How to stain a fence

Summary: How to choose the right stain, what equipment you need, preparation and how to apply stain to your fence, and when is the best time to stain your fencing.

Don't want to do this job yourself? Let us help you find a tradesman local to you

To keep your fence looking good and well protected from the elements, you need to treat it every couple of years. If you are putting up a new fence, it is a good idea to apply the stain to the panels and posts before you put the fence up – it’s a lot easier to cover all surfaces, and it will be less awkward reaching the high bits and avoiding spiky shrubs!

Equipment

Make sure you wear old clothing and gloves, as it’s impossible to paint a fence without some stain transferring itself onto your person at some point!


You need to decide on how you are going to apply the stain. You can use an old fashioned brush, a roller, or if you have a large expanse of fencing it may be worth investing in a pump or power sprayer. If you are using a brush, a good wide (at least 100mm/4”) brush will cover the surface quicker, but you will also need a smaller (25-50mm/1-2”) brush to get into awkward gaps. Even if you are using a roller or sprayer, you will need to use a brush to paint the harder-to-reach areas and edges where you need to be careful not to spray stain, ie where the fence adjoins a wall or if there are windows or delicate plants nearby.

Choosing the Right Stain

There is such a wide choice of wood stains available now that it can be quite bewildering. Just make sure the one you choose is suitable for exterior applications. Check on the tin for coverage to make sure you buy enough.


When it comes to colour, make sure you think about how the whole fence is going to look. A bright gold might contrast well with one of your plants, but when you’re looking at 20 metres of it you might not like it as much. Try applying a small amount of stain to an area of fence that’s not too obvious first, and let it dry to make sure it comes out the colour that you want.


If you are using a sprayer to apply the stain, make sure you buy one that is compatible with a sprayer.

Preparation

You must make sure your fence is clean before applying the stain, or it won’t adhere or soak into the wood. If the fence is sturdy enough, you can use a power-washer to wash it down before you start. If there is any green or black mould on the fence, scrub well with watered bleach before you start. Let the timber dry completely before you start painting the stain on.

Move any garden furniture out of the way before you start, and if possible cover nearby plants with a dust-sheet or tarp to protect them from splashes.

When to Stain

Check the forecast before you start staining your fence – if it is too cold the stain won’t dry, and you obviously don’t want it to rain for a few hours. If it has been raining recently, wait for the wood to dry before you start work – the stain won’t take to wood that is already wet.


Try to wait until the fence is in the shade before you start work – if the wood is too hot, the stain will dry too fast and won’t get a chance to soak into the wood properly. The stain can only protect the timber fully if allowed to soak in. There is also the chance that depending on the stain you use, harmful gasses could be released if it overheats.

Applying the Stain

Use a brush to paint the top, edges and any trellis, then carry on with your implement of choice. Always paint in the same directions as the grain of the timber. Maintain a wet edge by brushing into a wet area and back brushing, to avoid uneven coverage and darker areas where you’ve overlapped.


If you are using a roller or sprayer be sure to check that you haven’t missed any hard-to-reach gaps. Use a brush to make sure you get stain down into the small spaces between panels and posts.


Apply the stain fairly liberally, making sure there is enough to fully penetrate the timber but be careful not to leave drips. Start at the top and work your way down – this way you can catch any drips. If your fence is constructed from lap panels, be careful to make sure there are no drips escaping down the other side of the fence. If you have an agreement with your neighbour to each take care of your own side of the fence, it is a good idea to find a colour that you both like so that any stray drips don’t look too obvious!

Follow the stain manufacturer’s instructions on how many coats are needed, and how soon subsequent coats can be applied. A minimum of two coats are usually required to give your fence full protection.


Don't fancy doing this project yourself? We work with Checkatrade to ensure that we recommend only reliable and trustworthy tradesmen.

All project content written and produced by

Project Feedback