Ask The Painter: What can you do for my Deck or Fence?

June 23, 2010

Stain is the Traditional Choice, but Which Stain?

Exterior stain is the traditional product choice for protecting and beautifying wood decks and fences, but even a few minutes spent investigating stain products can lead to a bewildering number of choices. The two main considerations when choosing a stain are whether it is oil-based or waterborne, and whether to use a Sealer/Toner, Semi-transparent, or Solid product? As with most things regarding painting, there are trade-offs to consider, so the answer is “it depends”.

Most people assume their deck or fence should be stained with an oil-based product because oil repels water. Oil-based stains have a longer drying time, so they tend to penetrate deeper into the wood. But the main drawback to oil-based products is that the UV in sunlight breaks down the organic compounds faster than the waterborne acrylics. So an oil-based stain may actually have less “life” to it than a waterborne stain. The drawback with waterborne acrylics is that they don’t penetrate as deeply into the wood and so may be more prone to chipping. So the exposure of your deck or fence comes into play when determining the “best” product.

The question of Sealer/Toner, Semi-transparent, or Solid has a lot to do with how the wood looks after staining, but there is also a life-expectancy consideration with these products. The rule of thumb is this: the more opaque the product is, the longer it will last. This is because the solids in the stain that increase its “opacity” also provide some UV blocking. Essentially the top surface of the stain acts as suncreen for the remaining thickness.

So, a “Sealer” or “Toner” product will protect the wood, but because it has very few solids in it, will break down faster in the sun than a Solid product. Solid stains are at the other end of the spectrum and will generally last the longest, but they have a painted look, even though they are a stain. Semi-transparent stains are a good compromise for someone who wants some color, but still wants the character of the underlying wood grain to show through. Note, however, that color variations due to differences in how wood weathers or a pre-existing stain will be more apparant when re-staining using semi-transparent stains. The solutions to this are: 1) switch to solid stain, 2) live with it, or 3) completely remove the old stain and restore the wood to a more uniform condition by sanding and/or using oxalic acid (wood bleach).

If you have a deck or fence that needs staining, Southern Painting Estimators are well-versed in the products and methods required, and are ready to evaluate your project and make a recommendation. Please contact us today.

Copyright 2009 Jeff Stec

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