11 Keys to Successfully Staining Exotic Hardwood Decks

Years ago it seems like every deck that was built was constructed out of good old CCA…pine wood treated with copper chromium arsenic, commonly referred to as pressure treated lumber. Because most of the decks were constructed out of the same type of lumber (CCA), the products that you used to stain them and the way you went about it were all pretty similar. But not today. Things have changed.

Over the past several years lumber yards have worked at carving out their own niches in the marketplace by introducing new species of woods to the market. Products such as Cypress and Mahogany, and rainforest hardwoods such as Ipe and Pau-Lope. These products offer an unequaled level of beauty and uniqueness as well as hardness and durability that far exceeds that of conventional lumber. These characteristics can offer huge advantages to the homeowner. However they also present a variety of challenges when it comes to staining.

Typically these types of woods are very dense, making it difficult for stains to be absorbed. Additionally, they can contain a high amount of natural oils making them resistant to penetration. For these reasons, they need to be treated a little differently when staining. That’s not to say that they can’t be stained, they just need to be treated a little differently. Don’t fret though. I’ve outlined a few basics for you. “11 Keys” as I like to refer to them, that when followed, will help ensure that your project looks like it was stained by a Pro!

1. Let the Wood Weather

As I said in the opening, exotic hardwoods are dense and they can contain a large amount of natural oils that will work to block any wood stain that you try to apply from penetrating. So let Mother Nature help you out. Once your deck has been built, allow nature’s elements to help break down the surface of the wood and dry it out so that stains will be more easily absorbed. The sun, the wind and the rain can do wonders. The more the wood weathers, the easier it will be to stain it and the longer your staining job should last.

2. Start With a Stripper

Even if your wood is brand new and has never been stained, it is still a great idea to start your project off by applying a stain stripper, such as Defy Exterior Wood Stain Stripper. Stain strippers are formulated using sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is an aggressive chemical that can be very effective at breaking down the surface of the wood, opening up its pores and making it more absorbent. Remember, the more stain that you can get the wood to absorb, the longer your project is going last.

3. Don’t Forget to Brighten

Yes, you have to brighten the deck too, even if you’re working with brand new wood. I know it seems kind of funny, having to brighten new wood but the brightener will do a couple of things for you. First, it will neutralize the effects of the stripper that you used previously. You always have to use an acid brightener after using an alkaline stripper. Secondly, in a similar fashion to the stripper, the brightener will also help to open up the porosity of the wood even further. Again, the more stain that you can get the wood to absorb the longer your project will last.

4. Take a Good Long Break

Good news. You can take the rest of the day off. Take two if you like. The important thing now is to allow the wood to dry out from all of the cleaning you’ve just done. The drier the wood gets, the better it will absorb the stain. The more stain that you can get the wood to absorb the longer your project will last. So take a day or two off and let things dry off before you start to think about applying the stain.

5. Not Any Old Stain Will Work

Your next big decision is what stain to use. Don’t screw up here. Not just any stain will do. Certain stains have been formulated for better penetration, making them ideal for hardwoods. Most manufacturers offer a product in this category. Defy Deck Stain for Hardwoods is extremely durable, water-based and Eco-friendly. It’s both easy to use and easy on the environment. Whatever stain you select, make sure that you choose one that has been specifically formulated for use on exotic hardwoods and other difficult to penetrate lumber.

6. Ask for Directions

For the female audience, I’m confident that you’ll get this next step correct. However, all you men out there, ASK FOR DIRECTIONS. Everything that you need to know about the product that you are going to use is on the back of the can. Take a few minutes before you start and read it. The directions will make you aware of any particulars to the product that can affect how the job turns out. What is the dry time, how many coats should you apply, how much time between coats, is there a critical recoat time? There can be any number of things that you can pick up by reading the back of the can. Take a minute and read the directions.

7. Brushing Is Critical

These next few keys are really important so please pay attention. First, regardless of how you apply the stain (e.g., rolling, spraying) it absolutely 100% must be brushed. If you roll it on first, simply back brush it in after it’s rolled on but while it is still wet. The same goes for spraying. “Why must I go to all of that trouble?” you ask. When you brush the stain, the brush creates a friction on the surface, breaking the surface tension of the wood and working the stain in to the pores of the wood. You get a much better penetration of the stain. Remember, the more stain that you can get the wood to absorb, the longer your project will last.

8. Wipe Off Any Excess

Ok, this one might throw you a little, but again, it’s important. If you apply too much stain to the wood (more stain than what the wood can absorb), wipe off the excess. We don’t think twice about wiping off excess stain when we are staining interior wood. My advice is to do the same if you over-apply stain on exterior hardwoods. The reason is simple. First, for aesthetics. When you apply too much stain, it puddles on the surface and looks bad. Secondly, over time those spots are likely to flake and peel. So how much stain should you apply? Only as much as the wood can easily absorb.

9. Let It Cure

At this point the deck is done. If you’ve taken your time and followed these steps, you’ve got a great looking project going. Don’t mess up now, let things dry. Leave the furniture in the yard and the dog in the house while the stain has a chance to cure out. Come back tomorrow and put things back together. You’ll be glad that you waited a day to do it.

10. Manage Your Expectations

Now here’s some advice that I hope you accept. Manage your expectations. Remember, you’ve selected an exotic wood for your deck, a beautiful grade of lumber with extreme durability. Regardless of how good of a job you did in every step of this process you will never get the stain to last as long as it would on a more porous species of wood, such as pressure treated pine. But also realize that every time you stain it you’ll get a little longer life out of your project. Time will continue to help the wood become more porous and as it does, it will absorb stain better each time.

11. Keep An Eye On Things

Lastly, you’ve put in a great deal of time and energy to stain your deck the right way, so keep an eye on things. As time goes on and the stain begins to fade and wear down, apply a maintenance coat. Don’t let things erode so far that you’re forced to strip everything off and start all over. It’s pretty easy and it doesn’t take much time to simply rinse things off and apply a fresh coat of stain.

So that’s it. That’s everything. Eleven keys to successfully staining exotic hardwoods. Go ahead and try these eleven keys for yourself. See what the results are when you set out on your next project to do it like a pro. You might just surprise yourself!

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