Landscape: Hardscape

Pre-finishing a wood deck

Pre-finishing a wood deck
Boardwalk deck

Over the last year I’ve posted a number of articles on wood deck construction. If done well, wood decks can be beautiful, permanent extensions of your home’s living space connecting the outdoors. They can also become outdoor kitchen and BBQ areas. I have a special interest in wood decks because witnessing their premature failure was one inspiration for this website.

Unfortunately, many decks are built almost as afterthoughts and not designed or constructed to endure the punishing elements they will be subjected to. As a result, too many wood decks (some  constructed with very dear materials) end up in the land fill before their time.

Battling the elements

The deck’s protective coating is it’s first line of defense in battling the elements. In this post I’d like to show you how to apply a finish to a new wood deck during installation. Installation is the best time to apply the first coats of finish because it is the only time you will ever have complete access to all six sides of the decking boards. You’ll only get one shot at this so take your time and do it right. 


In this example we are preparing to install IPE material. I love IPE because it is absolutely gorgeous. It is also insect resistant, hard wearing and stable (very dense, few twists, knots, splits etc.).  All these things of course make it very desirable and expensive. It is also a rainforest product. And even though we only use FSC certified lumber, I still feel IPE deserves special treatment and honor by only using it in the most well planned and executed applications.

Pre-finishing a wood deck
IPE decking


One drawback to IPE is that it will require re-coating the surface finish every 18-24 months to in order to maintain the rich color. If not recoated the surface turns a weathered gray color much like teak.  Applying a good finish to begin with makes subsequent applications much easier. We use IPE Oil purchased here from Amazon. If we need to add color (this is sometimes needed for follow up applications) we can use Sikkens stain products also available here from Amazon.


I’ve included a video here of the initial stain and finish process. This was a large installation so the crew set up a system to handle long pieces in high volumes. Even with all the people and infrastructure in place it is a slow process to handle and put the first coat on these boards.  The process goes like this:

  1. wipe each board clean and sand all sides and remove dust.
  2. place in dip tank to soak for 5 minutes.
  3. work the oil solution into the grain and grooves with brush.
  4. wipe off the excess oil.
  5. stack the finished boards on “finished” stickers for drying and eventual use.
  6. Once the boards are installed, they will be sanded again and a final coat will be applied and wiped down.
  7. Be sure to store any oily rags in a sealed, water-filled can of water to avoid a fire.

Before the finish process, these boards were pre-grooved on site. The grooves are used to accommodate the invisible Tiger Claw fastener system that attaches the planks to the structure. This hardware leaves the surface blemish free. If y0u like a surface free of fasteners, the Tiger Claw product can be had here at Amazon.

If you are reusing older boards or using brand new boards that have aged or become dirty you will need to clean them first. Do this by washing and scrubbing them with a deck cleaner material and rinse, followed by a wood brightener.


Stacking the material and allowing it to completely dry is important. This way the material can be handled easily during installation. The drying rack stickers must also be finished with IPE Oil because raw wood stickers will absorb the finish from the boards and leave permanent unattractive white lines on them. Wood decking must be sealed on all sides including the cut ends of every board. End sealing is especially important for pre-finishing a wood deck with IPE lumber.

pre-finishing a wood deck
Pre-finished deck boards on drying rack
Pre-finishing a wood deck
Sanded deck prior to final coat



Prefinishing your deck boards will add years of life to the end product and reduce the regular maintenance time considerably.  Special thanks to ProStaff Painting in San Carlos CA for their help with this project.  

Do you have a wood deck project coming up? Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions?

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