How To Stain And Seal A Deck

You know that part in a movie where the dorky girl rips off her glasses and throws on some makeup and suddenly she’s a bombshell? Well, our deck has already tossed its spectacles aside (i.e. we stripped off the old finish) and now it’s time for some lipstick (i.e. stain). We’re not exactly aiming for bombshell status here, but we’d settle for – I dunno – sexy librarian? I think I’m getting lost in my own analogy.

The gist is that with our deck boards cleaned, we could finally apply a new protective finish. After some discussion, we decided to use a semi-transparent stain. Both of us prefer that look over something completely solid, but we didn’t want to go as light as the toner that we used on our last deck since we thought a deeper brown tone would look nice with this brick facade. We also wanted to loosely match the previous deck finish since we didn’t strip areas that were in decent shape, like the smaller vertical rails or the lattice around the outside. And we decided to stick with Olympic Maximum Stain + Sealant because we’d had a good experience with it on our last deck (we chose it for that project last year after many folks recommended it to us). Plus, they had a color called “Russet” that looked to be a pretty spot-on match to our existing color (we brought home their color booklet and held it up against the deck railing to pick the best match).

Here are the supplies we gathered for the task:

  1. Olympic Maximum Semi-Transparent Stain – we ended up needing 4 gallons for our behemoth 676 square foot deck, totaling $148
  2. Bucket – to pour stain into for easy roller dipping
  3. Paper Towels – since stain be messy, y’all
  4. Gloves & Mask – since stain be messy and stinky
  5. Wide Brush – for back-brushing (more on that later) and to get smaller areas like railings
  6. High-Nap Roller on A Pole – we chose a 3/4″ nap

The bucket is also useful when your job takes more than one gallon because you can help eliminate color inconsistencies. Just like with paint, combining all of your tinted materials at the start of a job means you won’t be surprised by a noticeable color change if one gallon is a slightly different hue than the one before it. We mixed two gallons at first and then added each subsequent gallon as our bucket level got low. I half expected Augustus Gloop to surface for air when I stirred it, but no such luck.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about having trusted the stain swatch to match the old finish. We could’ve gotten a small test pot of stain to be sure before going all in on multiple gallons but Sherry was feeling confident. But we did decide to start in a low-risk area – the railing hidden on the far side of sunroom – just to be sure. Once again the lady-wife wowed me with her luck, and it matched the un-stripped-already-mocha railings perfectly. We stripped the top and the wider railing slats, so those have been re-stained in this shot, but the skinny ones are the old color. Can’t even tell the difference, huh?

Here’s another railing that we tackled next – and this time I remembered to take a before picture of it. I had attempted to strip this railing but it didn’t come off as well as I had hoped. But the coat of stain did a great job of covering up my spotting strip-job. Once it fully dried (it’s still wet here) it had absorbed and looked even better. Almost like new.

Since we had started our little test-run on the railings, we decided to go ahead and finish those first. It also made sense because we could work while standing on the deck, rather than having to wait for it to dry. It was tedious work, but with both of us plugging away at it (Clara was with my parents) we knocked all of the railings  – both the outside, inside, and tops – in about two hours.

We would’ve kept going but (1) it was 10am and Sherry had to put up the morning post and (2) the sun was starting to creep over the trees. This is another product they advise against using in direct sunlight because it dries too fast and can create visible lines where a freshly stained area meets an already-started-to-dry area. Since the sun was only going to get more direct for the next few hours, we knew moving on to the floorboards would have to wait. But at least the railings were starting to look sexier. Let’s just say she’s almost all that at this point.

Around 4:30 the sun dropped down enough on the other side of the house that the light had finally crept off the deck floor. Clara was back home and napping, so we had anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to tackle as much as we could as a two-person team before she woke up and threatened to slip and slide through our work zone. Because we were working fast we didn’t pick up the camera much, but the basic process involved me dipping my roller and liberally applying stain to a small area. I didn’t want to go too big at any time because we’d need to be able to reach any wet stain for the next step…

…which was back-brushing. If you remember from our last staining job, going back over the wet areas with a brush helps to even out any puddles (which could cause darker stain spots) and also works the stain into the wood better. Since we were working with older more weathered wood it was also an important step to make sure we got coverage in any small cracks. Plus, the roller didn’t do a good job of getting those between-the-board creases, so Sherry did each of those by hand along with back-brushing the top of each board that I rolled.

