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.


How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Painting the kitchen cabinets was one of those projects that’s been on my to-do list since we first stepped foot in the house. I guess to some people (Eli, my family, and coworkers – y'know, just to name a few) painting new cabinets sounds silly. Yes, they’re in perfect condition. Yes, the shaker style is modern. Yes, the color of the cabinets "goes with the floors" (OMG, do you think that’s why they chose this floor stain?!)  

Our oak-filled kitchen right before we moved in.

Sorry, back to what I was saying – the cabinets were fine; the oak was just crampin’ mah style. All the wood felt very dark and heavy in a kitchen with zero natural light. I spent weeks – nay, MONTHS – showing Eli pictures of white kitchens on Pinterest (which was thrilling for him, obviously). I was trying to prove it was worth the effort, but instead I proved that natural sunlight beaming on countertops always looks lovely -__-  Do you know how hard it is to find a windowless kitchen on Pinterest for fair comparison?! It’s an exercise in futility. You could turn it into a game if you're really bored, but the judge has to be a photographer who can spot the window cropped out of the frame because there is always a window out of frame. I believe this one and that one are the only kitchens I ever found…

Nevertheless, I eventually made my case and one Saturday morning not so long ago we got to work. If you're following along on Instagram than you already knew this! I selected a bright white from Benjamin Moore called Chantilly Lace for the upper cabinets and a light gray called Nightengale for the lowers to complement our dark purplish/blackish countertops. I thought white would be too stark butting up to the counters and gray would be too dark on top – so two colors it was! In any other house I would opt for a much deeper gray on bottom for higher contrast, but with our space I worried a dark gray would totally dominate the small first floor. In retrospect, I probably could have gone a shade deeper, but don’t tell Eli I said so! ;)

Paint alone made a huge difference in the kitchen

The space feels much brighter and bigger now! Of course, paint was just the first step so this isn't a true "After" photo. We plan to add tile backsplash, under cabinet lighting, refinish the floors, and the fridge wall still has big transformations coming its way, too!

But as kitchen renovations go, painting the cabinets is the biggest bang for your buck. At less than $300 it wasn’t chump change like I thought it would be, but it was way more palatable than the thousands of dollars typically sunk into kitchen renos. Honestly it would have been cheaper had I not spent almost $50 on paint samples just to decide the colors and then when I chose 2 colors having to double supplies like paint, rollers, and trays.

I could type all day about choosing the right grit for your doors and the wipeability of semi-gloss vs. satin finishes, but wouldn't a how-to video be so much more fun? Take a gander, and I'll include some more details at the bottom of the post for the book worms in the house.

Yes, "If you like the video, like it." Gah – Newbie on camera alert! I meant like it on my new Youtube channel! If you need me I'll be spending the foreseeable future doing Ron Burgandy vocal exercises and practicing my non-regional diction. Huge thanks to my (literal) homeboy Eli for putting together the video! 

If you're still dying for more details, here's a supply list and some tips not mentioned in the video. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section, and I'll do my best to answer them!

Here’s what we used:

Supplies you'll need for painting your kitchen cabinets
  • Power drill
  • Orbital hand sander ($60) & detail hand sander (had this already)
  • 220 grit paper for the hand sanders 
  • 80 grit and 220 grit sanding blocks – $4 each
  • Liquid Sanding Deglosser – $7
  • Plastic Tarp & painter's tape to quarantine the kitchen – $10
  • Tarp zipper (optional splurge) – $10
  • Builders paper or dropcloth for the floor – $11
  •  1 gallon of Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer (only used half the can) – $20
  •  1 gallon of Benjamin Moore Advance semi-gloss paint in Chantilly Lace (only needed half a gallon but store was out of quart cans, so they gave me the contractor discount) – $43
  • 1 gallon of Benjamin Moore Advance semi-gloss paint in Nightengale (again, only needed half a gallon) – $43
  • 2” angled brush (one for each us) – $7 each
  • 4” paint roller (one for each us) – $5 each
  • 4” foam rollers (we went through 12, and I’m still kicking myself for using woven instead of foam) – $3 each
  • Mini paint trays (we went through 6) – $2 each

Some tips we picked up during this DIY: 

  • Number your doors and hardware

We numbered our doors and drawer fronts in the hole left by removing the hardware and preserved the label with painters tape. Then we drew a quick-n-dirty reference map of the kitchen to keep track of what went where. We also collected the hardware for each cabinet in its own baggie labeled with the corresponding number. 

  • Careful with the tape

We put down builder paper to protect the floors and put up a tarp wall to protect the living room, but the tape (both painters and gaffers)  ripped up bits of the floor finish here and there. How ironic, right? Weirdo that I am, I was actually happy about this because i think it means sanding will be easy when we go to refinish the floors!

  • Use a sander that hooks up to a vaccum

The orbital sander is the bomb. It's faster and more effective than the mouse hand sander, but arguably it's best feature is that it hooks up to a shop-vac to minimize dust. That was half the reason I got a second sander because I knew we'd have a huge mess on our hands. If you do get the orbital sander, I'd recommend practicing with it on a big wood scrap or something you don't care about before sanding anything precious. I bought it minutes before we started this project and was terrified of ruining the cabinets, so I stuck with the sander I knew and let Eli handle the orbital.

  • Keep an eye on the door edges

Any excess paint around the edge of a door can turn into a drip that adheres the door to the builder paper. There were a couple instances where we had to do touchup sanding and painting because of this.

  • Give yourself time and use thin layers

Painting your cabinets is a lot like painting your nails. Thin coats and adequate drying time are really the secret. This whole project took us 7 days, but we should have allotted 9. We painted one coat per day (prime front, prime back, 1st coat of paint on front, 2nd coat of paint on front, 1st coat of paint on back, 2nd coat of paint on back), but the fronts really needed 36 to 48 hours to cure before flipping them over to do the backs. Because we rushed it, the paper stuck to the paint in a couple places and we had to touch it up. Also keep in mind that we saved a bunch of time and effort by sticking with the same hardware and painting our cabinets while they were still in perfect condition. These two conditions meant we didn't have to fill in holes with wood filler or deal with the anxiety of drilling new holes in freshly painted cabinets. 

Anything else you want to know? Leave me a question in the comments below! And if you paint your cabinets I'd love to see them – just tag them as #CabinetRefresh!  

There's still a lot to do in this room, but it feels so good to finally cross this big project off my list! What do you guys think I should do for the tile backsplash? And I'm all ears on suggestions for floor stains! I'm considering options all over the board, from dark brown to white wash and even gray. Lay it on me!