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How to Stain a Wooden Fence (Ultimate Guide)

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Discover how easy it is to DIY fence stain in this step-by-step tutorial for how to stain a wooden fence! This guide will walk you through every step of the process!

Pinterest image with stained wood fence and text overlay "How to Stain a Wooden Fence / DIY"

When we bought our new construction home last year the one thing that was not done for us as part of the build was the exterior fencing and landscaping.

With our house being in an interesting lot that shares property lines with four other houses (two on the sides and two along the back) we have a lot of different fencing around our property…

One side of our house had the fence installed before we even moved in (those side neighbors got theirs done quick!) and the other side was installed later by a contractor (we split the cost with that side neighbor.)

Then to save on cost, we teamed up with our two backside neighbors and DIY installed the back fence. That’s right – we have three different fences surrounding our house! 🤪

None of these fences had been stained or treated, so we decided to stain all of them in hopes of creating a consistent color and style throughout.

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In today’s post, I want to share with you the process of staining a fence in detail.

This includes everything from considering stain colors, to testing them, to actually doing the staining, and mistakes to watch out for.

If you’re considering staining your own fence, this post should walk you through every step for how to stain a wooden fence!

Wide angle of a stained wooden fence with tall trellises, a gate, and green arborvitaes.

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Pros and Cons of Staining a Fence

Pros:

  • Easy to apply
  • Prevents water from seeping into the wood
  • Prevents rotting
  • Prevents splintering/splitting
  • Fends off insects
  • Limits the UV damage
  • Preserves the color of the wood
  • Leads to a longer lifespan for your fence
  • Improves curb appeal

Cons:

  • Stain can fade over time
  • Will need to be re-stained every 3 years
  • Less variety in colors than paint
  • Takes 2 days to dry

Types of Wood Fence Stain

When considering what type of stain you want for your wooden fence, there are a few things to consider.

  1. What type of wood is your fence? There are a few types of wood that need time to dry out before accepting stain well – these include cedar, redwood and pressure treated wood. Also, depending on what type of wood your fence has, the color will present differently. Be sure to check the colors based on your wood type.
  2. Is water-based or oil-based stain best for you? Oil-based stains are easier to apply and cover better with less streaking, but they’re fumes are strong and they can lead to mold and mildew. Water-based stains last longer and actually resist mold and mildew, but they take a bit more prep work on the front end.
  3. What do you want the fence to look like after staining? Whether you want the wood grain to show through or be hidden will determine the transparency of the stain you get and what color you want your fence to be will determine the shade.

After reviewing these considerations, we decided to use a water-based, fully transparent, clear stain for our fences.

I’m not a huge fan of a lot of color on my wood – I like the natural look – which is why I was excited to find a “clear” version!

Stain Transparency

There are really three main transparency options for wood stain – transparent, semi-transparent, and solid color.

Transparent stains have just a slight color shade to them and provide a clear finish that accentuates the beauty of the natural wood. These stains are good for new or untreated fences.

RECOMMENDED TRANSPARENT STAINS:

Semi-transparent stains are the recommended choice for fences 5-10 years old and give hints of color while still showcasing the texture and grain of the wood.

RECOMMENDED SEMI-TRANSPARENT STAINS:

Solid color stains are similar to paint in that they hide the wood’s imperfections and give a more even, uniform look. This type of stain is recommended for fences that are 10+ years old and have wood that is very worn.

RECOMMENDED SOLID STAINS:

Stain Color

After you’ve determined which transparency level is best for your fencing, the next thing you have to decide is what color you want!

There is a wide range of colors, from clear all the way to chocolate brown or even dark grey/black.

I recommend driving around a few neighborhoods and looking at a bunch of different fences to see which color appeals to you most.

Then once you have one you like, consider whether that color matches your house’s paint colors.

If so, then go for it! As always, I say go with what you like because it’s what is going to make you happy. 🙂

Visit this article more in-depth reviews of the best stains for a wood fence.

When to Stain a Wooden Fence

The best time to stain a wooden fence is during the early or late summer.

You’ll want a few days of warm, dry weather both before and after you stain your fence.

Be sure your wood is completely dry before you stain and verify there isn’t rain in the forecast for at least 2 days after.

It’s also best to avoid staining in extreme heat, so shooting for a time of day when it’s between 65-75 degrees is ideal.

Mistakes to Avoid when Staining a Fence

There are a few mistakes that are easy to avoid if you’re aware of them, so I wanted to review those with you before you start your staining project.

  1. Don’t put on too thick of coats. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendation regarding number of coats (ours said to do two light coats) and do what they suggest. Spraying on the stain too thick could lead to drip marks or uneven coverage.
  2. Don’t let over-spray damage other items close by. If there are things near your fence that might be affected by overspray (our neighbors have a boat stored above the top of one of ours!) be sure to cover them before you spray that area of your fence. This includes your house’s siding!
  3. Don’t let drips sit without being rolled. This one is important, because most likely there will be a spot where you get a bit too much stain on a board and a drip will accumulate. Be sure to go back over it with a roller and smooth it out before moving on. (If you don’t, you’ll get drip spots like the ones shown below…)

How to Stain a Fence FAQ

How do you prepare a wood fence for staining?

If you have a new, untreated fence, giving it a quick wipe down is enough.

If your fence is over a year old, scrape off any residual paint or stain (assuming it’s been treated before) and then wash it with a pressure washer.

Can you stain a fence without sanding it?

Yes! Most of the time there isn’t a need for sanding a fence before staining it.

