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How to Stain a Wood Fence

Using stain is a great alternative to painting, it is less labor intensive and more durable. Here’s the best way to stain your wood fence.

Most fences are painted or stained, but paint is a mixed blessing. There are few things as pretty as a freshly painted fence—or as ugly as a peeling one. If you plan to paint your fence, expect to invest lots of time scraping, sanding, priming, and repainting every five to seven years. Always prime the bare wood first, then apply the best-quality exterior paint you can afford. A labor-saving alternative is an exterior semi-transparent stain.

What Is the Best Stain for a Fence?

Stained fence in garden. iStock

Semi-transparent stain the most durable, and when it fades, you can usually brush more on top without any sanding or scraping. With this stain, you’ll see some grain and some color on the wood. A new coat is only needed every 5 to 6 years.

In the video above, you can see samples of two other types of stains. One is a clear coat on cedar. With this stain, you’ll see most of the grain and no pigmentation. You’ll need to re-apply a new coat every 2 years. The other is a solid body stain. This one has lots of pigmentation that covers the grain. To keep it looking fresh, you’ll want to apply a coat every 4 years.

Do You Need to Stain a Wood Fence?

You can also leave redwood or cedar unfinished and allow it to weather naturally to a soft, silvery gray. If so, apply a clear wood preservative every year to keep the fence from splitting and cracking.

Apply Wood Fence Stain in 6 Steps

  1. Spread canvas drop cloths on the ground beneath the fence. Drape drop cloths over nearby surfaces and objects to protect them from stain spatters.
  2. Apply stain to broad surfaces using a ½-inch nap roller.
  3. Use a 4-inch-wide trim roller to stain narrow surfaces and to cut in around fence boards
  4. You can also apply stain with an electric cup sprayer. Move the sprayer vertically to apply stain with the wood grain on the fence.
  5. Rent an airless sprayer, which draws stain from a 5-gallon bucket. Spray stain onto all surfaces of the fence. Be sure to maintain the proper distance from the fence and overlap each pass.
  6. Immediately after spraying a section, clean up any drips with the trim roller.

Tools You’ll Need