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Refinishing a purpleheart/ipe deck

15 years ago

I could use some advice on how best to refinish our deck, so that a) I can get some color back in it and b) the finish and color will last for a while.

We built a pretty massive deck about a year and a half ago, with the decking itself made of 1x6 purpleheart planks with hidden fasteners and countersunk-and-plugged stainless steel screws around the edges and on the steps, with posts and handrails and border planks of ipe. The total square footage is hard to guess at, since there are several levels and a lot of stairs and it's all pretty irregular in shape, but I'd guesstimate it at about 2500 square feet, not including the rails and risers and stuff.

The construction spanned most of the winter in the 3rd-wettest year in recorded history in our area - which, for southern Oregon, is saying something. Parts of the deck (those completed first) sat out all winter untreated, and thus had a lot of harsh exposure to water and even some snow, followed by a month or two of harsh sun and heat (yes, as you can imagine, we saw some cupping and even a few planks that snapped the screws and had to be re-fastened). Other parts (those completed last) sat out only for a few weeks before I got around to finishing the deck, and were still almost Barney purple.

About a year ago, last May (as soon as the weather was clear and warm enough for long enough), I pressure-washed the deck (using water only) and put down two coats of Sutherland Welles' Exterior Polymerized Tung Oil Sealer. I applied the finish as directed - very thin, not allowing it to pool, being careful not to apply the finish when the weather was either too hot or too cool or too wet (a challenge in this area!), and allowing at least a day or two of drying time between coats. The result looked beautiful, although the areas that had been exposed to weather the longest definitely had less color than the newer sections.

A year later, however, the deck has pretty much entirely greyed out, with the exception of some vertical surfaces the ipe handrails, which still retain some color. So I'm looking at starting over, and want to do so in a way that will have better results (more uniformity of color, and restoring as much as possible of the original color) and will last longer. We live in a harsh climate, with 100+ degree temperatures and brutal sunlight through most of the summer and a lot of rain for about 4 months through the winter (climate-wise we're more like Redding CA, not Portland), so it's a woodworker's nightmare, to be sure. But if I can make this an annual or better yet semiannual process, and keep good results in between, I'll be happy(er).

So, with that as background, my questions:

- How should I go about restoring the color (un-greying the deck)?

- Do I need to remove what's left of the tung oil, and if so, how? (Please, please tell me I don't need to sand it out...)

- And the $64,000 question: what finish would give me the best results in terms of color and wood preservation for the longest period? The Sutherland Welles stuff came highly recommended from both the wood vendor and our contractor - the former was and is a snake oil salesman whose word isn't worth the air it's breathed with, but the contractor is honest and did a lot of his own research - but it's also $100 a gallon retail, and I'm not happy that I'm looking at this question again just a year later with a grey deck. Alternatives??

As you can no doubt imagine, this deck cost us a ton - I mean, a TON - of money to build, so there's a lot riding on getting it looking beautiful again... including, possibly, my marriage. (Just kidding - sort of.) So any advice would be appreciated!

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