To Paint or Not To Paint – The Deck, That Is

From time to time I get feedback from listeners that is too good not to share with everyone. Such is the case with this email from Chuck. Read it and by all means laugh out loud as you enjoy it:

I was listening to the lady who painted her decks and have a few words of advice for her plus one question for you! I am about 1/4 of the way through renovating extensive decks of tight knot Western Red Cedar (I think) that was painted, over stain (again I think. If I ever caught up with the guy who had the house before me and did this, I don’t think I would be held responsible for my actions..ha.) Suffice to say if any of your listeners are ever tempted to paint decks DON’T DO IT!!!! This renovation is labor intensive and I got some good advice from Timber Pro UV to get going, but I have learned some things along the way.

Lesson #1- If the deck was painted, you need to take up ALL THE BOARDS AND INSPECT THEM FOR DRY ROT. By visual inspection up top, I thought I had a few areas where I needed to replace a little bit of the decking. When I pulled those boards I found I had a LOT MORE hidden rot than I expected, mostly underneath. When I pulled up others that looked sound on top, I found MORE rot underneath that was not readily apparent. No doubt there is some science I don’t much care about behind this, but looks like to me painting the top concentrates deterioration on the bottom. Sort of like paint holidays in marine environments, which I am sure you know about. So stripping the top and refinishing without inspecting the bottom is asking for trouble later.

Lesson #2- Product (paint, stripper, old stain) oils are not always compatible with a new product, including Timber Pros- they will tell you this. This means you need to be very thorough about removal. Stripper won’t be enough. Mechanical stripping to get rid of 90-99% of the surface paint and barriers to Timber Pros prep chemicals is necessary to get reasonable coverage of their new product using chemical strippers other than Timber Pros is risky. If you want a nice looking surface, plan on getting closer to 99% removal. I am in most cases flipping my boards to use the sound unpainted surfaces where I have sound boards or can cut out rot. In those few cases where I am using the previously painted surfaces, I find I have to get 99+% of the paint off to get a reasonable looking surface. The prep Timber Pro tells you to use won’t penetrate and strip tightly adherent paint every time you wind up with “freckles and holidays” where the stain does not penetrate. Ok maybe for underneath, but looks like hell on the exposed deck (I learned that by sad experience- “there is never time to do it right but there is ALWAYS time to do it OVER!”)

Lesson #3 – Know your wood. I would have told that lady to make sure she knows what wood and what dimensions she has. If she has FIR, not cedar, well I would suggest she replace it rather than strip and refinish it. If its Cedar, well its likely worth the tremendous effort to renovate it as long as enough of it is basically sound. This stuff is REALLY labor intensive, let me tell you… I presumed most of mine was Cedar and the idiot who painted it did so to cover his replacement fir boards and found I was wrong. He went to the expense of using cedar replacement boards, kept the sound old cedar and then PAINTED IT –chowderhead! BUT I made the mistake of presuming I could easily find old dimension 2×6 tight knot cedar replacement boards and find it’s not so easy to come by. Fortunately, I started by total replacement of the most exposed portion of the deck with synthetic so I gave myself 8-10 sound extra old dimension tight knot western red cedar deck boards to replace the few (ha so I thought) bad boards I was likely to not have enough salvage from. So now I am down to 6, only 25% done and find I better think about can I replace these boards with new unfinished….day late and ten dollars short… hence my question to you: Do you know of a source where I can find old dimension 2×6 Western Red tight knot cedar boards?

Lesson #4 – Mechanical stripping isn’t what it used to be – I am 61 and within a few hours I found out that even though the paint was flaking off in huge sheets and looked bad, I could not get 99% off easily with a hand scraper anymore like I did at 25….. It was my good fortune to try a COOL TOOL!!! that you might feature- WAGNER (no not family ha) has a thing called The Painteater… IT WORKS GREAT, and if you are even a little cautious does not scar the wood up too bad. It’s a breeze to operate, does not create huge amounts of dust, and eats paint like it is named. It’s saved me lots of hours and aching muscles.

Lesson #5 – Do short sections till you get the hang of it, maybe even some individual boards at first. Even with Timber Pro’s advice and excellent directions, and products there is a fair bit of judgment involved in use of their Strip and Brite, weather influence etc. Start small unless you have used it before. I was fortunate that I wanted to do some steps and some boards that were very bad first at the end of last summer before I plunged in and tackled the whole deck…BOY WAS I LUCKY! (as we used to say in the submarine service, it’s better to be lucky than good, and its best to be good AND LUCKY)

Lesson #6 – the obvious DON’T PAINT DECKS!!!!

Chuck Wagner Capt USNR(ret)

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