How to Paint or Stain Between Deck Boards

When it comes to entertaining spaces, few home features beat a beautiful, spacious deck. While a natural wood finish is an excellent option for decking, painting your deck allows you to add a pop of color or blend your deck into the rest of your home’s exterior. If you’re like me, painting the boards isn’t the challenge. The tricky part is figuring out how to paint between deck boards.

Usually, you have four options if you need to paint between deck boards. Slim bristled, crack and groove, and sponge brushes are all viable options that work similarly. However, you can also use a paint pump sprayer to get the job done quickly.

Choosing the best approach for your project typically means knowing the process involved with each one. If you’re trying to figure out how to paint between deck boards, here’s what you need to know.

How to Paint Between Deck Boards

Should You Paint or Stain Between Deck Boards?

When painting or staining your deck, it’s typically pretty easy to cover the upper surface of the board. However, the gap between deck boards generally is around 1/8-inch, though some are a hair wider. As a result, getting paint or stain into the space is a little challenging.

However, painting or staining between the deck boards is worth the effort. Natural wood is susceptible to the elements. When rain, snow, sleet, or ice ends up on your deck, it leads to water dripping down the sides of your deck boards. Without a protective surface, that can cause issues like warping, cracking, and rotting.

Painting or staining between deck boards ensures that the protective layer extends beyond the upper surface. You’re shielding potentially vulnerable parts of your deck from the elements. As a result, the wood is less susceptible to damage, extending the life of your deck.

Additionally, staining and painting between the deck boards enhance the look of your deck. While the space between the boards is small, it’s still visible from certain angles.

If the color of the wood and the shade of paint or stain differ, not painting between the boards can give your deck an odd striped appearance. Painting or staining between the boards makes the overall look uniform and cohesive. That makes the new finish look higher quality and consistent, elevating the appearance of your deck.

How to Paint Between Deck Boards

Before you start painting between your deck boards, you need to take a few steps to prepare for the project. First, it’s wise to get some personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly gloves, goggles, a breathing mask, and disposable coveralls.

Ensure the space under and around your deck is protected. Use drop cloths or plastic sheeting to shield the area under your deck and nearby plants. Also, remove any items on your deck, including furniture, grills, and décor.

Along with cleaning the surface of your deck, sweep out dirt, dust, or debris trapped between deck boards. If you see moss, mold, or mildew, treat that before you start painting.

Finally, make sure your deck is completely dry before you start painting. Make sure there isn’t rain in your forecast for the next four days. Also, ensure that the temperature is appropriate for painting, aiming for temperatures in the 60°F to 85°F range.

After that, you’ll want to gather your painting supplies and prepare your coatings. Make sure you have the right brush or sprayer, painting trays, containers for rinsing, and anything else you might require.

Priming before you paint improves adhesion, so it’s an intelligent choice. You can use the same process for priming between your deck boards for painting. However, if you choose a deck paint with primer built in, it’s potentially unnecessary to use a separate primer.

Once that’s handled, you’re ready to paint. Here are step-by-step overviews of how to paint between deck boards using different tools.

1. Slim Bristled Brush

1. Choose the Right Brush

Paint brushes come in a variety of sizes. Choose a paintbrush that’s slim enough to fit comfortably in the gap between your deck boards. If the paintbrush is wide enough that you’d have to force it, the results aren’t as clean. When in doubt, go with a very slim option that gives you room to spare.

2. Prepare the Brush

Using a dry paintbrush isn’t the best choice. If you’re using water-based deck paint, dip the paintbrush in water. Then, remove the excess moisture with a paper towel, leaving it slightly damp.

For oil-based paint, you can dip the brush in mineral spirits. Then, remove the excess with paper towels. Just make sure to dispose of the paper towels carefully, as mineral spirits are highly flammable.

3. Dip the Brush in Paint

After preparing the brush, dip the brush in the paint. Make sure you don’t plunge it down far enough to get paint up to the handle. Instead, go a little beyond the depth of the deck boards. Anything past that typically leads to waste.

