DYI Deck Staining/Sealing Saga

I had a 10 of Wands Sunday. In fact, I’m still feeling pretty 10-of-Wands today.

This weekend, I learned another lesson in house ownership. It really sucks to paint, or in this case stain, a deck. Or, it sucked even more than I anticipated, that is. When I was kid, my mom used to paint our house herself every 4-5 years. My parents never hired anybody. My brother and I would pitch in, but it was really mostly my mom. My dad wanted nothing to do with it, and he had other chores he did on his own. My mother also painted the interior of the house, with some help from us kids. She even did her own interior paint on into her 70s. Her paint jobs always looked perfect, too. So, being a huge admirer of my mother and her do-it-yourself practicality, I adopted a Knight of Wands mentality and thought, surely I can also stain/seal my deck myself. With help from friends, I successfully painted the inside of my condo, after all. How hard could a deck be compared to that? Ahem…

Other reasons fed into my decision to stain and seal my own deck. After spending so much to have a deck built, only to have the builder refuse to finish his work by sealing it, I felt I needed to save $350 it would cost to hire somebody. I also just learned that the sleazy builder didn’t use pre-treated wood as we agreed by email, so the raw, untreated wood made sealing the deck soon all the more urgent. Allowing myself to get ripped off like this, I felt doing the staining and sealing myself was a lesson I needed to reinforce for myself, even a punishment, for being so naïve (dare I say stupid) as to not have a written contract and paying him up front. One final reason was that I told myself before I bought the house that I needed to clean it and maintain it by myself. I felt that if a house was too big to take care of on my own, I should not have it in the first place.

A close friend offered to help and I gladly accepted. It’s been so hot in DC in July that I decided to wait for a break in weather. Yesterday, finally, we got that break. It was absolutely gorgeous outside, in the low 80s and humidity was reasonable, so we met at 12:30 pm and got to work.

This combined stain/sealer I bought was a product requiring two thin coats. The builder had told me to get three gallons of it. We mixed the three gallons and it looked kind of like a small amount compared to the size of the deck. But we decided to hope for the best and go ahead and do it rather than taking the time to buy more.

We expected the deck to take two hours for the first coat, and then we’d take a break for two hours, then finish.

That first coat took nearly eight hours.

We had to hand-paint all the railings with brushes, and it was far more detailed and tedious than we expected. It was hard to get the stain into the corners and crevices. We only took about a 45 minute break for pizza and then went straight back to work. The stain was just enough with very little to spare. I suspect we spread it too thick, or else the builder was only ever planning on one coat when he told me to buy three gallons.

This morning when I got my tired, broken body out of bed, I looked out at the deck and had to chuckle. You can totally tell we did it and not a professional. You can see brush and roller marks on the deck floor. You can see brush marks and all the ways we had to wedge in the brushes to fill in the small spaces. We also couldn’t get the stain into the places between the slats of the floor, so the color of the raw wood there is stark next to the burgundy stained floor. I will have to do that by hand with a smaller brush, and I am pretty sure I will still not get the stain down far enough.

I am going to have to do the entire deck a second time, and this time by myself. The question is, do I do it in one day or do I break it up into 2-4 days? The advantage of one day is that I won’t have to dread more work and I will have only one huge mess to clean up one day, not several. I also will have to buy less equipment because I do throw away my brushes and rollers at the end of the day. The advantage of several days is that I will (hopefully) avoid the burnt-out feeling we both had yesterday night.

I will also have to take my granny cart on the metro to Home Depot, get the stain and bring it all back by myself. This time I will get four gallons so I can do the side stairs, too. Later, I will also have to repaint the porch, because the porch paint pealing up, and the porch steps, which were not already painted when I bought the house. I will do a second run to Home Depot for that. This all feels so overwhelming, but I still want to do this myself for all the reasons I mentioned above.

When this is all done, I will finally have a housewarming party. Maybe then it will all feel worth it. Right now, I am kind of scared I bit off more than I can chew.


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