The outdoor season is finally under way, which means it might be a good idea to check the condition of your wooden deck. This may be the right time for a new coat of waterproofer or stain, or even a bit of maintenance, such as repairing a plank or supporting post.

Jesse Loveland of Eagle Hardware & Garden, 469 W. 4500 South, is one of the local specialists willing to offer guidance to homeowners eager to do a finishing job right.For those who built a deck last year of redwood, cedar or pressure-treated wood, that surface should be given a coating this year. Wood decks need to season for a year, Loveland said, to allow the wood to further dry. The only product that can be applied during this first year is Seasonite, a treatment used to keep the wood from warping.

If the deck has been up for two or three years or more and is starting to look shabby, gray or black, the surface can be revived and reprotected.

"Wood is like skin - it has layers," Loveland said. Various treatments are available that will bleach, clean and/or condition it.

Cleaners-brighteners-conditioners, also used on siding, fences and other surfaces, bleach wood, revitalize the surface and help control mildew, mold, algae, grease and salts that can damage it, he said. These also prepare wood for restaining or painting. Stain and finish removers are used by those who want to return to the original wood appearance or to prepare it for a fresh tone.

If you already have a natural wood finish and want to keep it that way, treat the wood with sealers or waterproofers, which help maintain the wood's appearance and provide mildew resistance and ultraviolet shielding.

One thing many do-it-yourselfers fail to realize, Loveland said, is that different products last for varying durations. Some popular waterproofers may require a new coat every six to nine months, perhaps "at the beginning of spring and the end of summer, to protect for summer and again for winter," he noted. Other versatile but basic protectants, used on decks, brick or concrete, last one or two years, while oil-based finishes will stay on the job for two or three years.

Semitransparent stains, in oil or latex, can be clear or tinted, enhancing the wood's original appearance, be it redwood, cedar, pine or birch, or adding a tint that may complement the house. One currently popular effect, Loveland said, "is that weathered driftwood look." Many such stains are under warranty for five years. Solid-color stains cover treated wood and generally have a 10-year warranty, Loveland said. "We can shoot into them any color you need," he said.

Besides stains and finishes, decks should be checked for routine maintenance - an all-around checkup.

Some wood may develop cracks or scratches. Hardwood fillers are available for chores like these, and the products are "sandable, paintable and stainable," Loveland said.

Check also to see if deck boards are loose, broken or decaying; if supporting posts show signs of rot; if bracing is adequate; or if termites or other pests are making inroads.

In addition to their in-house advisers, local home and hardware outlets often have job-specific pamphlets and shelves of how-to books that can help homeowners. Also consider dropping by the library.

For those with Internet access, the Web offers many informational options. Potentially helpful are online how-to encyclopaedias, such as those from Books That Work, accessible via (http://homecentral.com/howto/), and from Better Homes and Gardens (http://www.bhglive.com/homeimp/docs/index.htm). In fact, these two offer near-identical tips, plus illustrations, on several aspects of deck repair. These include:

- Removing and replacing deck boards: When a deck board needs replacement, use a cat's paw to pull the nails. If only part of the board is bad, it's usually easier to cut a deck board alongside a joist with a jigsaw or compass saw. For hard-to-remove boards, try pounding up from below.

After you've cut out the bad planking, create a new support cleat for the patch. Install a short piece of 2-by-4 along the top edge of the joist to support the new decking, then cut and nail the replacement board. Treat any remaining rot on the existing joist with copper arsenate or another approved fungicide.

- Repairing a rotted post. If a post has rotted at the base, it's possible to replace part of it without having to interfere with the structure above. Support the deck with a jack before beginning. Cut a lap joint - at least 18 inches long - in the existing post, above the damaged area. To make the crosscut, set a circular saw to exactly half the depth of the post. Then rip from both sides down the center. Use a chisel to clean up the portion of the joint where the circular saw blade does not reach. Install three staggered bolts through the posts to hold them together. Precise layout and cutting will make the new joint strong and neat.