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Refreshing Your Wood Furniture

If you have a wooden picnic table, benches, chairs, swing or other wooden outdoor furniture that is showing its age, refresh it before the summer starts. You donít need to hire a professional to do this chore, you can do it yourself! All you need is a pressure washer, fresh stain and other refinishing supplies, some patience and a little time. This article gives you an overview of how to plan for and perform the cleaning and staining. If you have not done this before, read on, and learn from my mistakes!

If you donít own a power or pressure washer you can rent one for a day or two at an equipment rental store. You donít need an industrial strength washer to clean outdoor furniture, but you want to get a washer that delivers water under a pressure of at least 1400 p.s.i. (Pounds per square inch). Make sure it has attachments to help you reach and clean different areas. Whether it is gas or electric is strictly your preference. I think electric is more convenient and it has plenty of power for this kind of job. You can usually get a decent home pressure washer for under $200. The home use washer will not be able to clean high walls or some other things that a professional grade washer will, but it can handle many smaller jobs.

Here is the step-by-step approach, along with tips I picked up doing it myself.

1.      Clean any spider webs or loose dirt off of the furniture with cloth and garden hose. Choose a platform for the power washing. Make sure your spray will not harm the surface you are using as a platform for the pieces you are cleaning, or any surrounding plants or structures. Grass does not make a good platform, as mud is quickly formed and sprayed back onto the items you are cleaning. A clean patio or driveway, which drains quickly, works well, but remember, power washing begets power washing. Once you make a clean spot on something you will no doubt end up cleaning the rest with the washer. And, once you see what a difference the power wash makes you will start looking around at the other possible cleanups you can do to spruce up the place as long as you have the washer out. Also, be sure to read the directions for any safety measures and directions for use the manufacturer recommends before beginning.

2.      Decide which surfaces should be washed first, and arrange all the pieces so that you can get to them and wash that side. Before you start the washer make sure to put on protective goggles. If your washer is very loud wear ear protection as well. Oh, and make sure that whatever clothes and shoes you are wearing will not be harmed by getting wet, and that the temperature outside will be comfortable when you are soaked. Hook up the washer following directions supplied by the manufacturer.

3.      Power wash with plain hose water (no chemicals or soaps are required), removing all the old stain or paint, as well as any water stains and dirt. Move the power washer wand in a pushing motion like scraping paint with a metal scraper, keeping the end of the wand a few inches from the surface you are cleaning. You will see the water quickly and easily removing the old surface, revealing clean wood. Try to use even and slow movements to keep the cleaning uniform. Turn the pieces to each side in turn until all the sides have been washed. Most pieces will require two complete power washings to get them uniformly clean. For furniture this means turning everything over to do the bottoms and tops several times.

4.      Once you have finished washing you must let the pieces dry for 24-48 hours, depending on how humid the air is.  It is important that you have a dry weather forecast for this time, unless you can dry the pieces indoors or under cover.


5.      When the pieces are dry you are ready to sand down places where the power wash may have left a rough surface, or wood was beginning to rot. Use a sanding block with a fairly smooth surface. Clean off dust and debris left after sanding by brushing all over with a clean dry cloth.

6.      Next, it is time to stain. Power washing is time consuming, but staining takes about 2-3 times longer. First, spread out your tarps to protect the surface youíll be using as a platform. Give yourself plenty of room to move about between and around the pieces. You donít want to be bumping into a wet stained piece when you are trying to do another one. Youíll need room to put down your stain and brushes when you have to shift pieces. Lastly, when the pieces have dried and you need to shift them to do the other side, youíll need room to change their positions. Make sure you wear disposable gloves, and that you have enough pairs of them to allow you to change them after you take a break or finish for the day. Painterís coveralls look like a good idea, but they donít work well for this kind of job. They can be hard to move around in without bumping them into wet pieces.

7.      Be sure to follow directions for stirring and storing the stain you have chosen. I buy medium priced brushes, and then throw them away after the project is finished. I use a trim cup to pour a small amount of stain to carry around, so I donít have to deal with the heavy can very often. This method also limits the amount you can spill at any given moment. That is more important to some of us than others!

A word of warning, this entire project will take longer than you thought it would. My project this summer was a mahogany picnic table with 8 matching benches. I had to power wash everything twice, so that took two days. Then it had to dry for two days before I sanded it. Then it took two days to stain everything twice, and another day or two to dry. Luckily for me the weather held up and did not delay the project even further. My reward is a table and benches that look like new, and that I know are smooth and will not give my family or guests splinters!


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