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Your Perimeter Fencing - Considerations for Staining Your Fence

Posted Oct 17, 2022

Karen's Company just finished re-staining a perimeter fence for one of our clients in Boulder. There are lots of aspects to consider when you decide to do this type of staining project. Fences are an interesting project because they are sometimes so sprawling (long) that they take a lot of labor expense to stain, and the professional painter needs to know which processes are most important to the customer.

To consider:

  • Fence Prep - Cleaning and Brightening
  • Stain Application - Spraying, Brushing or Back-brushing
  • Landscaping - Overspray Protection
  • Handling the Exposed Wire Mesh
  • The Type and Manufacturer of the Stain

For example, for a home on a modest lot with 20 feet of 6 ft cedar privacy fencing that is close to the family's outside activities might warrant a high level of process and a rural home with hundreds of linear feet of three rail fencing might indicate a different approach.

Here are a couple of pictures of the three rail perimeter fence with wire meshing. (By the way, this is a great time of year to work on this type of project - who would not like to spend their workday outside adding protection and beauty to a structure like this?)

Fence Prep - Cleaning and Brightening Step - How much emphasis should you put on having the fence clean and bright? Your painter should be knowledgeable about how to clean and brighten your fence, as stain will apply better and last longer on a clean surface, and look better if your fence has discoloration due to tannin oxidation. For a smaller fence that you see in detail every time you hang out outside, its a pretty easy decision to have it thoroughly cleaned and brightened. But if your fence is big, you might want to manage the expense and forgo the washing step if there are no heavily soiled sections of your fence. (If there is failing stain present, that's another conversation, and is not always an issue)

Stain Application - Spraying, Brushing or Back-brushing. Stain will last the longest and protect the wood the best if it is manually brushed into each nook, cranny and pore of the wood from each possible direction. Again, for a small project, we would highly recommend manual staining of the wood, but for a much larger project, homeowners might consider having the stain applied by spray technique. Its a balance between initial expense and duration, and you must decide if the increased expense (for manual brushing) is worth having another season or two of full protection. To be honest, most homeowners do not have us manual brush the longer fences.

Landscaping - Overspray Protection & Handling the Exposed Wire Mesh Is it okay to get sprayed stain on your trees and boulders and playground? No! (And its relatively easy to place drop cloths around to protect these items). But what about the dirt or grass right under the fence posts? and what about the wire mesh between the fence rails - is it okay to get stain on those items? Make sure you and your painting professional are clear about your expectations. Like the manual painting technique issue, your painter can put extra taping and covering into the scope of work, but it will make for a more expensive project.

Can you see the ground near the post where the sprayed stain coated the grass? Its not a long-lasting effect, but we always check with the homeowner to make sure that they are okay with minor overspray, otherwise, we put more time into the bid to minimize the overspray even more!

The Type and Manufacturer of the Stain. In considering what type of stain to use, there are several considerations. This is a useful graphic from Cabot's (below). The Solid Stain (Top) gives the best protection and the clear stain (bottom) gives the most clear wood grain appearance. How far in either direction should you go? Semi-transparent is a good choice, and the type we used here. It can come in a wide range of colors. Then there is the idea that for how expensive your time is, you should use the highest quality stain so that you don't have to do it again too soon!

The type of stains we applied in the past are being discontinued and re-formulated to comply with local and national environmental concerns. The petroleum based products did a good job protecting the wooden fences, but are no longer available. The new generation of reformulated products are just now being used routinely enough that we can start understanding which ones will work best in Colorado's intense uv environment.

What are the best stains to use on your wood fence? We think you should pick the ones with the highest amount of uv protection (for the class of stain). PPG's Cetol (formerly known as Sikken's Cetol) has always had at tremendous reputation for quality and is our first choice, but maybe with the new formulations another stain might move to the top. The Cabot's stain used in this project looked great - we will try to keep track of its preformance over the next years.

Hopefully this little article will help you understand what considerations and trade-offs are in play when you decide to stain a big sprawling project like a three-rail perimeter fence around a rural property.

Please stop by or call us if you want more info on the best way to stain your fence.

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