By Candace Sofianos King | Photos by Creative Commons

We delve into why wood maintenance is essential in ensuring the longevity of your beloved timber.

As with any living, breathing organism, timber requires tender love and care in the form of regular maintenance for its lifetime. The most damage to timber is caused by UV light. While certain products on the market boast UV absorber and reflector properties, with time the sun does get through to the timber and starts to attack it.

As a living, breathing material, timber requires regular maintenance.

“Water also has a detrimental impact on timber because if it is able to penetrate an unprotected area, it will cause the wood to swell and then crack which then causes more unprotected areas that water can penetrate from. High heel shoes, dog’s claws, furniture and aggressive cleaning agents also damage timber,” highlights Peter Ryder of sealant and coating manufacturer Rystix Timbacare.

According to Frikkie Greeff, managing director of wood care and maintenance specialist Woodoc, both indoor and outdoor types of damage may be controlled by proper preparation of the wood, using the right product to seal it and applying the chosen product strictly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Maintenance methods vary greatly considering where the timber is going to be used; the type of traffic that the surface will endure if it is a walkway; the species of timber used; and what previous coatings have been applied to the wood.

Best practice is to start with the right treatment, advises Greeff, adding that preparation of the substrate (wood) is the cornerstone of successful treatment. He adds that one should always follow the application instructions provided and use the right product for the right application.

Ryder adds to the discussion, stating that timber should be coated with a good quality sealer that will effectively penetrate and seal the timber, while still allowing the wood to breathe. Preparation, application, and using the right product are all essential irrespective of what timber type you are treating, notes Greeff.

Love your timber

The biggest challenge that one would face when maintaining wood is knowing when maintenance is required. The most important tip is to not let the timber degrade too far before doing maintenance, says Ryder, adding that, “All too often the timber is left to fall into an appalling state before any maintenance is done. Usually by this time the timber has cracked, dried unevenly, warped, splintered, or, if untreated timber was used, rotted away.”

Greeff says the factors that will have the greatest influence on longevity include the correct preparation of the surface, correct product choice, and correct application. Apart from that, surfaces should be kept clean, he adds.

“Any spills should be wiped up as soon as possible – water should never be left to pool on outdoor surfaces and pollution from berries or bird droppings should be promptly removed. Indoor wood should be treated from time to time with a good maintenance product. Outdoor wood should be regularly inspected for damage to the coating due to weather or mechanical damage and re-treatment done before deterioration of the wood commences,” highlights Greeff.

He continues, “We so often hear about consumers using products formulated to be used in outdoor conditions, indoors, because they think the product is ‘stronger’ – this is completely wrong. Indoor products are generally formulated to dry relatively quickly and hard. They also do not contain UV absorbers and other additives necessary in outdoor products. This makes them specifically suited to indoor use.

“Outdoor products are formulated to dry slower, as they must remain flexible for longer periods to be able to survive the large temperature fluctuations that outdoor wood is subject to. This means that they will tend to remain slightly soft and ‘sticky’ if used indoors. They also contain a multitude of additives required for their survival in outdoor conditions which make them somewhat more expensive than indoor products.”

Maintained to last

Ryder recommends a good maintenance cycle will prevent the timber from becoming unusable. “We usually recommend an 18-month refurbishment cycle to

It’s crucial to keep track of a good maintenance cycle to prevent the timber from becoming unusable.

prevent problems from occurring,” he notes.

Ryder points out that the latest trend is to leave tropical hardwood decking uncoated. “While this grey-looking timber may be desirable, the damage that is caused to the timber is immense and the timber will start to splinter and can actually cause cuts and gashes to feet if damage is undetected.”

Greeff notes that there’s a definite shift towards eco-friendly products. “Eco-friendly solutions will become more important as the public becomes better informed about the advantages of eco-friendly products and treatments,” he says.

Wise words on maintenance

Preparation of the wood

  • Make sure the wood is always sanded back to bare wood to allow the new coating the best opportunity to bind with the timber.
  • The presence of an old coating will prevent this and, when the old coating delaminates (as it will eventually do), it will take the new coating with it.
  • Make sure that the wood is smoothly sanded, clean and dry.

Follow the application instructions

  • Each product has its own unique characteristics that make it essential to apply the product in a specific way.
  • Due to their unique formulation, Woodoc products will penetrate the wood on first application and should never be diluted. This means that the first coat of a sealer should be applied to saturation point of the wood. Then the second and subsequent coats should not penetrate, building up on the surface for finish and protection.
  • If essential information regarding the nature and use of the product printed on the packaging is ignored, it is unlikely that the application will be successful.

Use the right product for the right application

  • Be sure to use an indoor product for indoor applications, and likewise with an outdoor product for outdoor applications.