Pulled in at 12:30 pm hauling the blue 5’x8′ utility trailer. It’s nice having it back up here and will certainly prove useful in carting the scrap out of the wood shed. In the upper 60s, mostly sunny, with a slight breeze. Perfect weather to apply some stain. I unhooked the trailer and unloaded my paint/stain supplies from the back of the pickup. I headed to the keep to see if the deck needed any last-minute cleaning/prep and saw that two of my bird feeders were on the ground. Damn raccoons. They managed to unscrew the top from the tall feeder (which is how you fill it) and sent it clattering to the ground with the mounting ring still secured to the stand. The mesh feeder was just plain knocked down. I reassembled the tall feeder and drilled a hole through the top mount and the rod that it threads onto. I stuck a cotter pin through this hole. Any raccoon that can figure out how to remove a cotter pin deserves the bird seed. This will work for now, but I really need to build and install a baffle on the pole.

With the feeders filled and hung back up, I grabbed a leaf blower and made sure the deck was completely cleared off. I also covered the side of the keep with plastic drop cloth and wedged some big cardboard pieces between the keep and the railings. While I planned on staining the swing first, I wanted all of the prep out of the way. I changed into some old work clothes from the drawers in the keep bedroom and headed back out.

It was time to start staining. I got the power sprayer out, filled the cup with stain (and promptly made a mess—this stuff is thinner than I was anticipating), pulled the trigger on the sprayer, and… nothing. Just a low buzz from the gun. Great.

As finicky as the sprayer ended up being, I was glad to have it to cover all the angles of the swing.

As finicky and frustrating as the sprayer ended up being, I was glad to have it to cover all the angles on the swing.

I completely disassembled the gun to find that 2011-me was a dummy and never cleaned the piston and spring assembly after the last paint job. With the aid of some penetrating oil and a hammer and punch, I was able to drive the piston free. I then spent a few minutes carefully cleaning five year old paint from all the gun parts. Thankfully, when everything went back together, squeezing the trigger provided the desired spray of stain. I proceeded to reacclimate myself to the sprayer, figuring the swing would make for a pretty forgiving guinea pig. Once I got the settings dialed in, I was able to get a good rhythm going. I was a little worried that it was going through stain kind of quickly, but figured I could make adjustments to work around that. This would come back to haunt me.

With the swing completely sprayed, I moved operations over to the deck. I had to stop and clean the sprayer nozzles, but soon I was back at it. I started from the inside and concentrated on the top rails and main posts before moving on to the individual spindles. Using the sprayer was far preferable to brushing all these nooks and crannies, but it was still less than ideal. The tip kept clogging and there was a lot of wasted product because there’s no way to narrow the spray stream. It was around 3:00 and I had about 80% of the spindles covered when I ran out of stain.

I wasn't sure how the PVC pipe would react to the stain, but I really like how it turned out.

I wasn’t sure how the PVC pipe would react to the stain, but I really like how it turned out.

There was no way I was going to leave this half done for the day, but I sure didn’t want to have to run all the way back to Menards in Oshkosh to get more stain. I looked up the website for Cabot, the stain manufacturer, and used their store finder. Cabot, you need to update your store finder. After calling two confused businesses in Berlin, I struck paydirt with the Ace Hardware in Ripon. They had two gallons of the semi-solid stain I needed and the right tint profile. The only guy there that could run the mixer was just about to leave, but he promised to mix those two gallons and leave them out for me.

I didn’t want the sprayer to gunk up while I was gone, so I disassembled it, soaked the smaller parts in a coffee can full of mineral oil, and wiped down the rest. I liked this thing when I used it for latex paint. For stain, not so much. With that out of the way, I made a quick run to Ripon and back. I was in and out of that Ace in under a minute. Thanks, paint guy. At least I found a productive way to vent my stain-based frustration: I used the big barrel .22 to dispatch chipmunks. I managed to thin the local herd by five over the course of the afternoon.


The rest of the day’s efforts would be accomplished with paintbrushes. I finished the spindles and outside frame and patched any missed or light spots. Since I was done spraying, I took down the plastic and cardboard. I then brushed the closest floorboard to the keep. The remaining boards were stained using a Wagner Deckmate, which is basically a self-dispensing stain mop. It did a nice job of evenly coating the boards, but it didn’t get deep enough in the cracks between them. I had to do 4 to 5 deck boards with the mop, get down and brush the cracks, then repeat. I worked from the end boards to the center this way, abandoning the Deckmate for the final three boards, finishing those by hand from the far end to the stairs. I brushed stain on the stair boards and risers, and the deck was finally complete.

The picnic table looks like it was stolen from a park. Except that no one's carved their initials into it.

The picnic table looks like it was stolen from a park.

With plenty of stain left over, I coated the bird feeder pole top to bottom. And finally, I gave the picnic table a much needed new finish. It felt good to end with something simple like that. I still have a little more than half of a gallon left for touch-up, which is perfect. I know that some of the gaps between floorboards are going to need more attention. I spent some time cleaning everything up: I soaked the brushes in mineral oil, wiped down the Deckmate and rinsed out its reservoir, and gathered all the latex gloves, plastic, cardboard, and shop rags I had used. It was 8:30 by the time I closed up the pole barn. I moved my truck and was going to head in the keep when I saw headlights in the driveway. I ended up talking to Danny for a half-hour. When he asked me if I had noticed any raccoons, I told him about the feeders. He said they seemed particularly bad this year and that he planned on setting some extra traps. Sounds fine by me.

I washed up (with running water!), changed clothes, and fixed a quick dinner of some sandwich wraps and beer. I collapsed into the recliner to enjoy my meal over some Netflix. I still marvel at the fact that the keep isn’t just a work-in-progress anymore. It’s a fully-equipped base of operations. Progress is a beautiful thing.

On my way home a little before 10:00. It’s supposed to be sunny all day tomorrow with highs in the mid 80s. Ideal weather for helping some fresh stain dry and set. It’s a shame I have to go back to work and won’t be able to see the finished product in the daylight. There’s always the next trip up.