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How to Sand a Cedar Deck: Overview of the Best Way to Sand Cedar Decking

how to sand a cedar deck

Whether you’re just wrapping up cedar deck installation and are ready to put the finishing touches on your project or you’re hoping to address splintering and roughness, we’re here to teach you how to sand a cedar deck.

This is an important aspect of cedar deck maintenance that shouldn’t be overlooked, as it keeps your decking looking its best and prevents issues associated with splinters. From choosing the right equipment to actually showing you the best way to sand a cedar deck, you’ll feel confident in tackling this project by the time you finish reading below!

Remember, you can count on Quality Cedar Products for not just helpful tips on cedar decking, but all the western red cedar products you need - from replacement cedar posts and boards to cedar fencing, cedar siding, and more.

Quality Cedar Products can meet all your cedar board needs. This blog is informational only and not a replacement for expert advice. Please consult a professional before starting any building project as your needs and specifications may vary and it may not reflect the most current building codes, regulations, or industry standards.

When is Sanding a Cedar Deck Necessary?

First things first - do you need to learn how to sand a cedar deck? When is sanding a cedar deck necessary? 

There are three specific instances in which you’ll need to take some time to sand your cedar decking: to repair splintering, right after installation, and before re-sealing your deck. 

Managing Wear and Tear

Exposure to foot traffic, weather conditions, and environmental elements can wear down the surface of a cedar deck. Signs such as splintering wood, rough patches, and general dullness indicate that the deck surface has degraded. 

As frustrating and concerning as it may be, don’t sweat it - cedar deck restoration for these problems is fairly straightforward. Sanding smooths these imperfections, reducing the risk of splinters and restoring the natural beauty of the wood.

After Installation 

Newly installed cedar decking often has what's known as mill glaze - a shiny film that forms when cut wood is processed through milling machines. 

This glaze can prevent stains or sealant from penetrating effectively and getting a solid hold on the boards, meaning you’re not getting the full benefits they have to offer.

Sanding the deck after installation removes this glaze and opens up the wood’s pores, making it more receptive to stains and sealants, which protect the wood from moisture and UV damage.

Before Re-Sealing

While you’ll need to learn how to seal a cedar deck immediately after installation, you’ll also need to learn how to refinish cedar deck after a few years of the initial application. 

And just as you had to sand the deck the first time around, you’ll need to do it again. This ensures that the new sealant adheres well and performs effectively, providing a barrier against moisture and environmental wear. 

Choosing the Right Cedar Deck Sanding Equipment

Now, let’s get into everything you’ll need to get started sanding a cedar deck so that you can get this project underway.

Types of Sanders

Choosing the right equipment will not only make the job easier for you but also ensure the best finish without damaging the wood. There are a few different approaches you can take here:

  • Orbital Sanders: Ideal for small to medium-sized decks. Easy to handle and good for achieving a smooth finish. They move in small circles, which reduces the risk of gouging the wood and is excellent for fine sanding.

  • Belt Sanders: More powerful than orbital sanders and suitable for larger decks or removing heavy surface damage like deep scratches or stains. However, they require careful handling to avoid removing too much material.

  • Hand Sanding: For intricate areas, such as corners or delicate trim work, hand sanding with a sanding block is effective. This method gives you control over the pressure and reach, ensuring thorough sanding without damage.

When in doubt, consult an expert on which type of sander makes the most sense for your specific project. But beyond the type of sander you use, the grit matters more…

Selecting Sandpaper Grit

The grit on your sandpaper refers to how rough it is and should not be taken lightly. Chances are, you’ll rely on a few different grits to get the project done properly:

  • Coarse Grit (40-60): Start with a coarse grit if you need to remove old finishes or smooth out rough, damaged wood. It’s effective for initial heavy sanding but must be followed by finer grits to refine the surface.

  • Medium Grit (80-120): After the initial sanding, switch to a medium grit to further smooth the wood surface and prepare it for sealing. This grit is ideal for most cedar decking preparations.

  • Fine Grit (150-220): Before applying finish or sealant, use a fine grit for the final sanding. This will create a smooth, polished surface that enhances the appearance of the cedar and ensures optimal adhesion of finishes.

Safety Gear

The sanding gear itself is obviously important, but you also need to make sure you have essential safety gear on hand as well. 

This includes a dust mask/respirator to prevent you from inhaling wood dust. You’ll also want safety goggles to protect your eyes from the same wood particles and dust. And if you’re using a power sander (especially belt sanders), hearing protection may be a good idea as well.

How to Sand a Cedar Deck: Step-by-Step Guide on Sanding Cedar Deck Boards

Now that you’ve got all the essentials on hand it’s time to learn the best way to sand a cedar deck! From preparation to the sanding process itself and of course, following up with protecting a cedar deck through sealants, here’s how to sand a cedar deck step-by-step.


