How To Properly Finish A Deck: Hardwoods

Spring has sprung and summer is on the way! And, if you’re looking out your window at a gray tropical hardwood deck, now is the perfect time to revive your outdoor space to it’s former glory. Whether your deck is Ipe, Tigerwood, Cumaru, Garapa or even Bamboo, finishing a hardwood deck is different than cedar or pine decks. The following are some pro tips to ensure your deck is ready for your first backyard barbecue or graduation party.

Staining a softwood deck? Get specific instructions for properly finishing a softwood deck in our other article.

What Makes Finishing Hardwoods Different?

Because hardwoods are so dense, stains don’t penetrate into the wood. Ipe, nicknamed “Iron Wood”, is so dense when you place it in water it sinks! Picture trying to finish a piece of steel, that’s what finishing hardwoods is like; whatever you apply primarily stays on the surface.

As your project sits outside during the summer, especially if it’s in the sun, the exposed surfaces of the hardwood will begin to oxidize and lose their color and turn a silver-gray patina. The great thing about hardwoods is this color change doesn’t affect the integrity of the wood so you won’t see any of the splintering or cracking you would with cedar or treated pine. With some light sanding and a good hardwood penetrating oil, your hardwood project will look brand new!

Types of Finishes

Since there is virtually no penetration into the hardwood, you should use a hardwood penetrating oil rather than a stain. We recommend an oil with a UV inhibiting sealant like Ipe Oil or Penofin. The UV inhibitor will protect your project from the sun’s UV rays, which are the cause of hardwoods oxidizing.

Tip: Hardwood penetrating oils, although they promise a lot, are mostly cosmetic. If you never finish your hardwood project the product will turn a silver patina while still maintaining its hardness and integrity.

Prepping For Finishing

There isn’t much prep work needed before applying a finish. If the deck is less than 2 years old, a basic power washing will remove any dirt so you can apply the stain to a clean surface. The same rules apply if your deck is older but has been properly finished in the last couple of years. The exception to this rule is a brand new hardwood deck, which will probably have a mill glaze (a clear sheen caused by the mill’s planer) on the surface that needs to be sanded. TimberTown is one of the few Hardwood suppliers with pre-sanded Ipe decking boards.

If the deck hasn’t been touched in several years and has direct exposure to the sun, causing it to gray completely, you may want to sand the boards to remove the gray surface area. Hardwoods gray from the outside in, so the longer a project goes without finishing the thicker the gray surface.

Tip: If you want to know what your deck will look like finished without sanding, simply take a hose and wet the wood down then see what it looks like. The color of the wet surface will be close to the color of the finished surface.

Applying the Finish

On a softwood deck, a stain can be applied with a roller or squeegee, left to dry, and be perfectly fine. Not with hardwoods! Stains are made to soak into the wood so you can apply as much as you want to the surface. The density of hardwoods keeps even the “penetrating” oil at the surface, so applying too much will make the surface sticky and cause the project to look blotchy.

Brush On, Wipe Off

Once the surface is clean and dry, apply the hardwood oil with a brush, wait ten minutes, then wipe off all excess oil from the surface. Depending on the heat and humidity of your location, the surface should be completely dry in a day or two.

Tip: If you’re finishing a large deck or project, apply the oil in sections so you don’t have to walk on the finished surface to back-wipe.

Hardwood Maintenance

As stated earlier, choosing to finish hardwoods depends on the look you want for your project. If you like the rustic, silver look of an unfinished hardwood, you can still enjoy the strength and stability of your project for decades to come. If you want to keep your project looking like the day it was built, it’s going to require periodic refinishing just like softwoods.

The frequency you need to refinish your project will depend on the climate and direct exposure to sunlight. For example, having an Ipe deck exposed to the blistering summer sun in Austin, TX may require refinishing every year to keep its natural color. A porch in a northern climate might only need refinishing once every five years. In other words, when the project doesn’t look as nice or new as you want, then it’s time to refinish!

Have more questions about staining your deck? Give us a call at 1-888-890-6214 and we can give you more tips and advice on the wood-staining process. We also offer a variety of stain brands and colors, so stop by one of our locations!


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