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I refinished my deck so I guess I’m a god now?

Ryan Bradford and his can of "Mahogany Flame" paint.
(Ryan Bradford)

I’m not handy. I don’t know how to fix things. I consider myself a hard worker and can perform tasks with explicit direction, but so can a dog. When it comes to home repair projects, I don’t have whatever skills are required to see a problem and know the steps required to solve it. Ask me the difference between a bolt and a screw, and I’ll have to Google it. I’m never farther out of my element than when I’m walking through Home Depot, searching for the most basic element of home maintenance.

“Um, can you tell me where the (checks shopping list) tools are?”

But a funny thing happened a few months ago: while refilling some propane tanks at Lowe’s, I accidentally signed up for a Lowe’s credit card. It was one of those things where I thought the cashier was offering a rewards card and I only realized my mistake when she asked for my drivers’ license. By then, we were too far into the transaction for me to back out. I took a few deep breaths and just acted like a guy who signs up for specific-use credit cards all the time.

“Looks like you have a $13,000 credit limit,” the cashier said while finalizing the transaction. “That’s the best you can get.” I’d be lying if I said this comment didn’t fill me with a newfound pride.

Is it too far-fetched, I wondered, for me to become a handy guy? My inner Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor grunted “no” (which sounded a lot like “nooough?”)

I went home and looked for starter projects which would justify jumping into debt. Replace the dripping kitchen faucet? Nah. Build a retaining wall to keep our property from sliding into a canyon? Not likely.

Then I remembered the deck. I could refinish the deck!

After years of unrelenting sun exposure, my deck had become the structural equivalent of a mummy: desiccated, peeling, withered. The shoddy paint the builders originally used — a corny barnyard red — had faded to pink. If you ever had the desire to riddle your hands and feet with splinters, my deck was the place to be. A facelift was long overdue. Plus, the area was relatively small — about five by twelve feet. I figured if I found myself in over my head, it wouldn’t require too much effort to swim out.

There was a Dante’s Inferno-esque quality to Lowe’s when I went to pick up my supplies. Armed with the knowledge gained from many Youtube tutorials (my figurative, Virgil-esque guide in this endeavor), I could now appreciate — at least in a poetic sense — this circle of Hell.

I discovered that there were so many methods of removing paint from your deck, including power washing and chemical stripping. But I wanted to use a power sander. Although I knew it would be a little more time-consuming and cumbersome than the other methods, sanding felt more noble, and perhaps more manly.

Manliness. If I were to sit down and really dig into my psyche — i.e. really “go there” — this might be the reason I avoid house projects. It’s easy (and correct!) to scorn “manliness” as a harmful and outdated gender construct, but no matter how progressive my justifications are, I still feel the needles of those perceived inadequacies. Somewhere deep in my lizard brain, I want to feel useful, but in a glorified way, which is something that’s difficult for me to fulfill while sitting in front of a screen. I mean, unless I’m watching “Home Improvement” reruns on my computer.

I bought the DeWalt 1/4 Sheet Palm Sander and Corbet Australian Timber Oil stain. The color was “Mahogany Flame,” which is impossible to say without sounding like you’re reading erotica. I bought brushes, ventilator masks, sanding sponges and paper, new work gloves, and rollers. Using my new credit card, I saved $7. Whoo. I was practically making money on this project.

Back home, I unboxed the palm sander. Its weight felt good in my hand. For someone who doesn’t use power tools regularly, the potential to physically alter something was profound.

I strapped a sheet of sandpaper to it (100 grit, natch) and tested it out. The machine buzzed to life, vibrating so fast my hand was like whoa. I pressed it onto my deck and felt the destructive power in my shoulder. I pushed harder. A fine dust appeared around the sander’s periphery. I felt a villainous joy while scraping a layer of my deck’s skin off. Ha ha! How do you like that?

After five minutes, I hit stop. I lifted the sander to inspect my work, revealing an eight-inch section of wood, stripped naked and beautiful. My sandpaper had gone smooth. I looked at my supply of sandpaper and the area of the deck that remained to be sanded. It was going to be A Job.

A deck that is being sanded.
Bradford’s deck project in progress.
(Ryan Bradford)

Over the few days, I meticulously sanded. The act took on a Zen wax-on-wax-off quality. I began to equate my progress to the satisfying act of erasing pixels in Photoshop, which is definitely something that manly guys are supposed to think, right?

But on the third day, a heavy glass ashtray fell off the railing — rumbled off from the vibrations of the sander — and landed on my hand. Screw this Zen/enlightenment stuff. I rented a professional grade belt sander and completed the rest of the job in 30 minutes.

Behold, I thought, looking at the new, smooth wood, using godly vernacular for something I rendered into being. I, indeed, had become a god. A deck-god, god of decks.

The Mahogany Flame was as sensuous as the name implied. With my face close to the wood, I sniffed the intoxicating scent as I brushed; I’m sure the affection I felt toward the stain was pride and not the literal toxic fumes I was inhaling.

Two coats later, the deck looked like blood. A rich, deep red. It was beautiful.

A deck that's been sanded and painted red.
The finished product in all its “Mahogany Flame” glory.
(Ryan Bradford)

After finishing, I realized the project didn’t make me feel any more manly than before I started—which was a stupid goal anyway — but it did infuse me with a sense of capability that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I looked down on everything I had done, and it was very good.

And the next day, my back was so sore I stayed on the couch and watched horror movies for hours. Pretty sure that’s what all gods do on their days of rest.


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