Deck Railing Design
Q: Why is only some of my deck railing holding up against frequent rainfall?
The winter rains are hard on exposed wood surfaces here in the Northwest, so I applied a penetrating oil stain to my fence and the railings of our new deck. The vertical surfaces have held up quite well, but horizontal surfaces, such as the 2x6 cedar handrails, are no match for the weather and don't look as good. Is there some better finish I could use for horizontal surfaces?
—Fred Langton, University Place, Wash.
Tom Silva replies: The finish you chose is the right one, but you can't expect a horizontal surface and a vertical surface to weather in the same way. A flat, horizontal surface always requires more maintenance because water doesn't drain off quickly, particularly if the wood is slightly cupped, and because it's a much easier target for UV radiation, which is hard on both the finish and the wood. A penetrating oil stain is fine, but you'll have to apply it more often on the sides that face the sun.
What I'd do in your climate is cover them with a beveled cap or reinstall them so that they slant slightly to one side. Both approaches would make the water drain off quickly.