Monday, May 17, 2010

Local solutions for oiling the deck

Saying Monrovia gets its fair share of rain and sun is an understatement. During dry season, it's scorchingly hot and humid. During rainy season, frequent downpours are interspersed with overcast humidity. I quite like it. But our deck doesn't.

Part of the Tides construction project was replacing the rotted beams of the large wooden deck that faces the ocean--only the boards weren't fully dried when they were nailed in. Now, we've got gaps on our deck and the wood has been splitting and cracking all dry season. What to do?

Where I grew up, you use linseed oil--with its unmistakable smell--to coat and seal the wood, but not before sanding away its top coat of dirt and dullness to reveal a smooth finish and visible grain. One thing: there's no linseed oil here. In fact, there's nothing like it. The only wood oil I could track down cost a breezy $35 a gallon--and we'd need 10 gallons for the job. And then, in two weeks, another 10. And next month, another, until the wood gets its fill of the oil, repels rain and doesn't mind the sun.

We were going to need another solution. A week ago, I thought of palm oil and tried it. "Why not?" I reasoned as I sanded and painted a coat of red oil on the deck, noticing a faint palm butter smell. The workmen around thought I was crazy, but it looked, as you can see below, a rich and wonderful color and in the places it has dried has left the wood noticeable soft.

Here: the dry, sanded wood, ready for palm oil.

Here is the difference the palm oil makes:
The finished product, once it soaks in a bit:
I showed the test job to to my South African friend, who agreed the local solution was taking nicely. I convinced Nate, who remains doubtful, that he should let me try a coat on the whole deck. As you can see, I was convincing. Notice the empty palm oil container--a reused water bottle.


  1. Great solution Ellie!! Proud of you! Hugs from Holland!

  2. I have thought a lot about this for the same reason that you have. I am not currently in Liberia but the first thought that I get is the clearer "palm kernel" oil that is available, or why not coconut oil that the Fanti fishermen make? If you are going to use palm oil, I would suggest heating it first to get rid of the carrotine, and mixing in some terpintine.

    Edsel Smith Jr.

  3. The oil, once it dried, doesn't smell at all! It's pretty cool and continues to work well. Come and see!

  4. The idea to filter the carotene out and add turpentine to cure the palm oil is a great one. I'll check back when we do our next coat and send an update!


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