Catherine StewartHow to have a grey (gray), weathered deck

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.

Our grey timber back deck - and Balzac

Our finished grey ‘weathered’ deck.  And Balzac

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!

Our back deck had remnants of dark stain & was dry and splintery

Our back deck had remnants of dark stain & was dry and splintery

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.

Cetol-HLS_1Ltrs-300x300After 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.


Deck close up after application of Sikkens Cetol HLS

Deck close up after application of Sikkens Cetol HLS

Gray, weathered deck - and Balzac the cat

Gray, weathered deck – and Balzac the cat

Weathered cypress deck-Design & photo by Jim Fogarty

Weathered cypress deck – Design & photo by Jim Fogarty

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.”

Quantum Timber Finishes Aquaoil Stain on recycled timber -Design & Photo by Jim Fogarty

Quantum Timber Finishes Aquaoil Stain on recycled timber -Design & photo by Jim Fogarty

“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!

Our 'weathered' grey deck in April 2016

Our ‘weathered’ grey deck in April 2016

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Catherine Stewart

About Catherine Stewart

Award-winning garden journalist, blogger and photographer; writer for garden magazines and co-author of 'Waterwise Gardening'; landscape designer turned landscape design judge and critic; compulsive networker and lover of generally putting fingers in lots of pies. Particularly mud pies. Original creator of GardenDrum. South Coast NSW.

26 thoughts on “How to have a grey (gray), weathered deck

  1. It’s funny how, in this era of “too much choice”, there can be some things for which there appears to be almost no choice at all. Your difficulty in finding a soft greyish stain or timber treatment for your deck is a case in point. I’ve been having trouble finding outdoor masonry paint in a dark charcoal grey/brown. Apart from black, and a colour they call “chocolate”, which has way too much red in it, all the available colours are light. Why? I want something to make the very ugly rendered side walls of a set of steps disappear as much as possible. At present they are painted a light beige, which makes them stand out in exactly the way I don’t want. If anyone knows of suitable charcoal grey masonry paint available in the UK I’d love to hear about it.

  2. I too am a lover of the beautiful greying timber on decks and fences – why is there a proliferation of that hideous colourbond fencing in Australia??
    Truly, it makes me weep.
    Anyway, one day I am pleased to see your site to see real beauty in gardening.
    Thank you.

  3. Pingback: How To Have A Grey Weathered Deck –

  4. Thanks catherine! I really dislike all that color that wood treatment adds.
    We just bought a house with a grey deck. A friend said we need to do something about it, but I don’t want its color to change.
    Every video on youtube shows you a cheesy stained wood deck!
    I’ll follow your advice. 🙂

  5. hi catherine informative post thanks! i’m certainly with you when you say “I do like a rich timber-coloured deck in the right place, but this wasn’t it.”
    i have a 2 year old deck made form merbau. it has an intergrain glossy stain so its super red and i don’t like it at all! 🙁
    the rest of our house is scandinavian style so light wood. the red is very jarring indeed. if i had my time again id choose cypress or blackbutt
    as i now realize i want a more blonde or grey look, but put it down to inexperience and perhaps not realized what i wanted under til after…its almost purple in the morning sun! very much like this
    its undercover so i cant wait for it to grey off naturally. now the wife wont let me replace it with a blonde wood 🙂 so i’m thinking of sanding it back and then ether leaving it completely with no stain or oil. to grey off over time or perhaps using the cetol grey you mentioned above
    appreciate your thoughts?

    • It’s possible – I have read that merbau/kwila will eventually weather to a light silver colour but, as there is so much oil in the timber, it can take a long time to do that. However I also know that the oiliness of merbau/kwila means you can’t paint it, and so that same property might prevent Cetol or a similar product from penetrating. You’d need to check that first.

  6. I am in a terrible quandry..we have to replace our deck, which was treated pine, and a lovely grey colour, but hasnt worn well at all. The builders all insist merbau is the only timber to use, and it is hard to be insistent about using something that may be harder to come by, in the face of such opposition. Where to look in Sydney for Cypress from old windbreaks?? Any ideas?

