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Happy Mother’s Day, Jen. Let’s Refinish the Mahogany Porch!

Refinishing A Mahogany Porch :: Working with the Wife

First, I hope you know I have been working on other things. But I did take some pics of our work around the house this weekend. Second, I never claim to be perfect. I admit that unless I am getting paid for it, I am usually pretty lazy with my research. Third, I won’t hide things in these pages — good and bad. Promise. I am a try-it-yourselfer and sometimes — I try things, just to try.

Mother’s day at my house

No, the laundry room is not done. Something tells me that would have been the best Mother’s Day gift I could have ever given my wife. Well, honestly, I know because she told me. But alas — the laundry room is not finished.

We made arrangements to send the girls over to my mother’s house this past weekend. They were going to spend the night with their Gram. For her, my mother, that’s the best Mother’s Day gift ever (who knew). This was good for Jenny & I, because it freed up some time to address something that has been weighing rather heavily on us: A mahogany porch that was not 4 years old yet, and in need of re-finishing, again. For Mother’s Day, we work on refinishing a mahogany porch.

The porch in question

A few years back, and you probably know, we had a little time with this house before we moved in. During that time, one big area of immediate need was the exterior porches. The guy we had working with us, well, I don’t like talking about him too much, suggested mahogany.

I know a little bit about wood; I do. Fir is likely the most common selection for porch decking. But since the mahogany was available for a penny a foot cheaper at his lumber supplier, I said, “Make it so.” And he did, but it was our job to finish it.

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The decking went down, and straight up, it looked beautiful. We made the right call. I asked my guy how to finish it, i.e. how to protect it. . .he said, “Poly it.” So I looked around and thought about it a bit. I had collected several cans of clear exterior grade spar urethane over the years; it seemed like a good choice on a covered porch. Forget the fact that the can said, “not intended for flooring”; I had Jen, our painter, put it down.

That too — looked awesome. And it did for awhile.

Take two

Problem was — about 18 or so months in — we noticed that the front edges of the boards, though, were starting to loose their finish, flaking and peeling away. I mean come on: Couldn’t have that. . .the spar urethane had to go. I asked a neighbor, a guy who works with boats, about it. He said — he didn’t know why the finish was failing, but he did suggest, however, that what we were seeing was probably not only an effect of water exposure, but also due in part to the sun. I guess it made sense. UV rays are a bear, and my Douglas fir siding can attest to that. Did he have a solution? No.

I began to look elsewhere. I pulled a copy of This Old House, the mag, out of my archives. And I read: Two ways to go, the article generally said. I don’t recall the exact terminology, but: Way 1 — hard shell finish — like a urethane, or Way 2 — an oil-based treatment — like a Thompson’s Water Seal.

With a couple quick Google searches, I targeted a product, Penofin. Pricey and hard to find, I searched on. Then I came across Australian Timber Oil. I didn’t really read anything that told me that this was the product for decking, but available at the Lowe’s, and at around $21 a gallon, we’ll give it shot. So my wife re-finished part of the side porch.

That too — looked awesome. And it did for awhile.

Once, twice, three times a lady

The problem was — with the Timber Oil — on a high traffic porch, it simply wore off. Wear was even and it appears that the boards were still getting some protection. But dirt was getting rubbed in, and some of the boards were starting to cup. That wouldn’t do.

So . . . we took this weekend. It was a few nice days of bonding. I removed the porch rails so we could do the re-finish for reals. Jenny worked the belt sander, and I the random orbital. We had the porch completely stripped in about 6 hours of work. It looked awesome.

This time, and we had been using this product a bit on our fence, we were going to give it a go: Floods-UV5. We brushed it on in about an hour.

That too — looks awesome. And hopefully it will for awhile.

Bottom Line & Lessons Learned

From the limited research I’ve done: There is no way to avoid the re-finishing dance. If you like the look of natural wood on your exterior porches, be prepared to re-finish the surface frequently. This Flood product, for example, only offers three years between treatments. So . . . hopefully, this time, we will actually get that full three years. I’ll let you know.

For me, lessons learned:

1. It is wise, sometimes, to check your contractor’s advice. & Pay attention to labels.
2. Do your research, always. Basically, and what I have gathered, pick a product, since you are going to have to treat the surface repeatedly, that does not require extensive preparation before application. That’s why I am on this oil-based wood treatment kick right now. Hopefully, in third years, it will be pressue wash and reapply. No sanding needed.
3. Re-finishing a porch is a great way to spend a weekend with your significant other (hopefully mine felt the same).

For more on Porches, including How to Jack Up a Porch, check out our Porch category. Cheers. ~jb

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