Use the right tool for the right job.
Use the right tool for the right job.

Tips for treating a balau deck

By Don MacAlister Time of article published Nov 29, 2013

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Cape Town - There is nothing like old-fashioned tools.

Think twice before you dump your old tools. They might not be as easy to use as their modern counterparts, but craftsmen used them for years and they were built to last.

We recently visited a farm to pick up some collectables that the outgoing farmer was looking a home for, before new owners take over. The farm is the home of a factory producing “wood wool”, long lengths of fine wood shavings that can be dyed for use as packing around presents or, more specifically, as packing around crayfish to be exported.

Don’t be embarrassed to have a good scratch around dumps or scrap yards, you will be amazed by how much good, workable material is thrown away. Local friends here are about to embark on an aquaponics project using salvaged materials.



There are not many working days left before the builders’ holidays. Ensure that you have done all your planning and that there are no last-minute hitches. Clients and contractors should be communicating with each other on a daily basis.



Eden asks: “I have a balau deck that was varnished in error. Apparently this wood should just be oiled. Now some of the varnish is chipping off and it looks terrible. The deck has grooves so is not smooth.

“Should I be trying to get all the varnish off and what would be the best way to do it? The deck is quite large (over 20m2). What oil should I use on it afterwards?”

Answer: Stripping timber is never an easy task, and the fact that you have grooved decking planks is going to make it even more difficult. I hope you have lots of patience and elbow grease. You are going to need a wire brush and steel wool.

Start by brushing or scrubbing with steel wool, but use no water or paint remover at this stage, first get rid of all the loose flakes. You can then decide to let it weather further or attack it with the appropriate paint stripper. As it is balau, it is fine to leave it untreated for a fairly long time. Once you start using a paint stripper you will always end up with a bit of a gooey mess, which will clog the brush or steel wool. Using a mechanical sander will damage the grooves, so I would prefer to let it weather and keep slowly chipping away with a dry process.

For the future, remember balau does not accept treatment well, and many people are happy just to let it weather and live with the grey colour which eventually forms. If you do want to change the appearance, use an oil-based product that will soak into the wood. Thin the first coats down to ensure maximum penetration. Consult your local hardware store for the correct product – there are far too many for me to make a recommendation.

Here’s another brainteaser from Tony, who is renovating his home in Wellington. I’m a bit worried that with the time I take to answer all his questions the project will never be finished. I do however think he deserves The Questioner of the Year award.

“I’m considering extending my concrete deck with 4 000mm long/1200mm wide/150mm thick precast Hollocore concrete slabs. The extension slabs will be supported at all ends by load-bearing brick (10mm cavity) walls.

“My builder mentioned that there has to be a slip joint between concrete slab and support wall(s). The contractor advises the slip joint is merely two separate pieces of regular Masonite hardboard. Surely this cannot be but should be a special type of material?

“The supplier/manufacturer of the precast concrete slabs advises no slip joint is needed. The slab gets placed raw on to raw brick wall(s). With no grouting between slab and support wall(s) there is a default slip joint effect?

“Please advise which is the correct slip joint method.”

Answer: Masonite is often used as a bond breaker to form a slip joint, so no problem with the type of material. As to whether a slip joint is essential, in my opinion it is always best to form a joint where different types of materials touch, as there will always be differential movement, which will eventually form a crack, so it is best to control where the crack is going to occur.

This is probably less necessary where precast panels are used as a large amount of wet concrete will not be settling on to the brickwork below.

Remember, if you are going to be fixing over a “movement” joint, only secure the cover strip on one side of the joint, so that the cover does not try to move in two directions. Similarly, if you are plastering over a joint between two different materials, remember to cut through the plaster at the join and form a “V” joint, once again controlling the line of cracking. - Weekend Argus

* Keep your questions or comments coming to [email protected] or sms only to 082 446 3859

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