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Are you looking for ways to freshen up an old wood fence? Are you installing a new fence and wondering how to maintain its quality? Whether you want to improve the look of a longstanding fence or preserve the condition of a newly-built fence, applying a paint or stain is the best solution.

Treating or refinishing a wood fence is a major project. It is not a task you want to have to redo or complete twice because you did not select the right kind of finish for your fence. Paint and stain are two entirely different materials. Before you dive deep into that color-changing transformation, there are pros and cons to consider.

Why You Should Treat a Fence

First things first, how important is it to apply some sort of finish to your wood fencing? It’s actually quite important. A wood fence can only last so long when it is not protected by a paint or stain. Raw wood deteriorates when exposed to rain, snow, and humidity. Furthermore, wood breaks down from sun exposure and dirt accumulation.

Without a coat of paint or stain, a fence simply falls apart over time. That once strong and sturdy fence becomes weak. The wood rots and mold builds up, which leads to cracking, splitting, and breaking. If you depend on your fence hold in animals, fence deterioration can lead to bigger problems. All it takes is a few broken wood pieces to allow them to escape. Preventative maintenance is the best way to ensure your fence holds up and survives the elements. A protected fence is a strong fence.

Selecting the Right Finish for Your Fence

There are many differences between paint and stain. When selecting the finish you think will best suit your fence, it is wise to look at the big picture and evaluate the overall situation. What amount of prep work is needed? Do you have a color preference? What type of wood is your fence made of? Do you live in a wet or cold climate? How often do you plan to apply new coats?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you determine the best match for your specific fence, so let’s explore a few key factors to consider when painting or staining your fence.

Color: The possibilities are endless when it comes to paint colors. If you want a bright pink fence, you can make that happen by painting it. While you cannot achieve any color of the rainbow with stain, you can choose between varying shades or levels of opacity – solid, semi-solid, semi-transparent, or transparent. A transparent stain is clear, and a semi-transparent stain shows wood grain patterns. It allows the color and natural beauty of the wood grain to shine through. A semi-solid stain covers up nearly all the wood grain details, and a solid stain hides the grain and appears similar to a thick paint.

Appearance: Paint can be difficult to apply evenly and achieve a smooth, uniformed look. If painting a wood fence, you should first apply an oil-based primer. Then, use a latex-based exterior paint for your color coats. Paint sits on the surface of the wood, while stain absorbs into the wood. Generally, a stain finish is easier to apply and more forgiving. Drips and runs are not near as apparent, if at all.

Longevity: Stain lasts longer. Yes, stain can fade, but it will still generally weather better than paint. Paint cracks. It also bubbles and peels. There is a noticeable difference between a freshly painted fence and one that needs a new coat. Because stain is absorbed into the wood, it does not blister or crack.

Time Restraints: Need a newly finished fence in a hurry? Paint and stain take different amounts of time to dry. Latex paint dries quickly. It can fully dry in under eight hours. Stain is finicky, and can take up to two or three days to completely dry.

Current Weather: Regardless of the product you choose, be sure to check the weather before you begin your fence finishing project. Do not start if rain is in the forecast. You can apply paint in most temperatures, summer or winter conditions. To apply stain, it must be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit outside with no forecasted rain for a minimum of two days.

Prep Work: If you are treating an old fence, pressure washing your fence is a great way to prep it. Furthermore, if you plan to paint a weathered wood fence, you should sand and smooth it first. If you plan to coat your fence with stain, rough wood is just fine.

Wood Type: Knowing the type of wood your fence is made of can help you determine if paint or stain is best for your fence. For example, it is not recommended to paint a cedar fence. You also need to know if you have a softwood or hardwood fence. There are water-based and oil-based stain options. A water-based stain is not the best choice for a softwood such as cedar.

Time to Get to Work

Ready to transform the look of your fence? Examine the condition of your fence, know the facts, then move forward with a decision. Paint and stain are both good options, but it is crucial to understand why you would choose one over the other before you begin.


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