Protecting Your Wood Fence

What You'll Need
Semitransparent stain
Solid stain
Pressure washer
Heat gun and scraper

Wooden fences are expensive besides being a lot of work to install, but a good looking fence can add thousands of dollars to your property value (while a  poorly maintained one can actually decrease your home value) so, it just makes sense to make an effort to maintain your investment. The best way to protect wood is to keep the elements (rain, sun) from affecting it and that means either painting or staining the wood. Here's some thoughts on how you can protect your wooden fence over the years.

So, paint versus stain?

  • When it comes to protecting wood from the elements you have three choices - paint, semitransparent stain and solid stain.
  • Paint consists of a solvent (in latex paints, water is the solvent), pigments (the color) and a binder that holds the paint pigments in place and is the ingredient that gives paint its finish - i.e. glossy, flat, egg shell.
  • Paints are designed to remain on the surface of the wood and form a film or layer on the surface that prevents moisture from getting through into the underlying wood.
  • Paints provide more UV protection than stains but paints applied to poorly prepared wood can bubble and peel so often won't last as long as a stain


  • Stains are made from the same ingredients as paint, but they're combined in different proportions and are usually much thinner (more viscous) than paint.
  • Stains are designed to actually soak into the wood and fill the wood pores so water can't get into the wood.
  • Semitransparent stain have less pigment than solid or opaque stains and provide a translucent appearance that allows the grain and texture of the underlying wood to show through, making it an attractive finish for new wood fences. However they don't provide as much UV protection as paint or a solid stain.
  • Solid (opaque) stains contain much more pigment than semi transparent stains so covers the underlying grain of the wood. It's a good choice for older, weathered surfaces or surfaces that have been previously stained with semi transparent stains.

As with any painting project, before you actually do any painting, you need to prepare the surface properly to ensure your job lasts.

  • If your fence has not yet been painted or stained your preparation will be straight forward - simply pressure wash or sand the boards to remove any weathering and get them back close to their original wood appearance.
  • If your fence has been previously painted, ideally you should remove all the old paint by sanding or using a heat gun and scraper, but if you are going to be repainting, often all that is required is scraping away any flaking or loose paint. However, if you are changing from paint to stain, it's important you apply a coat of primer to the entire surface before you can safely stain your fence to ensure the stain will adhere.
  • Previously stained fences should be sanded or pressure washed to provide a clean surface for the new coat of stain to soak into the wood.

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer who writes on a wide range of topics, but he specializes in home maintenance and how to's. He has more than 900 articles published on the web, as well as print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada.