Your fence is a property divider. Your fence is one of the first things people see when they see your property. Your fence is something you have to view each time you go outside. Your fence is an expression of who you are and the amount of pride you have in your home.
A lot of us have wooden privacy fences, and wooden slat fences around our homes and properties. Staining your fence will make it more beautiful. and make it last longer and protect the wood from the elements of Mother Nature. Staining your fence will give you something to do and will make your wife happy!
If you have a fence that could use some stain, do not call a painter. You can do this job yourself and save money, impress your friends and family, and be proud of your accomplishment.
There are several different ways to stain a fence so let’s examine these methods, and get you ready.
Tips on how to stain a fence with brush
A paint brush is an effective and efficient tool that you can use to apply stain to your outdoor fencing. A paint brush is fairly self-explanatory and they are a very cost effective tool.
When preparing to paint a fence with a paintbrush your first consideration will be to gather all of the necessary tools to do the job with.
You will need:
- A natural bristle paintbrush
- A stiff bristled brush
- Mild detergent
- A power washer or a hose that has a high pressure nozzle attached to it
- Rubber gloves
- Drop cloths
- Painters tape
- Mineral spirits
- Sandpaper and sanding block
- An oil-based wood stain
- A wood sealer to go over the stain
The first thing you will need to do is clean the dirt and grime off of the fence boards. Do this with a pressure washer, or you can scrub the boards using a stiff brush and a mild detergent.
Once the boards are cleaned be sure to rinse them completely with clean water.
If you see any evidence of mold or mildew on the boards you will need to clean them using a bleach solution and then allow them to air dry before you proceed.
The second preparation you will have to make is protecting any of the plants around the fence that could be damaged by the stain.
Use drop cloths and painters tape to cover any vegetation that could be harmed by the stain.
Cover latches and the hinges of the gate with painters tape so you do not compromise the finish on them.
You are now ready to apply the stain to the fence. You want to stir the stain in the can thoroughly. Do not shake the stain in the can. When you shake the can you can force air bubbles to develop and these air bubbles can stop the finish from being as pristine.
Dip your paint brush about 1” into the liquid of the stain. You can put your stain in a paint tray but you can also dip directly out of the can and save some time.
Be sure to press the paint brush to the edge of the can to wipe away any excess stain.
You will be tempted to get as much stain as possible on the brush at one time. People always think that this will make the staining process go faster. DO NOT try to make the process go faster by getting your brush heavy with stain and trying to get more stain on the wood at one time.
When you do this you end up with runs, drips, and lap-overs that dry and become ugly places on your fence boards.
You are in a tortoise and hare race when you apply stain with a paint brush and remember that slow and steady wins the race. Slow and steady also creates the best looking finish on the fence.
Paint the fence boards up and down if they are nailed in place in that configuration. If the boards are nailed lengthwise then paint the length of the board. Try to follow the wood grain of the board and the finish will be better.
When you have completed the staining process then you simply need to clean up your tools and allow your stain to dry. You have been using an oil based product so you will need mineral spirits to clean the stain out of the paint brush with.
Seal the can tightly but do not store the stain near an open flame like a gas water heater or a furnace.
If you have decided to apply a sealer or a clear coat on top of the stain you need to let the stain dry completely prior to applying this coat. Most stains will dry in a manner of minutes.
Apply the clear coat according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Tips on how to stain a fence with a roller
When you apply stain using a paint roller you will find that the work is done faster. Some people do not like to use a roller because the roller does not always get the stain into all of the crooks and crevices along the fence.
You have to gather your tools before you can begin:
- Empty bucket
- Wire bristled or stiff bristled brush
- Mild detergent
- Water hose with a spray nozzle that emits at a high pressure or a pressure washer
- Drop cloths and painters tape
- High quality stain
- Sealer or clear coat if you desire
- Paint tray to put the stain in
- Paint roller
- Mineral spirits
- Roller cover suitable for painting rough surfaces
- Dry paintbrush made of natural fibers
You will prepare your fence for the staining in the same manner that you prepared it for staining with a paint brush. Cleaning the fence of dirt, dust and debris is the first order of business.
You also should take the time to do any sanding, or any mold and mildew treatments at this time. During this preparation time you are getting to improve the quality of your finish by improving the quality of the fence boards. Do not rush through this process.
Take the time during this part of your preparation to cover any tender vegetation that could be damaged by the stain. You also want to take the painters tape and tape the hinges and hardware on the fence so that the stain does not mar their finish.
Make sure that the roller cover that you have has a nap that is long enough to get into the cracks and dimples of the boards.
When you apply stain using a roller you are going to have to have a paint tray to dip the roller into.
You pour the stain into the well of the paint tray. Dip the roller into the stain and then roll the excess stain off of the roller by rubbing it across the raised area above the well.
You may need to repeat this process two or three times when you begin because your roller cover will be dry and will soak up the stain.
Apply the stain in long smooth strokes running the roller in the same direction that the grain of the wood runs in. Cover each board and then move on to the next board.
