Few types of wood are as versatile, durable and beautiful as red cedar when it comes to outdoor building projects. It can be used for siding, decks, fences, and roofs. We highly recommend cedar wood for its beauty and longevity. Cedar is readily available, easy to work with, and has natural properties that help it hold up for years. Cedar contains natural oils that protect it from pests and rot.

The most significant challenge that cedar presents is that it changes colors quickly if left to weather naturally. When exposed to wind, rain, and especially sunlight, cedar wood can change from a warm reddish-brown color to a bland silvery gray in a couple of weeks. Don’t get us wrong—some people like this look. It might be the perfect complement to an old barn or a beach cottage. But many people find themselves longing for that rich cedar color that they started with.

Another challenge with this natural discoloring is that it does not always develop uniformly across a surface. For example, areas of the deck that get more sunlight may weather differently from other deck areas in the shade. Or one side of the house may weather more than an adjacent side. You could end up with a blotchy, gray deck, or a two-tone gray house. Although the discoloration only occurs in the top couple of millimeters of the wood, it may be difficult to revert back to the natural wood color once this gray color develops.

Leaving the wood untreated will allow the wood not only to change colors but to break down and eventually decay. To make the wood last longer, you should treat it with an oil or stain to preserve it. The product you choose will depend on your personal taste and what you envision for your outdoor space.

Transparent Stains

If you enjoy your cedar’s natural look and want to preserve it, you might choose a transparent oil or stain. These products can soak into the wood, making it more difficult for water to penetrate the boards. Enhancing the wood’s ability to repel water may be especially beneficial when using cedar for shingles or siding. In these applications, it is especially important to keep moisture out to avoid more significant problems down the road.

While transparent stains do offer some moisture protection, they lack the solid particles that colored stains contain. These particles block the sun’s UV rays from reaching the wood’s surface. In their absence, the wood is much more susceptible to the light rays responsible for turning the wood gray. Transparent stains must be reapplied often to keep the wood looking it’s best.

Solid Stains

If protecting your cedar wood project is top on your priority list, solid stains are a fine choice.
Because they contain many solid color particles, they are good at blocking UV light. This protection prevents the wood from first changing color and then breaking down, structurally. However, solid stains also cover up the natural color and grain of the wood. The wood will no longer look like cedar, though it will still maintain the pest and rot-resistant properties of cedar wood.

One significant benefit of using a solid stain is that you can choose from a multitude of stain colors. Once applied, solid stains provide a uniform look across the whole project. It may not look very natural, but it can still be desirable.

Semi-Transparent Stains

Semi-transparent stains are the happy medium between the transparent and solid stains. For those who love the look of wood, they allow the natural grain of your cedar wood to shine through. They also offer a degree of protection from UV damage because they contain some of the same color particles used in solid stains. For many people, these stains allow for a balance between maintaining the natural look of cedar and protecting the wood from the outdoor elements.

Because these stains are pigmented, you can use them to enhance your cedar wood’s natural color with a cedar color stain or change the color to something that suits you better. A semi-transparent stain does not protect the wood for as long as a solid stain, but the trade-offs may be worth it.

Bleaching or Weathering Oil

If silvery gray and weathered is the look that you are going for, you might take a look at bleaching oils. These products contain oil to seal the wood and a chemical to accelerate uniform weathering. After application, it takes about six months for the wood to achieve an evenly silvery, gray patina. This type of product is intended to be applied to wood that has not been previously sealed or painted.

Cedar wood is an excellent and long-lasting choice for outdoor projects. A cedar deck or fence can easily last you for 20 to 30 years. Just make sure you give it a little extra love along the way to maintain attractive and uniform color.