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I have a deck that faces south and gets hit by the sun pretty hard, pictures here:

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Aside from replacing the whole thing, which I don't want to do, I'm wondering what would be a good way to repair it. I have lumber to replace out the railings and some of the really bad boards but would I be able to use an orbital sander on the other boards to get them smooth, then apply one of those thick deck restore paints that would fill the cracks and pits in the boards?

There are also a few spots where the boards have swelled up, leaving little to no gap between them. Someone suggested taking a circular saw, setting it to a depth that would not cut joists below, then run that between the boards to get a gap back in there for water to drain through. I'd have to take the railings off to complete the cuts but is that even advisable?

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Yea sanding will be good. But that gives you two options. With the orbital sander just give it a rough sanding, so that your new deck restore paint will fill in the cracks and all that. To give a really nice finish, use a sliding sander and and with the grain to get a smooth finish, this is only best if you using natural paints, or glossy (but non slippery) paints. Orbital sanders cause the most damage so to say, as its always best to sand with the grain, not against it. You could just use a power jet, proper one! clean the decks and repaint it deck restore in similar colour, lasts 2 years? –  ppumkin Apr 23 at 15:24
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Before you start with a sander, I would try a power washer. These can be rented from a big box store for a day or two. If you have several projects, consider purchase. You do need to be careful since the force of the water is strong enough to cause injury if mishandled. Also, do not try to powerwash very soft woods such as redwood or cedar.

It is amazing how much embedded grime and algae the washer can remove. If you still need sanding before refinishing, the amount of sanding will be greatly reduced. You also may find you can use a penetrating opaque or semi-opaque stain rather than the heavy coating type finish. Small chips or divots can be filled with exterior wood filler.

As to the swelled boards that eliminated drip joints, if this is only in a few places and there is no pooling water, this should not be a problem. You do need to sand down any spots that have raised enough to be a trip hazard.

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