Tips for Properly Sanding a Wood Deck

The elements will make any deck fade. The default solution to renewing a deck is to sand it before applying new stain. If you make a mistake, the affected area could look worse than it did before you tried to review the deck.

Here are a few tips for sanding a wood deck properly and getting the end result you want.

Before you start sanding the old stain and splinters off the deck, take the time to prepare the surface. A lack of preparation is actually the most common reason sealers, and deck stains fail.

At a minimum, you need to remove all of the furniture and sweep the deck. A better choice is to use a pressure washer with wood cleaner compatible with the deck. Use a fan tip so that your cleaning efforts don’t gouge the wood.

If you aren’t sure if it is safe, test the pressure washer in a discrete area before applying it to the middle of the deck. In short, one of the best tips for sanding a wood deck properly is dedicating the time to do the prep work first, and that starts with cleaning it. However, that’s not the end of it.

Smooth It Out before Sanding 

Take the time to make the deck surface as smooth as possible. One of the best safety tips for sanding a wood deck is to drive in popped nails before you break out the sander. This is a great time to replace them with deck screws.

Driving screws can be put back in place with a drill and number 2 Phillips bit. Either repair or replace damaged boards, since you’ll have a better-looking end result if the boards are all even and adequately placed before you apply the stain. Warped boards need to be reattached before you try to sand the deck.

Use a pole sander and 80-grit sandpaper to smooth splintered areas, though you’ll want to do this before you break out the big sander to do the whole deck.
Where there are cracks between the deck boards, clean it with a putty knife.

Conversely, you shouldn’t use a wire brush or brooms to clean the deck. The bristles could break off; hit it with a sander and you have a safety hazard, leave it in place, and it could cause a rust spot.

After doing all of this scrubbing, you’ll be able to use the deck cleaner. However, before you start sanding off the stain, you should rinse the deck off with a hose.

When you’re sanding edges of the boards, clean the dust you’ve created before you sand the surrounding surfaces.

Choose the Right Tool for the Job 

Handheld sanders require more time and effort than larger sanders. They’re actually not recommended for deck sanding unless you’re treating a particular spot because their results are “spotty” when used over a whole deck. Why do people recommend handheld sanders?

That’s usually because they tried to use a drum sander and damaged the wood. Drum sanders often scratch up the deck. A compromise between these two extremes is a flooring orbital sander. If you take the time to clean the deck – something we’ve already recommended – then you can use a flooring orbital sander with minimal effort.

Why do people actually try to use a handheld sander to sand their deck? One reason is that they own the handheld sander, and they think it is a waste of money to rent a larger sander from the home improvement store.

They don’t realise that using the handheld sander results in several days of work if you have a large deck. The only place you really have to use the handheld sander is on the railings or edges where an upright sander cannot do a good job.

Use the right sander for the job at the start, since starting with a hand sander before switching to an upright stander will result in an uneven look.

Choose The Right Sandpaper

Another factor to consider is the sandpaper itself. Most decks are built from soft-wood species. If you use sandpaper with too much grit, you could gouge the deck. If you are sanding floorboards of the deck, the grit shouldn’t be greater than 60 to 80.

Finer grit sandpaper (100 girts or higher) is actually a bad idea since this smooths the wood so much that it cannot absorb the sealer or wood stain. If you’re sanding the ends of the deck boards or railing, use sandpaper with a grit of 60 to 80.

The only exception to this rule is using 80 to 100 grit sandpaper on railings since this is both the most visible surface and the one we touch the most often.

Take Proper Safety Precautions 

Many people overlook proper safety precautions when working with Sanders out on a deck.

While it is perfectly safe to stand on your wood deck in bare feet, always wear gloves and shoes when working with a sander or other power tools.

Wear a particle mask, since you don’t want to breathe that wood dust in. Wear safety glasses so that wood particles and stray splinters don’t endanger your eyes.

David B. Harper

David is a Professional Craftsman & woodworking expert for 8 years, and in that time has written huge resources and guides on woodworking and tools.

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