for part of the floor's accent corners.  I had to use the board-and-tape method, because buying the mesh backing to glue it on and then install as they have in store was impossible to find back then, this was years ago...


I don't have a grinder, sadly, but I do make that sander work! When I wear it out, I'll get another one. It's been well worth it so far! 


I say all this because I took a look at your site and I really like the work you've done. I see that you customize things for your clientele as well, only on a much, much grander scale, of course. It's nice that you work with your family, too. That's something that I really like to see. Maybe you have grinders to do what I did with my sander, but they did not make the pieces that I wanted, end it was the only way to customize it, so I had to make them myself that way. 


I have a good bit of PVC pipe on hand, so that's a plus. Anyway, an equally and perhaps longer response to your very greatly-appreciated answers to my questions. I can tell by your handiwork from your site that you take great care to do a quality and lasting job on many fronts. 


I really appreciate the detailed response, I will do my best to follow as much as I can get cooperation for that, and I will do all I can.  I also appreciate sentiment that I have a good outcome. 


Followup Question:

I know with custom hardwood furniture, the preferred dryness (as taught in design school, and few of those furniture companies still exists) is 7%, but that is different, I'm sure. Can you tell me what the content should be? I also don't have a moisture meter, but can get one, if you have a preferred brand, I'm all ears, and is there a suggested percentage or ratio? This is also out of my familiarity. I also got your second addendum...


Again, thank you for taking the time out to help me educate myself:) 


Uh, could you tone it down a (post #215557, reply #6 of 10)

Uh, could you tone it down a little?

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville

I'm sorry the font you chose (post #215557, reply #7 of 10)

I'm sorry the font you chose is too small to read. Could you please try again using bigger?

Woa, Nellie! A veritable (post #215557, reply #8 of 10)

Woa, Nellie! A veritable Epistle! :) I read it all. You 'n I are detail guys :) I love to do things right and I have never lacked for work! I wonder what the relationship twixt the two is! :)

MOIZTURE CONTENT: kiln dried decking is usually 15-19. If you can get it down to 12 you are in excellent shape! 

MOISTURE METER: Can't make a recommendation...sigh.

FINISH  Sikkens has been mentioned. Excellent stuff (the Dutch know a thing or am of Dutch stock :) I've had good results with Cabott and Ben Moore. To be frank, I can't say which is better than the other. I tend to go with Cabott.

Any more questions? Fire away. I don't claim to be the expert...I just claim to do my "homework" BEFORE a job begins. And I work WITH my clients. The relationship is as important as the product. I just wish I had another 68 years of work ahead of me. I can't stand the thought of retiring. My wife and I will cross the US and do volunteer work...I think...another 10 yrs hence. Good luck.

Mel Fros

Deck Stain Novel... (post #215557, reply #9 of 10)

Thanks, Mel, I meant to thank you immediately for reading my novels, and life went haywire. You've been very helpful. I've seen some contention that mill glaze and/or too smooth a surface will prevent a deep absorption of stain, and these proponents were advocating installing and waiting a month or two, then going through the whole rigamarole of cleaning and staining which seemed like more work and not the right thing to do, that's the opposite of what we discussed. I've been waiting for weather which is now clearing, and also realized I didn't trust big box store stains, they'd be a diluted version. I wanted an oil base, and it will need to be a charcoal or black shade, and wondered if you had any recommendations for brands. Mostly I've heard what not to get, and have had my own bad experiences with the priciest of stains not holding up. For that matter, I need a better way to paint my garage. No amount of careful prep work or dollars spent on expensive paints or stains has held up on my garage (paint) or former deck (stain).  I'm fine with investing in quality, as long as it actually lasts...if you are still around, I'm still all ears and happy to learn. I'll go wherever I need to to get good paint and stains. 


Thanks Again, 

PS: (post #215557, reply #10 of 10)

I just realized you did mention stains, but they say here that they Cabot was bought out. I'll look for Sikkens. I have a little Dutch as well, mostly a Nordic mix. I think they tend to be the "do it once, and do it right, and don't have to ever do it again" crowd.  I'm sure your attention to detail has a great deal to do with always being in demand. Would be nice to travel and volunteer. I did scope your site, very nice work!