Summer is the season we spend the most time outdoors and enjoying our yards, but it’s also a great time to give something back to our decks or fences: a little TLC in the form of an exterior stain for wood.

What is Exterior Stain?

Wood stain is actually a kind of paint (which is why you’ll find it in the paint department of your local Brinkmann’s) and it’s used to protect and enhance the look of the natural wood grain. Stain soaks into your wood rather than creating a barrier on top of the wood like a varnish, so it’s mostly used for aesthetic reasons rather than for protection, however, it does prevent warping and helps to preserve the wood. If you follow up with a clear coat, you’ll also gain protection against water, stains, and even certain kinds of insects, mold, and mildew.

When using Exterior Stain, some people prefer a transparent wood shade. This will allow a light wood like pine, for example, to obtain the color of rich, dark mahogany while still allowing the natural wood grain to show through. There are dozens of natural wood shades available in a semi-transparent stain. There is also the option of solid color stains, which act more like paint in that they completely change the look of wood, but they won’t crack or peel as paint would. Solid stains can be mixed in any color, just like regular paint.

Solid exterior stains should be reapplied about every five years, and transparent stains should be reapplied yearly.  A UV-rated weatherproofing seal can also greatly extend the time between re-staining. It will protect against both the weather and the sun.

A good way to check whether your deck or fence needs a new coat of stain is to watch when it rains. Is the water beading up? You’re probably good for a while. If not, break out the brushes, it’s time to get to work.

Before you stain your deck, be sure that you have a few days of dry weather coming up. Once you’ve applied a stain, you’ll want to wait a couple of days before using your deck again, and the dryer the weather, the faster the stain will dry.

A few more important points about new decks and fences:

Pressure-treated lumber needs to dry for at least 6 months before wood treatments are applied, so don’t go staining that brand new deck!

Kiln-dried lumber will need about two months to dry before staining or painting, so if you’ve just built your deck or fence, give it 8 weeks to settle in before getting your paintbrush and stain out