Should you stain your fence?
Many people prefer a wooden fence over other materials, because wood has an aesthetic appeal that is hard to match. Indeed, wood is a classic, timeless look. Once the fence is built, however, people begin wondering about whether they should stain it. Staining your wood fence will make a significant impact on its look and longevity. It can actually increase the life of your fence by over ten years! Without a proper weatherproof paint or stain, the wood is exposed to environmental factors which can rapidly age and damage it. Exposure to moisture fluctuations will swell and dry the wood, which can result in cracking and warping. Sunlight can fade the wood. Extended moisture exposure will eventually cause the wood to rot and mold. The protection a good stain provides is vital to keep the wood safe from these factors.
Pressure treated wood is a notable exception. Pressure treated wood will already resist the elements without anything being done to it. Your fence posts on a wooden fence are usually going to be pressure treated, and occasionally pressure treated wood will be used for the horizontal cross beams. Fence pickets are rarely pressure treated.
So, when should you stain your fence?
Ideally, wait a month or two, so the wood can dry out. The biggest consideration before you begin staining is the moisture content that is currently in the wood. If the wood is wet, the stain won’t bond as well. This is especially true of pine. If you have a cedar fence, this isn’t as much of a concern. It is best to make sure the wood is dry. In most cases, this will be entirely dependent on the weather. We all know how relentless the Western Washington rains can be, but if you happen upon a string of sunny weather, take advantage of it. Ideally, wait a couple of days for the sun to dry the wood out as much as possible before you begin staining. You can also use a moisture meter to see how wet the wood is. Or you can try dabbing water on a fence picket and see if the wood absorbs the water easily. If this is the case, the stain should bond well.
Try not to wait too long before staining. Letting the fence go through a winter season unprotected is definitely ill advised. Fortunately, it’s never really too late! Even if your fence is five years old, you can refinish and stain it. The issue here is that a good amount of damage has already been done, causing you a lot of extra work. Obviously stain won’t fix or conceal large cracks that have occurred. Additionally, you will need to sand off the exposed wood before applying the stain, if there is visible sun and moisture damage. If your fence is brand new, sanding will not usually be necessary, so getting it done sooner will save you a lot of work in the long run. Taking the proper steps to ensure your fence is protected is a great way to get the most out of your investment.
-Written by Brandon Wood, Crew, PHM