If you're like many homeowners, the backyard deck is the focal point for warm-weather activities. But as with most parts of your home, a certain amount of routine maintenance is required to keep your deck structurally sound, safe and looking its best.
While other types of lumber may have been used, chances are your deck is built of either cedar, redwood or pressure-treated yellow pine. These are the most commonly used materials because they are resistant to rot and insect damage. When exposed to the elements for extended periods, however, any wood will show signs of weathering. Even if the deck was originally treated with a stain or preservative, this treatment eventually needs to be renewed.
The first thing to do is inspect the surfaces of the deck and railing for excessive splintering. If splintering is a problem, sanding the surface is the simplest solution. Use a belt sander to smooth the boards on the deck surface. Sand only in the direction of the grain, and keep the sander moving evenly to avoid gouging.
You'll find many stains and sealers designed specifically for your deck. Several manufacturers offer products called deck brighteners (actually bleaches), which remove stains and weathering from the wood surfaces. Apply these products according to the manufacturer's directions, usually with a stiff bristle brush, and rinse off thoroughly before applying any top coat. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection when using these products.
Sealers protect your deck from moisture and are available clear or tinted to act as a stain. Sealers need to be renewed periodically to offer continuous protection. Stains are offered in a range of capacities for either hiding the grain completely or allowing it to be visible. When it comes to choosing a stain and sealer for your deck, check that the products are compatible and that they're suitable for the type of wood your deck is made with.
After a new deck has been exposed to the weather for a year or so, shrinkage of the lumber can cause nails to pop up above the deck surface. If the boards are still flat, reset the nails slightly below the deck surface using a nail set or punch that matches the size of the nail heads.
If the deck boards have cupped due to drying, there are several ways to approach the problem. If the cupping is not too severe, first remove the nails with a pry bar. Then, install galvanized decking screws to pull the board flat. If the board is too severely cupped for this technique, use a pry bar to remove the board. Then use a circular saw to make a series of relief cuts along the back, convex surface of the board, equal in depth to about one-third of the board's thickness. Replace the board and fasten with galvanized decking screws. If this technique fails to bring the board flat, install a new board in its place. Remember to always use galvanized nails or screws when working on a deck.