Show Me Sand the Floor... Show Me Stain the Deck

Last weekend Eli & I finally got a few dry days to stain the deck and it turned out to be quite the task! Eli took a timelapse of the whole process and while it looks easy peasy in hyperspeed, just know that it took enough time (& photos) to burn through 3 memory cards & 4 camera batteries! Take a look...

Halfway into the first coat I was feeling like Daniel-san in Karate Kid... you know, when he thinks he's almost done & then realizes he's no where close.

Our deck was newly built before we bought the house & it was one of the biggest selling points for us. Our last apartment was beautiful & modern but had virtually nowhere to hang out outside. We started feeling (and looking) like vampires who never saw the sun. Now that we have a deck, we practically live out there. It's where we hang out with friends, chat with our neighbors, drink coffee, eat dinner.... I'd sleep out there if mosquitos weren't a thing. In short, it's our favorite place. It's time to make it look as great as it feels.

Because the deck was built with new pressure-treated wood, we had to give it some time to acclimate before we could stain and seal it... I'm fairly confident the last year & a half was sufficient! Sure, we didn't need to wait that long, but we were having too much fun to take it out of commission during all the great weather. Now time is forcing our hand and it's a race against the clock (I told you!) The deck spent a lot of time under snow last year, so we gotta protect it before another winter swoops in to wreak havoc!

I fully expected staining the deck to be a weekend project but before we knew it it was Thursday morning & we were still at it. #CantStopWontStop In reality a majority of that time was waiting for stuff to dry & then waiting out the rain & then waiting for stuff to dry again. Let's hope we learned our lesson to start early!

Saturday morning we went to Home Depot to pick up supplies...

We used Behr Premium deck cleaner and stain

... and $150 later we hunkered down and got to work. 

Step 1: Clear off the deck

This was a great excuse to get rid of all the junk that had accumulated over the last 16 months. We don't have a garage or shed, but we still have lawn care tools, grass seed, wood scraps, etc. Without a good place to store all that stuff, our deck turned into an accidental open-air shed, and it was not a good look. Our favorite place shouldn't be an eyesore! Once all the stuff was gone & we'd swept, we were surprised by how big the space felt again. Note to self: must find a long-term outdoor storage solution.

Step 2: Deep cleaning

Before we could start applying any stain, we had to give the wood a thorough refresh & try to lift bike grease spots & other battle wounds our deck had collected over the year. We followed the directions on the bottle and hosed everything down with water. Then we diluted the cleaning solution in the pump sprayer with one part water to one part cleaner and sprayed our mixture all over the wood.  I wore gloves, close-toed shoes & glasses to protect my skin & eyes from the spray.

Step 2: Spray Behr Premium all-in-one wood cleaner over the deck
Use a pump sprayer to apply the cleaning solution

After I'd sprayed all the posts, railings & boards, I poured some of the undiluted cleaner directly onto the grease stains in hopes that it would lighten them better. I let it sit for about 15 minutes to do its thang and then scrubbed the whole deck with a stiff-bristle deck brush – really laying into the dark spots. Then I wasedh it all away. It did a pretty good job brightening the wood & the bike grease was less noticeable (though not gone altogether). The scrubbing and rinsing took longer than I expected – keen observers may have noticed it was absent from the timelapse. That's because it got dark before I finished & we drained the first camera battery! Whoops! 

Step 3: Let the deck dry completely

The wood has to be 100% dry before you can apply any sort of sealant. I went to bed nervous on Saturday night that it wouldn't be dry enough for us to stain on Sunday since I didn't finish rinsing til after 8 o'clock. Luckily Sunday was living up to its name & our south-facing deck was totally dry by about 1:30pm.

Step 4:  Apply first coat of stain

Eli and I each grabbed a brush and set out to divide and conquer. First target: rails & posts. I squeezed between the fence & our deck to get the outside edges while E focused on the inside faces that we'd actually see everyday. I felt like a contortionist bending every which way to get the bottoms of boards because we aimed to coat all six sides of every piece of wood. Woof. I felt like an old lady that night – my lower back was killing me! We were really surprised by how much stain it took just to do the railings! About a half gallon for the first coat. We forgot to factor them in to our square footage calculation when deciding how much stain to buy, so Eli had to run back to Home Depot to get another gallon.

Meanwhile, I started on the floorboards. I used an applicator pad that screwed onto my broomstick & took it slow-n-steady. Because I was applying a thin coat, the stain dried pretty fast & I had to be careful not to overlap too much where I'd already applied because each pass would make it darker. I took it one board at a time – sometimes two – going from one end all the way to the other end. The directions on the can advised doing it this way so that the boards would have a consistent coloring and the whole deck wouldn't look patchy. 

