Home Project Is A Pain In The Deck

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Since I am off for the summer, with classes ended, of course I have lined up some house projects to fill the time. While I happily spend hours researching and writing, processing photographs and otherwise attempting to be creative, my body also yearns for physical labor that shows more concrete results than knocking out 500 words on a manuscript still many months from completion. “You are a project guy,” someone once told me, and I plead guilty. Besides, this rambling house always has something that needs fixing or fixing up.

Thus, a few days after work ended I tackled refurbishing the deck. Our deck is ridiculously large, most of which never gets walked upon for weeks at a time, since it is around the side of the house where we don’t often go. I calculated about 2,000 square feet of surface area, plus a few hundred feet of railing and spindles — all of which had faded, was covered with mildew and in danger of rotting.

A painter came out to give an estimate about a month ago, someone who was highly recommended. He kindly took the time to explain exactly what needed to be done. First, someone would have to use an ice pick and clear out the debris between the boards — leaves, bark, twigs, pine-tree peanuts, etc. That was crucial so the water would drain and not just soak into the boards, speeding their decay. And I could not use my beloved big honking pressure washer to do this, because it would tear up the pine lumber, which is already on the bubble of falling apart. Then someone would have to use a pump sprayer and cover all surfaces with straight bleach, to kill the mildew. Once that dried, only then could a new coat of stain be applied. He estimated it would take about 25 gallons at $40 a gallon.

My mental calculator was hard at work. That’s $1,000 just for the stain. The painter was vague about how long it would take him to do the job, and when he could get to it. Finally, he sort-of admitted he didn’t really want to do all the nasty prep work, and that I probably didn’t want to pay his day rate to do the type of mindless labor — with the ice pick and bleach — that anyone halfway sentient could do. In other words, this was a DIY. I would be that someone.

I tackled the small deck first, the part by the pool that we actually use. For six hours I used an ice pick to clean out the debris between the cracks, listening to Radney Foster on the iPod. The small deck is about one-fifth of the size of the large deck. Six hours on one’s aged knees with an ice pick provides a lot of time to rethink one’s position on hiring people to do such mindless labor.

Trouble is, I’m stubborn. The notion that I would just by-gum do this job myself had so firmly entrenched itself in my head by this time that there was nothing to do but plow ahead. And the small deck turned out quite nicely, after the bleaching and re-staining. Being OCD, I decided to use a paint brush on this portion, which is the most heavily used. It took another day of sniffing oil-based stain, this time listening to Jackson Browne, but the result is a fine-looking deck.

The large deck forced me to rethink the ice pick. I could not imagine spending what I figured might be another 18 hours on my knees with an ice pick, which sounds like a plot for a bad adventure movie. I headed to the Big Orange Box Store and began looking for alternatives. I came home with a long-handled weed puller, which I pounded into a straight angle and then sharpened and thinned on a grinder. I grabbed a cheap rolling office chair out of the spare bedroom to straddle and suddenly had vastly improved this mundane task. It was still mundane and wearisome, but had risen above torturous.

The entire deck is now clean and bleached, the recycling bin filled with empty jugs. I figure I have two more days of staining, this time mainly with a pump sprayer instead of a brush. When I’m done I can say with confidence the painter would not have done any better. Of course, I can hardly get up from a chair without most of my muscles protesting, and my nostrils apparently have been permanently singed by hours of exposure to the bleach.

Time to take a break from physical labor, I suspect, and spend some hours in front of a computer screen. I’m lucky to be able to do both, way I figure.

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