4. Wipe Off Excess

When you dip the brush, you’ll want to gently wipe off the excess paint. An easy technique to use is putting a rubber band around the paint can. Using the edge can make resealing the can messier, so the rubber band lets you wipe off the excess while keeping the edges cleaner.

5. Apply Paint

Once you have some paint on the brush, it’s time to apply it to the edges of your deck board. Insert the brush at an angle, guiding a corner of the brush into the gap. Going straight in can cause caught bristles to bend and flare out. By leading with the corner, that’s less likely.

After getting the brush into the gap, use smooth, even strokes along the length of the board. If the paintbrush contacts both board edges, one stroke may do the job. If not, you make need to paint one edge, re-dip the brush in the paint, and do the other side.

Make sure the paint layer is thin. Excess paint may glob up between your deck boards. The goal is to apply an even, thin coating, allowing the gap between the boards to remain clear and visible after painting.

Repeat steps three through five until you paint all of the deck board edges.

6. Let the Paint Dry

After you apply the first coat, let the paint dry for several hours. How long you’ll need to wait before applying a second coat varies depending on the type of paint you’re using. Check the manufacturer’s directions for drying timelines.

7. Add a Second Coat

Once the first coat is ready for an additional layer, you can apply the second coat. Use the same process as outlined in steps three through five.

8. Let the Paint Cure

In most cases, two coats of paint are sufficient. However, you can repeat steps six and seven if the manufacturer recommends more. Then, let the paint fully cure before using your deck.

2. Crack and Groove Brush

1. Choose a Crack and Groove Brush

Crack and groove brushes are designed for small spaces. Choose one designed with decks in mind, ensuring they’re the proper width and length.

2. Prepare the Crack and Groove Brush

Before applying paint, you may need to prepare the crack and groove brush by dipping it in water or mineral spirits and removing the excess. Whether that’s necessary depends on the manufacturer’s recommendations, so read the instructions that come with the brush.

3. Dip the Brush in Paint

Dip the crack and groove brush to add paint. How high the paint needs to go depends on the brush material and the length of the bristles, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.

4. Wipe Off Excess

Wipe off the excess paint to make it easier to apply a thin layer between your deck boards without globs. Usually, a rubber band on the paint can work well. However, you can also use the edges of a paint tray if you’re using one.

5. Apply Paint

Insert the crack and groove brush carefully into the gap between your deck boards. Use moderate pressure and smooth strokes, applying a thin, even layer of paint.

Generally, you’ll want to apply a bit of new paint with every pass. Repeat steps three through five until all of the deck board edges are painted.

6. Let the Paint Dry

You need to let the paint dry a bit before applying a second coat. Refer to the paint manufacturer’s directions to determine the recommended drying time.

7. Add the Second Coat

After the first coat is dry, use the process outlined in steps three through five to apply the second coat. Make sure the second coat is thin, and tackle any globs before moving on to a new board.

8. Let the Paint Cure

If necessary, apply additional coats, allowing the paint to dry between each one. Finally, let the paint fully cure before using your deck.

3. Sponge Brush

1. Choose a Sponge Brush

Katzco 10 Pack - Poly Foam Brushes with Wooden Handles - for Any Professional Paint Job, Oil Stain, Watercolor, Art and Craft Project; Use for Professional and Amateur ProjectsSponge brushes can squish down, making them easier to fit into tight spaces. Choose a moldable version that’s about the same size as the gap between your boards. That way, you can hit the edges of both boards in one pass.

2. Prepare the Sponge Brush

Before painting, you might have to prepare the sponge brush by dipping it in mineral spirits or water and removing the excess. Since whether this is necessary depends on the brush material, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

3. Dip the Brush in Paint

Dip the sponge brush in the paint, going just barely beyond the depth of the deck board.