    • Not sure about recycled windbreaks but have you tried Ironwood at Rozelle? They re-mill reclaimed timber from lots of sources. Although merbau is a highly durable outdoor timber, it is a rainforest timber associated with deforestation in South East Asia and I would certainly not consider it unless I was really sure that the entire supply was FSC.

  7. Hi Catherine,

    Just researching timber options for grey weathered timber screens and wondering what kind of timber your verandah is made from pls.

    Thank you,

  8. Hi Kelli – the deck was there when we bought the house so I don’t know what type of hardwood it is. I’m guessing it would be a mix of various eucalypt timbers from the NSW South Coast, probably spotted gum, blue gum and blackbutt, but I couldn’t be sure. It was stained a very dark brown when we bought the house and got so hot in the summer we couldn’t walk on it!

  9. Hi there
    Have any of you guys tried soaking steel wool in vinegar then applying to the timber you would like to have the weathered grey look on?
    I’ve tried on furniture and it works beautifully…maybe it could work on decking if not too big of a job….I’m about to try it out on our new refurbished deck!

  10. G’day,

    We’ve just chucked down a grey gum mini deck out the front of our Hobart home and are waiting for it to weather. Any advice on the optimal/approximate time for the boards to weather (ours get good sun and rain) so we can hit it with the deck oil before they start to splinter or crack?

    I’ve heard a couple of months all the way up to a year so any thing you have to offer from your experience would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hello Aidan – Our deck was old stained hardwood that we sanded back and then left to weather, not new timber, but I think it took about 8-12 months before it was grey enough to seal.

  11. Hi Catherine,
    Thanks for your page on weathered decks.
    We are hoping to have the grey weathered look on a new deck.
    It needs to be hardwood for BAL19 rating…so Cypress is out.
    Its either Merbau, Spotted Gum, Ironbark or Blackbutt.
    As far as avoiding splinters, and having it weather nicely, which one do you suggest ?
    Merbau is the cheapest, the rest about the same price as each other, but Jim suggests avoiding Merbau. be continued……

  12. …the second part..the website form stopped me accessing the POST if comment was too long….
    And will it need to be treated with the transparent Sikkens you found ? as this is normally quite expensive also.

    So just wondering which timber do you think will “look after itself ” best of all.
    We are not much into maintaining decks 😉


    • Hello Carlo – if you leave a hardwood deck to weather with no protective oil or finish, the timber will become splintery. I’m sorry but I don’t know which of the timbers you suggest might weather better than the others. I would personally not use merbau unless it is FSC certified (some merbau from West Papua now has FSC certification) as much of it is sourced in Indonesia, which does not have a good track record for protecting its old-growth forests. As far as the other timbers go, they’re all good quality Australian hardwoods but will definitely need to be maintained. If you want maintenance-free then you could use a decking substitute like composite wood, or timber-look tiles.

      • Thanks for your reply Catherine.
        We have finally put down spotted gum decking…looks great but we want to age it to silver more quickly as it doesnt get rain or sun evenly so I dont think it will age equally all over.

        If anyone knows how to age spotted gum more quickly ie: washing it with bleach ? or perhaps hosing it regularly to leach the tannins out ? we would apperciate your experience.


  13. Our front deck doesn’t get sun and rain evenly either but it has now aged equally all over. maybe leave it a little longer – ours took about 18 months to age evenly.

    So glad I finally found some useful information on this subject and looks like others are too. Our back pool deck is Merbau and so hot through the day we cannot walk on it without shoes. We have been re-coating ours every six months with an oil as it has full sun in the middle of the day and we’re in Queensland. This is just too expensive so after reading the above I am going to give it a good clean and then leave it to grey off. I’m then going to stain with the silver grey Sikkens – hoping it soaks in given the timber is five years old and I will have cleaned it off really well. Once that is done I am going to coat with a clear non-slip finish because the other problem we have with the deck is that it is super slippery when wet. Thanks so much for all of this excellent information and photographs.

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