We used the Shur-Line applicator pad to apply stain to the deck's floorboards

My applicator pad had a built-in "groove tool" that you could extend down, and it was supposed to get the cracks and boards in one fell swoop. Sounds great in theory, less so in practice. It was awkward to flip the tool down, difficult to dip it AND the pad into the stain, and even when I could do all that it simply wasn't very effective. The cracks were either too wide for the groove to reach the edges, or too narrow for the groove to fit at all. I gave up trying after the first couple boards – you can see the cracks are bare in the shot above. It's best to have a second person follow behind you to get those with a paint brush and to brush away any pooling stain. The applicator pad is pretty good at spreading stain evenly so it doesn't pool, but putting it down and picking it up from the wood leaves visible marks that you have to brush away.

Step 5: Apply second coat of stain

Behr's stain is supposed to dry for a couple hours before you start a second coat, but we were losing daylight fast. Staining is not one of those activities I like doing by porch light, so we called it a night & hoped to find time to finish during the week. Of course, there were a few torrential rain storms that really screwed up scheduling (& necessitated another Home Depot trip to get a huge tarp) but we finally got back to work Wednesday (for rails/posts) & Thursday (for floorboards). The second coat of stain goes a little faster than the first – especially because it's supposed to be suuuper thin. 

our deck stained in Cordovan Brown

Step 6: Wait for it to cure

Behr recommends waiting 72 hours for the stain to fully cure before replacing furniture, etc. We just finished staining yesterday, so we're still in the waiting period. Aaaaand it's raining again – let's hope this "weatherproofer" really works! The rain droplets look like they're beading up rather than soaking in, so that's a good sign. 

Strictly speaking looks, I really like the darker wood. I choose to go dark because we learned early on that we were prone to stains (hello, bike grease) – so we wanted to be able to camouflage those and not have to worry about actually using our deck. Pay no mind to our gardenia that was murdered by a groundhog or the overzealous citronella plant ... nothing to see there! I mentioned earlier that we would stain the AC cover Eli built from a bed frame when we did the deck – but as you see it's glaringly absent in the "after" photo. We quickly realized we didn't have enough space or time to do both at once – there was no where for us to rest the cover without killing the grass. After the deck is fully cured & our arms fully functioning again we'll tackle that.

In the meantime I'm brainstorming ideas for how to style it up. I can't wait to get my favorite room back!

This post was not sponsored in any way, I'm just a girl on a mission.


Low Cost & Found: A/C Cover From a Bed Frame

Someone recently informed me that it’s now fall… Exsqueeze me while I screech this record player to a halt. What the heck happened to summer soirees and pool days? Fall is beautiful and all, but it’s the start of a mad dash to finish our outdoor projects before the cold sets in. Perhaps you can relate – unless you’re in LA and have nothing but time and good weather, in which case, why rush? Next week we’re hoping to stain the deck (weather permitting), and when we do we’ll also stain this sweet A/C cover Eli made a couple months ago.

How to build an AC cover from wood bed frame slats

[Let's all just pretend we don't see the mess on the porch – mkay? Avert your eyes to the AC cover and that soft billowy grass! Don't you just wanna curl up and take a nap in that meadow?]

I usually play the role of DIY aficionado in our house, but Eli takes the reins every once in a while to show me what’s up. To be honest, I don’ hate it. One day when I was out of town he repurposed the wooden slats from our bed frame into a cover for the eyesore that is our A/C unit. You may remember that we converted our West Elm platform bed to hold a boxspring and no longer needed the slats that came with it. Rather than throw them out, he came up with this quick, easy & environmentally responsible DIY. Good work, Eli! What's even better is that all he used was a drill & some wood screws.

Our bed frame came with two sets of ~30" long slats – conveniently a few inches longer than both the width & height of our a/c unit, so we didn't need to make any cuts. Small victories! Each slat was attached to the next with some simple webbing that spaced them about 2.5” apart when laid out – a useful guide when it came to screwing the cover together. 

To start, Eli used a knife to free up 8 slats from the webbing – 4 from each set. I recommend using scissors instead of a knife cuz I like having 10 fingers & 10 toes, but Eli lives dangerously. These free pieces would become the vertical ends to form the box corners.

Then he laid out the remaining connected slats and lined one of the free pieces of wood across them perpendicularly to determine how many slats it would span. The answer for us, my friend, was six. He cut the webbing after every sixth slat to give us 4 sets of 6 attached slats. He laid out a section (helps if the webbing is facedown), overlaid an end piece across the top, and used screws to attach it to each slat. Then he lined up another end piece across the bottom and did the same. He rinsed and repeated for the other three sides of the cover.

Create an AC cover from wood bed-frame slats

Once he had his four sides assembled, he stood up two at a time, squared the corner, and drove a few more screws through the vertical pieces to connect them all. It helps to pre-drill the holes so you don't split the wood, and he earned a few extra credit points for using a countersinking drill bit so the nailheads sit below the wood's surface. If we're feeling ambitious we may putty those holes before staining, but it's just an outdoor utility cover, so I'm honestly not too concerned about hiding screws.