4. Wipe Off Excess

Before you paint, wipe off the excess. If you’re using a paint can, a rubber band around the paint can lets you remove the excess without making the edge of the can messy. If you’re using a paint tray, wipe it off on the edge of it.

5. Apply Paint

Insert the sponge brush into the gap between your deck boards. Use smooth strokes along the length of the board to apply a thin, even layer of paint. Then, repeat steps three through five until you finish painting all of the deck board edges.

6. Let the Paint Dry

Before applying a second coat, let the paint dry a bit. Refer to the paint manufacturer’s instructions for recommended drying times between coats.

7. Add a Second Coat

Use the process outlined in steps three through five to apply the second coat. Repeat step six before applying additional coats using steps three through five.

8. Let the Paint Cure

After you apply all of the coats, it’s time to let the paint cure. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for curing time details.

4. Pump Sprayer

1. Prepare Your Pump Sprayer and Paint

If you use a paint sprayer, you’ll need to prepare it and the paint according to the sprayer manufacturer’s directions. Usually, you’ll need to add a thinning agent to the paint. Check the instructions for the recommended thinner and ratio and how much you need to fill the reservoir.

2. Pump the Sprayer

After the paint is in the reservoir, pump the sprayer to build up pressure. How many pumps are needed can vary, so check the manufacturer’s instructions.

3. Apply a Thin Coat

Once there’s enough pressure, you can apply a thin coat of paint to the edges of your deck boards. Check the manufacturer’s directions for the recommended distance. Use smooth, even swiping motions to apply the paint.

4. Let the First Coat Dry

After applying the first coat, let it dry. Review the paint manufacturer’s recommendations for drying times before adding more coats.

5. Apply the Second Coat

Repeat steps two and three to apply the second coat. Repeat step four if you need additional coats before returning to steps two and three.

Once all of the coats are applied, let the paint fully cure before using your deck. Check the paint manufacturer’s product information for curing times.

Do You Need to Prime Before Painting Between Deck Boards?

Priming before you paint improves adhesion. Plus, outdoor wood primer usually offers additional protection, helping your deck last longer.

Generally, it’s best to prime before painting between deck boards. However, if you choose an outdoor paint with primer built in, skipping a separate primer is potentially an option.

Should You Sand Between the Deck Boards Before Painting?

Light sanding before you paint between your deck boards is a good idea. Along with removing splinters, it gives you an even surface that promotes paint adhesion.

Since many traditional sanding tools won’t fit between deck boards, look for a sanding file. Some detail power sanders may fit into the gap, too, though you’ll want to check the size carefully before buying a new tool.

How to Stain Between Deck Boards

How to Stain Between Deck Boards

Generally, you can use all the above methods to stain between deck boards. Both brushes and sponge applicators can work well. Make sure to only dip part of the way up the brush or sponge when adding the stain and remove excess before applying it to your deck boards.

If you want to use a pump sprayer instead, make sure you use a stain compatible with sprayers. Additionally, review any manufacturer’s instructions to see if diluting the stain is necessary. Stain is thinner than paint, so diluting isn’t always needed. However, some pump sprayers may require it, so check the directions.

How to Paint Cracks in Deck Boards

If you have cracks in your deck boards, you have a few options. You can use a slim paintbrush to work paint directly into the crack, as it will fill some of the space.

However, if the crack is large, consider using wood filler first, then you get an even surface before you start painting.

How to Remove Paint Between Deck Boards

If you need to remove old paint from between your deck boards, you can use a chemical stripper. However, manual approaches like sanding or power washing don’t involve potentially harmful chemicals. As a result, the latter strategy is safer for your yard, as well as for people and pets.

The Best Way to Paint Between Deck Boards

Technically, there isn’t a single best way to paint between your deck boards, as all of the options above can yield similar results. Slim bristled, crack and groove, and sponge brushes are affordable approaches with similar processes, so you can choose the option that feels the most comfortable. If you want to speed things up and can invest a little, consider a pump sprayer instead.

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