Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A new stain on my reputation

     No one has ever asked me what I plan to do in retirement. But if anybody ever does, I have a ready answer: work on the house. A 115-year-old farm house that wasn't constructed all that well in the first place is constantly in need of repair, and as the years go by, I try to do some of the work myself. 
     It's very satisfying. And cheaper. And often better 
     For instance. The house has an unusually large deck in back — originally there was a free-standing 16-foot pool in back, that the deck connected to, and my wife insisted the pool be removed, lest the boys drown themselves.  We had a handyman square it off. You could land a helicopter on it.
     A few years after, I hired a neighbor who had a house painting company to stain it. He charged a lot and his crew splashed stain on the siding. A decade and a half went by. Whatever protective qualities the stain might have ever had broke down. The deck grew grimy, dark, mildewed, almost slimey. For the past three or four years, I'd greet the summer with, "I should treat that deck before it rots." This summer I resolved to actually do it, and — this is key — borrowed a power washer from a friend (Thank you Sandi!)
     Power-washing the deck was an epiphany. Layers of mold and black grime blasted away with a sweep of the gun, returning the wood to a near pristine state. I can say without hesitation that nothing I wrote this summer was half as satisfying as powerwashing that deck. And nobody complained.
     Then I sanded it. A sane man would have bought a large circular sander, or even rented a floor sander. But I already had a six-inch reciprocating hand sander, and the deck does have all sorts of posts and rails and steps and such. So I crawled over the deck, sanding it with this ridiculously small tool. Which allowed me to sand it really well, and pound in the nails that were up, and find zen-like escape from the various nightmarish situations percolating on a national and personal level. It took days.
     "And to think I almost paid somebody to do this," I thought, astounded that I got to do it for free.      
Good stuff.
     Finding the right color stain was the most difficult part. We started out thinking blue, for some reason, probably insanity, but went through three or four shades, which didn't seem right, then three or four browns, until I was guided to Ready Seal pecan, with help from Rick at J.C. Licht, who probably just wanted my wife and me to stop coming by for more samples and get on with it. It went on easily, without streaking. Rich and slightly red. 
      I rolled it on, doing details with a brush. At first I thought I'd need three gallons; I ended up using eight. Toward the end of the third week —in my spare time, on nice days—the job neared completion. The other day, I bought new hardware and replaced the rusty hinges and latches on the gate. The thing is like new.
     That's it. No flight of poetry, no message beyond DYI: do it yourself. If I can, anybody can. I plan to take a short break, then start in on painting the trim in the entrance hall. God knows the hall needs it.

It looks best after a rain.


  1. So much work!--but agree nothing more satisfying than getting rid of the grime, mold, algae, and all that soot. And each time you'll look at it you get the same feeling. You can get the same satisfaction during the winter cleaning out drawers

  2. It certainly does look great. Nice job. I'm always surprised when people say " I did it myself, it didn't cost me anything". I guess a few days on your hands and knees once every few years is a small price to pay for the satisfaction of a job well done. but your time as you well know has value.

    Sadly midwest weather will soon take its toll.

    Maybe next you can tackle a bookcase!

  3. We just finished a similar project on our deck and I too enjoyed power washing, hand sanding, and staining the wood for a weather-proof refresh. Very satisfying!


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