That being said, if your fence is over a year old or has been treated before, you will definitely want to scrape it off with a paint scraper to remove any chipping paint or wood splinters before applying your fresh stain.

Is it better to spray or roll stain on a fence?

Either way will get you a good coat of stain, but spraying is by far faster and more convenient.

Rolling stain on a fence is a lot of work and is actually quite tricky because most fence boards aren’t exactly even along the seams so you’d need to use a roller small enough to do just one board at a time.

What is the easiest way to stain a fence?

The easiest way to stain a fence is with a small sprayer. I’ll show you exactly how to stain a wooden fence with a sprayer down below!

Can I stain a fence myself?

Absolutely! It is honestly so easy with a sprayer and I’m going to walk you through each step below!

Ok, let’s get to it, shall we? 🙂

Row of arborvitaes against a stained wood fence.

How to Stain a Wood Fence

For a printable copy of the materials and instructions, scroll down.

Materials Needed:

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Tools Needed:

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DIY Fence Staining Process

STEP 1: Stain a Test Area

Before you buy all of your stain and get going, it’s best to purchase a small amount of the stain you plan to use and stain a small area of your fence to confirm you like the coverage and color.

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway down a fence line and realizing it’s not at all what you expected!

We chose the front corner of our property where our two fences (built at different times, with different wood) come together so we could test the stain on both types.

Corner of a an unstained fence with a gallon of stain sitting in the gravel next to it.

Simply use a paintbrush to brush on small section and let it dry. Check the coloring at different times of the day to make sure you like it during all the different sun levels.

Close up of a hand painting stain onto the corner of a wooden fence with a paint brush.

You can see where we stained the top few feet of the corner of ours to check the color.

Close up of the corner of an unstained fence with a small section on either side of the corner stained.

And… we liked it, so we decided we were ready to commit!

STEP 2: Prep your Fence

This step will vary depending on how old your fence is and if it’s been stained or painted before.

Our fence is less than a year old and has not been treated, so the prep work was minimal.

We went through and cleared out any weeds that were growing around the base or through the boards, wiped off any cobwebs and washed spots that had gotten dirty.

If your fence was previously treated or is more than a year old, we recommend scraping off any loose paint or stain then washing it down with a pressure-washer. Be sure to let it dry completely before starting your staining process.

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STEP 3: Prep the Surrounding Areas

As I mentioned above in the “Mistakes to Avoid” section, you want to make sure anything that might get over-spray from your work is protected.

This might mean covering items in plastic or cardboard, removing them from an area temporarily, or even simply staining a section by paint brush, rather than the sprayer, to avoid over-spray.

We chose to be lazy and do this as we went – I worked ahead of Chris and moved items that were in the way before he got there with the sprayer and then also followed behind him and wiped off metal pieces with a rag that got over-spray on them.

Close up of a metal bracket covered in stain being wiped clean by a rag.

I also hand-stained with a brush all of the sections against our house to avoid taping and risking the chance of over-spray on the siding.

STEP 4: Spray the Stain

After you’ve cleaned the fence and it’s completely dry, and the surrounding areas are prepped and ready, it’s time to get staining!

Fill your sprayer with your stain and set the nozzle to vertical. Check your sprayer’s instructions regarding how far from the fence to hold your sprayer and be sure to shoot for keeping that distance throughout.

Spray up and down your boards in a vertical fashion, moving to the next board (or two, depending on your sprayer’s diameter of coverage) with each pass.

Remember, don’t do too heavy of coats or it will drip!

A man staining a wood fence with a paint sprayer.

We used a small paint/stain sprayer and I couldn’t believe how easy it was!

The only downside was that the reservoir for the stain was rather small so we were refilling it pretty frequently.

When you get to areas that are landscaped, simply spray around the bushes as best you can and then roll the rest with your small roller.

Woman holding an arborvitae tree away from the fence while a man sprays stain on the fence behind the tree.

I assisted Chris with holding our arborvitae trees away from the fence so he could spray behind them.

We also have three panels of trellis against one side of our fence, so we unscrewed them from the fence and laid them down as best we could for the first coat on the fence behind them.

Then for the second coat we simply sprayed them in place.

Man spraying stain onto a wood trellis against a wood fence with a small paint sprayer.

One coat of stain with the sprayer only took us about 3 hours to do our entire property line. And we did that two times, because our stain recommended two thin coats.

I can’t believe how nice it looks!

Because it’s my favorite, let’s look at a before/after:

Yep, totally worth the work. 😉

As promised, here are the printable instructions:

Yield: 1 Fence

How to Stain a Wooden Fence

How to Stain a Wooden Fence

Learn how to stain a wooden fence in a few easy steps!

Prep Time: 1 hour
Active Time: 3 hours
Additional Time: 2 days
Total Time: 2 days 4 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Materials

Instructions

  1. If your fence is more than a year old or has been treated before, prep it by scraping off any peeling paint or splintering wood and then pressure wash it. Let it dry completely.
  2. Determine which transparency and color of stain you want and stain a small section of your fence to confirm you like it.
  3. Prep the surrounding areas by taping off or covering items that might get damaged by over-spray.
  4. Spray your fence with a small paint/stain sprayer in a vertical fashion, moving on to the next board with each pass.
  5. As you come to landscaping that is against the fence, move the plants away from the fence as best you can to spray behind them and use your roller to cover the sections you couldn't reach with the sprayer.
  6. Let dry and apply a second coat, if your stain recommends.

Notes

Don't apply coats that are too thick, it can cause drips.

Stain your fence when you have at least 2 days of warm, dry weather both before and after.

Any questions remaining on how to stain a wooden fence? Let me know in the comments!

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