Exterior Wood Stain: How to Stain and Seal Exterior Wood

water droplets beading up on a deck
  • 20-40 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 1,000-7,000
What You'll Need
Paint remover
Wood stain
Spar urethane
Paper towels
Clean rags
Scrub brush
Scrub pad
4-inch new foam brushes
Bristle paintbrush
Latex gloves

Applying exterior wood stain to an entry door, porch deck, or railing is the decorative aspect of the finish. This must be followed by a protective sealant, such as spar urethane, to ensure that the wood is not damaged by the weather. There are very specific steps for staining and sealing exterior wood. If the wood is not a new installation, chances are it already has some type of finish on it. Painted wood must first be stripped of its coating in order to proceed. This how-to will guide you through the process of decorating and protecting outdoor wood.

Strip Wood of Paint

If you're staining and sealing new wood, you can forgo the first three steps. If you're working with existing wood, however, this is necessary. Set the wood on sawhorses with the side to be stripped facing up. Wearing latex gloves, pour a good amount of paint remover onto the wood. Use the bristle paint brush to spread it around all painted areas. Don't immediately start scraping. Add another coat of remover and let it do most of the work for you. After applying and spreading around the remover and allowing it to sit for a half-hour, start scraping. For some paints, applying heat while stripping can aid in the removal.

stripping blue paint off wood

Remove All Paint

Once the remover has done most of the work, go over the painted wood with a scrub brush, working it into grooves, corners, and other hard-to-reach areas. Briskly scrub any trouble spots. Use the scraper to remove large chunks of paint and push them off the wood onto the newspaper spread out around the sawhorses. Try to avoid the waste running off onto plants and surrounding landscaping.

Clean the Wood

Once the paint is removed, soak and squeeze out a clean scrub pad. Go over the entire wood surface with it, cleaning every inch. This helps to remove any paint remover residue, as well as gives the wood a good cleaning. Let the wood dry thoroughly.

Sand the Wood

You may find it helpful to go over either the new wood or the newly cleaned wood with a fresh piece of medium-grit sandpaper. It will remove any splinters or rough edges. Pay attention to corners and edges specifically.

applying stain to a deck

Stain the Wood

With your chosen stain, open up the can and have a clean rag at the ready. Wear new latex gloves for this as well. Dip in a foam brush and begin to apply the stain in one area of the wood with the grain. Work the stain into the wood with the clean rag, always rubbing with the grain. Don't try to cover the entire piece at once. Go in small sections. Some stains may call for more than one coat, but not always. Read the manufacturer's directions.

Finish the Wood

After the stain is in, it's time to apply the sealant. Spar urethane is an ideal product for this because it protects wood so well. You will apply it in much the same way as the stain, although you will not rub it in with a clean rag. Apply a coat evenly over the entire surface. Let it dry until it's tacky. Go over it lightly with the sandpaper, smoothing it out a bit before applying the second coat. Let that coat get tacky as well, before coating it a third time.

All of your exterior wood pieces can be stained and sealed in the same way. Once sealed, they're protected from the elements as well as decorated in a way you're happy with.