Eli squared the corners and attached the sides of the cover using simple wood screws

After all the wood slats were secured, he cut away the rest of the webbing. There he goes living dangerously again...

Eli used a knife to cut the webbing when creating the cover for our AC unit

And that was pretty much that! He just set the new wood cover over the unit, and BAM! Our a/c is now camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings. We didn’t attach it to the unit or the ground in any way and haven’t had any issues of it blowing over or moving. Added bonus: we can easily lift it off if we ever need to do any cooling repairs. The simpler, the better!

The final product is a simple wooden box that sits over the AC unit but allows plenty of breathing room for high performance

The cover gives the unit a few inches of breathing room on each side, and the space between the horizontal slats is wide enough that I don’t worry about hindering a/c performance. 

I'll make sure to post new pictures after we get everything stained. We just need a few consecutive rain-free days in the forecast before we can check that off the to-do list. Personally I was really impressed with Eli’s zero-cost solution for a common backyard problem. What have you guys tried to hide the ugly gray box?

Summertime and We've Been Living Too Easy

Tomorrow is the first day of summer and somehow my yard still looks like this:

Before: This deck could use some love
Before: A basic grassy yard
Before: the very back of the yard that faces the alley

Let’s all let out a collective, “Meehhhhhh...” (Or if you're from Manhattan, "Greeeeeen!") Good. Glad we got that out of our system. It's not Pinterest-worthy but I'm incredibly grateful to have a comfortable outdoor space I can call my own. And even more so because we've actually come a long way already...

When we moved in

Before: Back yard on move in day was all weeds

Eight months ago

Before: Backyard after digging up the concrete and weeds

We did a heckuva lotta weeding and we dug up the cracked concrete pathway (Eli did 99.999% of it and I did enough for this photo op):

Before: GIF of Chloe slamming concrete

That picture at the top of the post is lookin' pretty now. But if it's not good enough for Pinterest, it's not good enough for me! (I'm kidding) After spending the longest winter ever on snow arrest, I thought for sure E & I would leap into action with shovel and garden hoe in hand the moment the ground thawed. We had what seemed like an eternity to fantasize about all the spring projects we'd tackle and by this time our totally ’meh’ yard would be a tropical oasis for hosting the bomb-est summer soirees. Like so:

Big plans for the Little House's back yard include a pergola with retractable shade and a paver pathway

Tell me you wouldn’t love to eat shish kabobs and sip Mai Thais in that yard. You would.

And the back yard would look more like the sketch on the right, with the fence extended to the edge of our property line (currently collecting graffiti) and the steps you saw leading to the alley would instead lead to a private parking spot and trash can hiding area. The shed would hold our bikes and tools (so guests can rest easy without an army of power drills and saws staring at them):

Before: the back yard before getting fancy
Plans for the back yard include installing a paver path, creating a parking spot and building a tool shed.

Maybe right now you’re saying, “But Chloe, it was unrealistic to think you could make that huge transformation in one season!” And to that I would say — THANK YOU! (for cutting me slack) – but also, we coulda done it had E & I been home at the same time for more than a few days during the last three months. We were traveling like it was our job! (mostly, it was) Alas, we finally got the nerve to tell our schedules to Simma dow' now, and we're home for the foreseeable future. (So you burglars better scram!) 

Our to-do list is nothing to thumb your nose at. Luckily we missed all those 75-degree days with the gentle breezes and morning showers, so we can really relish working outside in the mega-heat, humidity and mosquitos.  Womp womp.

Backyard To-Do List

  • Tear up the cracked concrete pathway
  • Level the yard
  • Plant grass
  • Buy outdoor furniture
  • Stain the deck – we had to wait a year for the weather-treated wood to do its thang
  • Wash that mossiness off the fence and stain to match the deck
  • Build a pergola
  • Figure out how to make a retractable shade for said pergola
  • Replace light fixture for something more modern with a motion sensor
  • Paint the back door
  • Install paver pathway
  • Make flower beds
  • Build a vertical herb garden
  • Build or buy a cedar shed
  • Expand our outdoor sofa with additional sections (AKA stalk Craigslist for a mega deal)
  • Paint a mural and/or outdoor movie screen on my neighbor's cinder block wall (if he's OK with that, of course!!)
  • PHASE 2: Get a permit to do the construction necessary for a parking spot
  • PHASE 2: Remove the tree in the back (this was a really tough call)
  • PHASE 2: Get quotes and hire a contractor to dig out the parking spot
  • PHASE 2: Move fence to the back edge of our property line
  • PHASE 2: Build a shorter fence between the parking and the yard for safety (4 foot drop on the other side)

Did I miss anything? OH YEAH. Invite all our friends over for the bomb-est summer soiree! Think we can do it? What outdoor projects do y'all have going on? Please tell me I'm not the only one who missed prime-time gardening season.