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Fence Staining 101

The Basics

Staining your fence is a multi-step process which requires planning and preparation.

Step 1: Check the weather forecast.​

Staining needs to be done when the weather cooperates to allow adequate drying time. If there is rain in the forecast, you better play it safe, especially if using an oil-based product. Under normal conditions, stain should be allowed to dry for 24 hours before being exposed to rain. It is important to understand that there are factors that greatly influence drying time of stain such as the base of the stain, humidity, wind and stain applicating procedures. 

Step 2: Prepare wood for stain.

When staining a fence, you must clean the wood first. The most commonly used method is pressure washing. Pressure washing is a good option because it removes dirt and debris, takes of old stain that is flaking, and opens up the pores in the wood. Opening the wood pores allows for a deeper penetration of stain. It is important to allow at least 48 hours of dry time between pressure washing your fence and staining. 

Step 3: Mask sensitive areas near fence for staining.

Prepping surrounding areas for stain is one of the most important aspects of the staining process. There are many items that must be considered when prepping to stain. Hardware on gates are one of the most common examples of items that get overlooked when prepping to stain. Overspray on gate hardware greatly reduces the appeal of the finished product. To ensure a professional looking result, gate hardware should be taped or removed before staining. 


 The house siding near the fence is also highly susceptible and needs to be taped off to prevent overspray. If stain gets on the house or on nearby concrete, removal can be near impossible. Other items susceptible to overspray include nearby cars, windows and furniture.

Step 4: Apply stain.

Most contractors will apply stain with an airless sprayer. This is much faster than using a roller or brush and provides an even finish. As mentioned in Step 3, you must be aware of overspray when using an airless sprayer.

To ensure proper application, each coat of stain should be applied evenly with the appropriate amount. If too much stain is applied at once, there is an increased risk of peeling or bubbling of stain. If using an airless sprayer users should back-brush stain after spraying to insure an even application.

Before application, it is important to know your stain. Some stains require one coat, where others require two. If applying two coats, you must let the first coat dry adequately. Again, read the product specs before staining. 

Oil Based vs. Water Based

The most common questions is about oil-base vs. water-base stains. This is a question that could get a variety of answers. Products greatly vary and will yield different results. I think a bigger questions should be the stain manufacturer. I use Sherwin-Williams products when possible.

One thing to understand is that water-based stains have come along way and are a great option. Due to harmful VOCs contained by oil-based stains, there has been an emphasis on production of quality water-based stains. A high quality stain will penetrate effectively and offer protection from UV  organics like mold and mildew. I tend to use water-based stains for vertical surfaces like fences and oil-based for horizontal surfaces like decks.

Below are some pictures I have taken using Sherwin-Williams Woodscapes stain. 

Cider Mill.jpg
hidden springs.jpg
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