With over 650 square feet of deck to do, it was not a fast job. We got almost halfway done before Clara woke up and, rather than leave the deck half stained (and risk a big overlap line wherever we had left off) I continued on my own until the rest of the deck was done. Which conveniently was also about when it was too dark to see what I was doing anymore (so it was about a four hour job with two people for the majority of the time and me flying solo in the end). Here’s a full side-by-side of our process, which really shows how much better it looks. I’d say we achieved sexy librarian.

When we brought our furniture back out we were happy to see that the table could be placed right on the spot where the patched boards meet the old ones, so it’s not noticeable at all. The only problem? It’s looking like a larger deck calls for some more furniture.

A few planters from Target along with a clearanced umbrella from Home Depot are making it feel a little less sparse in the meantime…

… but we think some craigslist and end-of-season sale-hunting is in our future. Especially since the entire other end of the deck is completely bare.

But that, my friends, is a mission for another day. For now we’re just happy to be done spraying, scrubbing, rinsing, rolling, and brushing this baby, which leaves us more time for playing, relaxing and eating on it instead. And I gotta say, as good as painting the walls of a room can feel, refreshing a 676 square foot deck feels even better. Especially when this used to be the view:

You should see us out there wolf whistling at it.


    • Marjorie says

      As a sexy librarian myself, I need to give you a high-five for that one! :-) The deck looks great!

  1. says

    Gorgeous! It’s like having another room, isn’t it? Our deck is some composite – fine with me! – and the railing is old school ‘wrought iron’ (aluminum, I’m thinking), complete with the “adorable” little scrolls every other panel or so. But I’m not complaining because, yes, it’s another room . . . a beautiful one.

    Question – what do you guys do about the bugs? We have tons of bees from the fruit trees, jasmine, etc. Traps haven’t worked. Just curious if it’s a problem for you.

    • says

      Your deck sounds gorgeous! As for the bugs, we burn the occasional citronella candle when we’re all eating out there at dusk, but during the day we don’t have much of an issue (mosquitoes seem to be an evening problem and we haven’t really seen any bees yet). Anyone have tips for Colleen?


    • ilse says

      I’d say just leave the bees alone. They are clean and harmless and actually starting to become endangered. You could put a little bit of lemonade in a cup and put it a few meters away from your table in the hope that attracts them more than your food. Me and my kids just like to look at them and talk about how amazing mother nature is untill they fly away.

    • Kit says

      I read that putting out fans and blowing the air around will take care of mosquitoes, don’t know about bees–but it did work on mosquitoes–the movement in the air drives them away.

    • says

      Oh yeah that works! When we open the sunroom doors and run the overhead fan the mosquitoes never come in! They’re all “wind tunnel! fly the other waaaay!”


    • says

      Sorry, that was Home Depot. Will add that into the post! We grabbed it last night and it was the last one left. But maybe your location still has them?


    • Melissa says

      Check out Academy Sports – I don’t know how they do it, but they have a good selection of colors at $30(full price!) and I saw this past weekend they had discounted the navy ones to $19! We’ve used one all summer (opening and closing it) and it’s decent quality – not junk.

    • Kristin Scaplen says

      You don’t happen to know the brand of umbrella that is? I’ll definitely be checking out Home Depot- that would match perfectly with our set!!

    • says

      It’s Hampton Bay. It was the only gray-blue one left and it has a wooden handle and it was clearanced out, but I’m not sure if it’ll be the same price at every story. Hope it helps!


  2. Iz says

    Great job! Was wondering what happened to the cool yellow chairs you had on the deck at your old house? Are you planning to use those again?

    • says

      Aw I loved those things. After dragging those everywhere, we couldn’t really figure out a place for them so we craigslisted them (we don’t have a patio here or a front porch, so I just tried to make them work on the deck to no avail). We owe you guys a huge post about the things we’re craigslisting and the things we have our eye on that will work better for this house – it always seems like what’s perfect for one space just looks crazy in another!


  3. Kaitlyn says

    It looks awesome!!! I can only imagine how much work that must of been, but it was definitely worth it. Any chance we can see a far away shot of the deck from the backyard to see it up against the brick? I’m sure it looks amazing! :)

    • says

      Oh yes, we’ll have to snag one of those to update the House Tour page soon! Although the first after with furniture shows the brick and the deck color together for you if that helps.


  4. says

    Looks a-mazing guys! Your patience with some of these projects always astounds me. My patience is constantly a work-in-progress. :) Also love the view that you have back there, it’s gotta be so peaceful.

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