I love the look of grey (or gray, depending on your country of origin), weathered timber. It somehow looks refined, elegant, and folksy all at the same time. But the splinters! If you leave most timber, especially hardwoods, to weather to grey without preserving them in some way, you will be sorry. But it’s not that easy.
When we bought our current house over 10 years ago, the deck had been stained a dark brown. It didn’t look too bad but, come summer, it was impossible to walk on it barefoot once it had been in the sun for a few hours. Maybe the previous house owners always wore shoes? Anyway, we gradually let the dark stain weather off over the following years. The deck became more temperature friendly as the boards paled to a beautiful weathered grey but of course, the timber started to deteriorate too, showing lots of fine splits and shedding splinters. Ouch!
Meantime I’d fallen in love with the silver-grey look, which suited our dark brick and grey trim house perfectly. A rich reddish or orange timber colour was going to strike a really jarring note, (as well as possibly being too dark and hot all over again) but when I did some research about the best way to refurbish the deck, they were all the images I saw. I do like a rich timber-coloured deck in the right place, but this wasn’t it. I didn’t want to paint the timber as I knew once the furniture started getting dragged across the surface again it wouldn’t stay looking good for long, plus I liked being able to see the timber grain. The decking stain sample boards I saw also looked obviously, well, stained, rather than natural. Picky, I know.
The only solution seemed to be to sand off the boards (also to get rid of the rest of the dark stain left around the edges) and let it weather off towards grey but, before it started to splinter again, finish it with something that would enhance the grey but be translucent enough for it to look like natural rather than stained timber. We also needed to replace a few boards that had become too cupped or splintered. The sanding and re-nailing didn’t take too long but we had to leave it for over 6 months before the colour started to even up between the old and new boards.
After looking through lots of decking stain catalogues, we finally found Sikkens Cetol HLSe stain in ‘silver grey’. It’s not a regularly stocked colour so we had to order it in. These photos show two coats and, as you can see, the timber looks quite naturally weathered, rather than colour-stained. There’s still some brownish tones as the timber hadn’t quite weathered off but I’m happy with these subtle highlights.
I knew that my friend and colleague, Melbourne designer Jim Fogarty had done a couple of grey decks so I also asked his advice.
Jim says “It depends on the type of timber – sadly a lot of rainforest hardwoods have been used in Australia in the past (I am guilty myself in the past) but now I know I have changed my ways and never use Merbau (Kwila). You can either let it weather naturally and the red hardwoods will eventually grey off – or you can just use a natural decking oil which preserves the timber colour without changing the colour as such but it wont be grey. I have stained a deck grey before and I have done cypress decks that were left to weather grey. Cypress is a great option as it greys off beautifully and is environmentally friendly as it comes from old farm windbreaks.”
“Problem is when you restore an old deck you should sand it back first and this brings out the original timber colour and tropical hardwoods don’t take to stain well as they are so hard, the stain doesn’t penetrate and soak in. Best options if you want to stain a deck are softer decking timber like Treated Pine and Cypress”
Jim also suggests that if you’re thinking about using timber outside, you read the HMA Vic Sustainable Timber Policy which explains the environmental dos and don’ts.
UPDATE: And here’s our deck, 3 years later, in 2016. As you can see, it’s now less brown-toned than it was before. It’s probably time to clean it off and paint on some more Sikkens but we haven’t got around to it yet!