Do not try to put too much stain on at one time or you could have drips and runs.
Keep the dry paint brush close at hand and if you do see a drip or a run you can use the dry paintbrush to smooth over the drip and remove the excess stain.
When you are finished applying the stain you can allow the stain to dry and then either apply another coat of stain, or begin to apply the sealer or top coat.
Sealers and top coats are not necessary but they do help provide an added measure of protection to the wood, and they cause the stain to last longer between applications.
Clean up the tools and remove the drop cloths and painters tape. You have been using an oil based stain so you will need mineral spirits to clean the brush with.
Most people opt to throw away the roller cover rather than wash it out and try to save it.
Tips to Stain a Fence With a Pump Sprayer
The first and most important consideration that you have when you decide that you want to apply your fence stain with a sprayer is buying a stain that can be applied in that manner. Not all stains are suitable for this method of application. Read your label carefully to discover if the stain you like can be applied using a sprayer.
Assemble your materials before you begin.
- Pump up sprayer you can use a spray paint gun if you wish but a simple pump up sprayer like you use in the garden is all you really need
- Stain that can be applied in this manner
- Drop cloths
- Painters tape
- Soapy water
- Stiff bristled brush
- Mild soap
- Water hose with high pressure spray nozzle or a pressure washer
- Mineral spirits
The preparations of cleaning are the same no matter what type of application process you are attempting.
Clean the boards with a mild soapy water and stiff bristled brush. Rinse the soapy water from the boards. Allow the boards to dry unless your stain can be applied to damp boards.
Put the drop clots over any tender vegetation. The stain can be a plant killer. Tape the hardware on the fence so the stain does not mar the finish.
Stir the stain.
Use the funnel and pour the stain into the pump up sprayer.
Spray the stain onto the boards. You want to use a slow and steady motion so you get complete coverage and do not create overlaps, or double stained spots. Try to follow the grain of the wood, and remember to spray lightly. It is better to repeat the process than to make a mess.
Let the stain dry and then repeat the process if needed.
Pour any unused stain back into the can. Then clean the sprayer with the mineral spirits to remove all stain residue. After you use the mineral spirits you will want to wash the sprayer with warm soapy water and then rinse the soapy water away using clean water.
This is by far the easiest method of applying stain to an outdoor fence.
Choosing Your Stain for Fences
Before you can begin your project you must understand the differences in the stains that are available for you to use.
Some stains and sealers will be labeled as wood preservatives. Wood preservatives are great because:
- As they age they do not start to peel or flake. They simply fade and become lighter in color as time passes.
- A vast number of wood preservatives are designed to be applied in just one coat.
- They allow a greater amount of the natural wood look to be seen.
- They come in different shades from clear to dark
- The clear wood preservatives provide no UV protection to the wood they are applied to. For the greatest amount of UV protection you must use the darker shades.
The pigment in the preservative is where the UV protection is located so the darker the preservative, the higher the amounts of UV protection are.
- Preservatives are easy to apply. If you get a drip or a run while you are applying these items you can simply wipe off the excess and blend it into the wood.
- They can be applied to newly pressure treated wood. Many stains and sealers require the wood to age before they can be applied.
- It is easy to maintain the fence that is coated in these preservatives. When you need a fresh coat you simply clean the fence and apply a new coat of preservative to it.
There are some drawbacks to using this type of fence staining product. These include:
- If you are applying to an older fence then the beautification results will be a marginal improvement, not a grand refinishing
- You can’t apply a lighter color over a darker color.
- The lighter colored toners will need to be re-applied more often. The clear coats have to be applied yearly.
Semi-transparent stains allow the beauty of your wood to be seen but they hide more of the wood look than the preservatives and toners do. There are a lot of benefits to using these stains. Such as:
- They do not peel or flake as they age
- They do still allow the beauty of the wood to be seen
- They can usually be applied to damp surfaces so you do not have a wait between the time you power wash the fence and the time you apply the stain
- They can often be applied in only one coat
- They will usually last between four and five years on a fence before they need to be re-applied
- They can be applied with a brush, a roller, or a sprayer
The drawbacks to semi-transparent stains include:
- You have to stir the stain every ten minutes or less to keep the pigment in the stain from settling. If the pigment is allowed to settle then the stain will not be uniform in color.
- You are supposed to apply the second coat before the first coat is completely dry. The first coat will dry in about fifteen minutes so your time is limited
- They should not be used on a wooden surface that has an existing opaque stain on it
- Should not be used on wood that has a semi-solid stain on it
Semi Solid Stains
Semi solid stains do not cover the wood like paint. You will still see some of the wood grain after you apply the stain, but you will not see as much of the wood grain as you will see if you use a semi-transparent stain or a wood preservative/toner.
Some of the benefits of using a semi solid stain include:
- They do not peel
- They provide the highest amount of UV protection
- They can be applied using a paint brush, a paint roller, or a sprayer
- They come in a wide range of colors
- When you apply 2 or 3 coats you can create a protective barrier that is very effective at sealing the wood from moisture
Some of the drawbacks to the semi-solid stains include:
- They will start to chip after awhile
- After you apply 2 or more coats you will no longer see the wood grain. The stain will resemble a solid like a paint.
