How to Sand a Wood Deck: A Step-by-Step Guide

Sanding a wood deck is crucial to extending it's lifespan and preparing it for staining!
Renee Lewis
Renee Lewis
Last Update:
July 3, 2024

Sanding your wood deck is an important step in the refinishing process. Once you have used a power washer to clean the deck the grains of wood will be raised as they expand with water. Once expanded, they will remain raised when dry - potentially causing lots of splinters!

Why Sanding Your Wood Deck is Important

For this reason, sanding your wooden deck is crucial for comfortable feet on your deck boards. Sanding your wood deck will refresh the look of your wood and prepare it for a re-stain. If you sand it you will increase your wood deck’s durability and extend its lifespan.

Tools and Materials Needed

To sand a deck you need a floor sander - the right tool for this job is usually an orbital sander as opposed to a belt sander. That’s because most of the time decks are made from softwoods and belt sanders can gouge soft woods.

If you have a large job and are worried about sanding the entire deck with a standard household orbital sander, there is always the option for homeowners to lease a commercial upright rental sander from home improvement stores like home depot or rental outlets. You could also rent multi-tool or detail sanders from those types of stores for hand railings or more intricate areas that need to be sanded as well.

Other supplies:

60 or 80 grit sandpaper (select lower grit for deck boards with more wear and tear)

120 grit sandpaper (select higher grit for handrails)

Power washer, pressure washer or deck cleaner

Shop vac

Deck screws or fasteners (as needed)

Deck stain or brightener

Wood filler and putty knife (as needed)

Knee pads, safety glasses and dust mask

Sanding block, multi-tool or detail sander for deck railings or handrails (as needed)

Hammer or screwdriver (as needed)

Step-by-Step Guide to Sanding Your Wood Deck

How to and a wood deck

Step One: Prep your wood deck

The first step to sanding your wood deck is to prepare it for the sanding process. In order to get that smooth finish, first you will need to clean up your wooden deck. Move all furniture and other items off of the deck and use deck cleaner or gently use a power washer to pressure wash dirt, debris, mold, mildew, grime and whatever else might be on your wood deck at this point!

Next, inspect the deck for loose deck boards and secure those with deck nails or deck screws. Tighten loose deck screws. Tap in any nails that are popped up with a hammer. Fill in holes and grooves with wood filler or putty. Starting with a smooth surface is important because nails or screws that are sticking out could easily rip up the sandpaper on your sander.

Finally, check the weather forecast to be sure you have enough time with dry weather to complete the project, including staining. If you sand the deck and then it gets wet before you stain it, the wood grain will rise again and you will need to re-sand the deck.

Step Two: Sand your deck boards

Attach your 60 or 80 grit sandpaper to your orbital sander and use medium pressure to sand your deck boards. As a DIY sander, the important thing to remember is not to press so hard that you gouge the wood. Aim for evenness, but not perfection!

Use the sander in the direction of the wood finish for the best results. Use the same approach for the stair treads and outer edges of the deck boards with your detail sander. Orbital sanders are too big to sand these areas.

Step Three: Sand your deck railings and posts

Use a detail sander or hand sander with 80 grit sandpaper - better for a smooth finish for your hands - to sand the hand rails and posts. You can even use 120 grit sandpaper on the outer edges of the rails for extra avoidance of splinters.

Although these areas take more time because they are so detailed, they are worth the effort so do not overlook them!

Step Four: Add the finishing touches

Once you have sanded everything there will be a lot of dust everywhere so the next step is to use a shop vac to vacuum the entire deck. You have to be very thorough here, because any dust left over will impact how well the stain stays on the surface of your deck boards. So if you need to, use a damp cloth to get into corners and any areas that dust remains after vacuuming.

When the deck is clean and dry, add the deck stain or deck brightener of your choice.

Post-Sanding Care

After you have sanded and sealed your deck surface, and replaced the old stain with a new stain, you will be good for at least a few years. After three years, it is recommended to reseal your wood deck with a new stain. You should also give your deck a good pressure wash annually to maintain your wood deck.

Tips for Best Results

Tip #1

Sand in the direction of the wood grain

Tip #2

Use a random orbital sander because it is easier to handle than other types of sanders and is less likely to damage wooden deck boards

Tip #3

Check the weather to make sure you have dry conditions - if it rains in between when you sand and stain your wood deck, you will need to sand all over again


Tools for sanding a wood deck

No matter what kind of experience you have with home improvement projects, deck restoration is within most people’s ability. It definitely takes the right tools and some elbow grease, but you can rent the tools if you do not own them and do not want to buy them.

Whether you have a hardwood floor on your deck or it is made from soft wood, the right electric sander is likely available at your local home improvement store. You can make your wood floor look like new as a DIY project with no experience. If you would rather hire a professional, they will be able to finish the deck sanding in just a day!

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