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Deck Finishing That Works: Products, prep techniques and application strategies from 20 years of experience

5/20/2011 12:57:00 PM

Tags: deck finishing, decks, outdoor wood, deck stain, stains, Steve Maxwell, Steve Maxwell

finisheddeckAfter several deeply disappointing attempts to finish outdoor wood back in the early 1980s, I decided to spend as much time as necessary discovering the truth behind successful deck finishing. So, after talking to lab technicians at leading wood finish manufacturers, representatives from the Canadian Wood Council and the USDA Forest Service and lots of long-range product trials at my workshop, I discovered a handful of strategies that use all the best options available today. And since I’ve been using these approaches for 20 years, I know for sure that they really do work.

There are three reasons deck finishing isn’t a simple as it looks. The first is that many finishing products are doomed to failure from the start. Independent testing has shown that many brand name formulations fail after less than a year of duty. And of the ones that make it past their first birthday, not many offer more than mediocre performance. That’s why step#1 is simple: choose a deck finish that has proven itself effective through independent scrutiny.

The second source of trouble springs from the way people envision the outcome of their deck finishing efforts. Even with a very good product applied correctly, the need for ongoing maintenance of a wooden deck is higher than many folks expect. If you can get three years of life out of a wooden deck finish, you’re doing well. Even 18 months of respectable appearance isn’t bad considering the moisture, sunlight and abrasion that most decks are subjected to. This is why step#2 involves assessing yourself. Do you really have the time and ambition to maintain a wooden deck finish? There are finish-free options.

The final challenge of the deck finishing game involves understanding what proper application really means. New wood is actually a rather poor candidate for finishing, and letting it sit unfinished until it turns grey (a popular, though misguided approach) does little to improve the situation.

There’s much more to successful deck finishing than I have room to explain here, but I’ve compiled everything I know in a report that I constantly update. It’s completely free and includes photographs, product names and specific preparation and application techniques. You can download your own copy at

Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 

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6/1/2011 12:47:02 PM
If you love work, wood is great. For me, aluminum decking was the only way to go. It costs more up front (~$7 / sq. ft.), but the powder coat finish has zero maintenance. And underneath is completely dry, since it locks together and channels the water out. And it's not just my opinion, as it is top rated by Consumer Reports. I used Lock Dry, but there are a few other brands, such as Arid Deck.

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