- It will not fill in minor cracks or blemishes in the wood
- When you have applied enough of the stain to create a water barrier you will have a finished look that is glossy like a high gloss paint. This is not a bad thing unless you do not like the high gloss appearance.
- Cannot be applied to damp wood. The wood must have a moisture content of 16% or less. This means you cannot apply this to newly pressurized wood, and you cannot pressure wash the wood and apply the stain in the same day.
- If you are applying to pressure treated wood the wood must be aged a minimum of ninety days before you can apply this stain.
Solid stains are more like paint. They can be beneficial if:
- Your wood has an uneven appearance because they can hide flaws
- The fence is older than twelve years
- You want the ability to apply the product with a brush, a roller or a sprayer
Some of the drawbacks of the solid stains are:
- Over time they will start to chip and peel
- You must apply a minimum of two coats
- You cannot apply to damp wood.
- You cannot pressure wash and apply the stain in the same day
- You cannot apply to pressurized wood until the wood has aged a minimum of 90 days
- The finish they create will usually need to be redone in four years or less
- Harder to apply new coats to
- Dirt and mildew is more readily apparent on these products
Stains can come in water based varieties and in oil-based varieties. It is never recommended that you use a water based product on an outdoor fence. Buy the oil based product. Cleaning up after application may be more difficult but the durability and longevity of the finish is greatly increased.
Once you have applied the stain you may want to consider applying a sealer, varnish, or polyurethane product. The sealer helps to protect the stain and further protect the wooden fence. If you use a sealer your fence will last longer and the appearance of your fence will be prettier for a longer period of time.
Choose the Right Time to Stain Your Fence
You have to pay attention to the weather forecast when you are planning to stain a fence. The method of stain application is not going to matter as much as what the weather is like, or what the weather is going to do.
You can go ahead with your plans to stain if:
- The outdoor temperature is expected to be between 50 and 80 degrees. If the temperature is below fifty then this can influence the time it takes for the stain to dry.
If the temperatures are too warm then the stain can dry too quickly and you will have unwanted lap marks on the fencing boards.
- The humidity level is going to be relatively low (you folks who live in high humid places like the Gulf Coast of Texas just have to make do with whatever humidity levels you have)
- No rain is forecasted for at least 24 hours
Staining a New Fence or Staining a Fence that has been Previously Stained
If you are staining a new fence, or a fence that has never had stain or paint applied to it before, then your biggest consideration will be the moisture level in the wood. If the stain you buy does not say that it can be applied to damp wood then you must make sure the wood is totally dry before you apply.
If you are going to be staining a fence that has previously had a product applied to it then you may have to buy a stain stripper and remove the previous product before you begin.
- Remove all peeling and chipping products by scraping them off and then sanding the boards smooth
- Remove any varnishes or sealers that could inhibit the new stain from penetrating by using a stain stripper and possibly a sanding block
Frequently Asked Questions
At the end, I’ve answer a few common questions I get asked.
How do you prepare a fence for staining?
The condition of the wood will determine the exact preparation steps that you have to take. If the wood has been painted before or it looks bad you will likely have to strip away any old paint or varnish and then sand the wood until it is smooth before you can stain the fence.
If the wood is in good condition and has no stain, varnish or paint on it you can probably just pressure wash the fence t5o remove any particulates, allow it to dry, and then start your staining regimen.
Should I pressure wash my fence before staining?
You should pressure wash a fence with a pressure of 3500 PSI to remove the dirt and debris that is adhering to the fence surface. Once the fence is completely free of dirt you must allow it to dry completely before you can start applying a stain.
If there is mold or mildew on the wooden surface you may need to use a specialized cleaner to kill the mold before you begin to paint the fence. If you do not kill the mold it will grow and develop under the paint or stain that you apply and compromise the fence.
How much does it cost to stain a fence?
The staining of a fence can run between $750 and $4,250. These costs are dependent on whether you do the work yourself, the condition the fence is int, how much the average labor cost are in your area, and the materials or products you choose to use on the fence.
You should calculate between $3 and $17 per linear foot of fencing and if you figure by the square foot calculate between $1 and $2,50 per square foot.
If you plan to do your own labor the stain alone will cost between $240 and $600 dollars. That does not include a paint sprayer or any application tools.
How long does a fence need to dry before staining?
After you pressure wash a fence you should give it a minimum of 24 hours to dry before you start to apply the stain. Stain requires that the wooden surface be completely dry and in the cracks and crevices of a fence the drying time is slowed, not to mention the fact that it takes wood longer to dry than it does many other surface areas.
Staining your fence does make the fence more aesthetically pleasing. The real reason for staining a fence is to protect the fence materials and give the fence a longer lifespan.
The stain type you choose will be determined by the age of your fence, the look you are trying to achieve, and your preferred method of application.
This is one of those projects you will have to do every few years, but the work is not that hard, and the results are worth the effort.