Begin by removing all furniture, grills, and decorations from the deck. This provides unobstructed access to the entire surface and prevents any items from getting damaged.

Then, clean the cedar decking with a broom to remove loose debris and dirt. You may even take this a step further by washing the deck with a cleaning solution and then allowing it to dry completely. This gets any dirt and oils off the surface to allow for a more seamless sanding process.

While the deck dries you can check for any loose nails or secures that would get in the way of your work and secure them. This is also the best time to replace damaged boards that are too far gone to be effectively sanded so you don’t waste your time on them.

Sanding Process

While it’d be great to go with a one-and-done approach to sanding cedar deck boards, that’s not the best way to sand a cedar deck - which is really what you came here to learn about. So, here’s a brief refresher of how to sand a cedar deck with three different grits:

  1. Start with Coarse Grit: If the deck is particularly rough or has old finish remnants, begin with a coarse-grit sandpaper (40-60 grit). Sand the entire deck using long, even strokes that move along the grain of the wood to avoid scratching it unnecessarily.

  2. Progress to Medium Grit: Switch to a medium-grit sandpaper (80-120 grit) to smooth the surface further and prepare it for the final finish. This step removes the roughness caused by the coarse grit and starts to polish the surface.

  3. Finish with Fine Grit: Finally, use a fine-grit sandpaper (150-220 grit) to achieve a smooth, polished look. This grit level prepares the wood for sealing by creating a smooth surface that enhances the uptake of stain or sealant.

Handling Problem Areas

Areas around knots or grain swirls may require special attention, like the use of a smaller hand sander or sanding sponge. You won’t have to stress about removing too much material this way.

Edges and corners should also be hand-sanded to make sure you’re getting the smoothest finish possible, which will elevate the deck’s overall appearance.

Finishing Sealing After Sanding

Once you’ve finished sanding cedar deck boards go over them with a soft brush or a vacuum designed for woodworking to remove all sawdust and debris. This step removes any remaining particles that would hinder the effectiveness of sealants or stains.

While you came here to learn how to sand a cedar deck, the job isn’t quite complete yet - you still need to apply a sealant to prevent premature rotting and ensure the longest cedar deck lifespan.

Selecting the appropriate finish for your cedar deck depends on your aesthetic preference and the deck’s exposure to the elements. 

A clear sealer that highlights cedar’s rich natural grain offers a great natural look. If you prefer a tinted finish, choose a semi-transparent stain that provides color while allowing the wood grain to show through. A solid stain will offer higher durability but less grain visibility.

Whichever style you choose, apply it with a quality brush, roller, or sprayer, starting from one end and working systematically to the other to avoid stepping on the treated areas. 

Use long, even strokes to ensure the finish is evenly applied. Be careful around edges and corners to prevent buildup that can lead to peeling or uneven wear.

Allow the sealant ample time to dry and cure before using the deck. Curing times can vary depending on the product and weather conditions, but generally, 24 to 48 hours is sufficient. Avoid placing furniture or heavy objects on the deck during this period.

Wrapping Up Our Guide on the Best Way to Sand a Cedar Deck

As we draw our guide on how to sand a cedar deck to a close, we want to reiterate that this is a crucial aspect of installing and/or maintaining your decking to preserve its appearance and functionality for the long haul.

By choosing the right tools, following a thorough process with multiple grits, and taking your time through the problem areas, you can ensure a smooth, well-prepared surface that's ready for sealing and finishing. 

Speaking of finding reliable lumber suppliers, don’t forget that Quality Cedar Products is your one-stop shop for all things cedar. From decking to fencing, posts to boards, we’ve got it all. You can rest assured you’re getting the quality you deserve under our satisfaction guarantee. 

So, get in touch today to request a quote for any upcoming projects you may have, or learn more about what has made us the #1 choice for homeowners, contractors, and lumber yards alike across Canada and the US!

Quality Cedar Products does not assume any liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the information provided in this blog post. The reader is solely responsible for any actions taken based on the information presented. Any reliance on the information is at the reader's own risk.

Quality Cedar Products is not responsible for any loss, injury, or damage that may occur as a result of following the suggestions, tips, or recommendations provided in this blog post. Building projects involve inherent risks, and it is essential to exercise caution, obtain proper permits, and engage qualified professionals to ensure safety and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. The inclusion of external links, references, or recommendations in this blog post does not constitute endorsement or guarantee the quality, reliability, or suitability of the linked sources. The reader should independently verify the information and assess its relevance to their specific circumstances. The author reserves the right to modify, update, or remove the content of this blog post at any time without prior notice. It is recommended to check for the most recent updates or consult with professionals to ensure the information is current and applicable. By reading this blog post, the reader acknowledges and accepts the above disclaimer and agrees to use the information provided responsibly and at their own discretion.

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