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My impetus (your word of the day -- look it up) for this deck project was the very startling evidence (sawdust, clearly where it didn't belong) that the carpenter bees were back! I was not happy about that at all; over time, they can wreak havoc on a deck with their hole-drilling activities.

Even though I had stained all the visible (and accessible) parts of the deck, they are ingenious little beasts and, finding the uncoated areas, began punching their perfectly symmetrical holes last year. I thought I had discouraged them with my site-specific Sevin dust applications and caulking of their homes. Well, apparently not.

Let's get started. First off, safety: I used disposable gloves and wore glasses. It's not like anything I used was nuclear-grade, I just wanted to not wander around for a couple days with stain marks on my hands; just because the stain is water-cleanup doesn't mean, when it's dry, that it won't stick around. The glasses will keep the stain from getting into my eyeballs, which, I'm happy to report, didn't occur.

The time: I split the project into three chunks. I did the prep one evening, the handrails the next morning, and the deck and support structure after siesta -- it's hot in north Georgia at midday, and the sun was blasting the work site! So, total time about 10 hours.

The tools:

  • A street broom to scrub the deck surfaces.
  • A small hand scrub brush to hit the guard rails, balusters, and drink caps.
  • A sponge for the smaller areas to be rinsed.
  • A bucket to mix the deck cleaning materials.
  • An orbital sander to smooth out the rough spots on the drink caps, with 60 and 100 grit sandpaper.
  • A screw gun to replace or tighten the loose deck screws.
  • Disposable gloves.
  • A piece of plastic to protect from drips and splashes (any old piece of drop cloth will do.)
  • A spray bottle to get the stain up under the guard rails, where the carpenter bee condos are.
  • Water from my rain barrel. The local water restrictions, because of the area drought conditions, prohibit the use of domestic water for cleanup; I don't like to waste water, in any case.

The materials:

  • Baking soda, to provide an abrasive component to the cleaning process; a four pound box, for about $6.
  • A non-chlorine laundry detergent ("Oxyclean"-style ); 50 ounce size, for about $5.
  • Behr's Semi-transparent Deck, Fence, and Siding wood stain for about $24 a gallon. It was a "penetrating oil formula with easy water cleanup" and contained a mildewcide.The label indicated a warranty period of three years on decks and five years on fences. I chose this product as I had had recent good success with another product of theirs -- concrete floor stain. I used just over two gallons (naturally) but I had purchased three -- better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it, in my view. In any case, I have a large expanse of pressure-treated steps that need their periodic coating, and this will do a dandy job. They are in full shade so they need a treatment only every four or five years, lucky me.

The process:

Preparation

I initially took the time to re-drive the screws that had poked their heads above the guard rails and decking, then I replaced those that were not cooperating -- that'll teach 'em! Bare feet and exposed screw heads don't make for a good combination.

With my orbital sander I, first with 60 and then with100 grit sandpaper, sanded all the drink caps to remove any splinters or sun-damaged areas. The horizontal surfaces of a deck (or any similar structure) take the biggest beating from UV exposure. The decking itself was in very good condition, with some minor cracking in the boards that were in the sun for the larger part of the day.

Then I scrubbed the deck and guard rails with a 50/50 mix of the baking soda and non-chlorine detergent. I had previously ruled out using any harsh or toxic cleanser as I didn't want any undue damage to the recently pruned plants surrounding my deck.

The baking soda provided the abrasion I wanted in order to get the dirt off the decking, and the detergent was excellent in reducing the algae levels. I wet the deck with my rain barrel water, applied and thoroughly scrubbed two buckets of the cleaning mix, and then rinsed the stuff off with more rain water.

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