Brian's House Building Blog

Timber Fencing: Is Paint Or Stain Best?

by Peyton Sanders

If you're about to construct a timber fence, you're probably also thinking about the sort of finish you need to apply to this new feature. With a host of paints and stains available, it's sometimes difficult to know which sort of product to use, and everybody seems to have a different opinion. In fact, the right choice depends on what you want (and don't want) from the fence. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision.

You want to make the most of the wood's natural finish

A timber fence can create a beautiful backdrop for plants, trees and shrubs, and many gardeners want a finish that looks as natural as possible. The wood's natural grain, texture and colour can improve the aesthetics of your garden, and if you want to protect and show off these things, a stain is probably the right choice for you.

A stain will not disguise the timber's natural features, and even after several coats, the grain and texture will remain visible, especially if you choose a lighter shade. You can also buy lightly-pigmented stains that enhance the wood's natural finish, while oil-based stains will expand and contract with the surface of pressure-treated timber to avoid unattractive cracks.

What's more, once you have painted a fence, it's difficult to change your mind and switch to a stain. You can change from a stain to paint relatively easily, but it takes a lot of effort to revert to a natural, stained finish after you have applied the paint.

You want as little maintenance as possible

If your timber fence is functional and/or covers a large area, you probably won't want lots of ongoing maintenance. If this applies to you, paint is probably a better solution to protect the timber, as you won't need to reapply the product as often as you would with most wood stains.

The ingredients in paint form a thick, opaque layer on the surface of the timber. The barrier that paint provides can last for up to ten years before you would need to strip the surface back and apply a new coat. A wood stain will not last as long. In fact, some exposed stained timber surfaces may need a new coat every year.

You can't use wood stain as a repair material, either. Paint will quickly fill cracks and small imperfections to give an old fence new life. Wood stain is too thin to have the same effect.

You want protection from bright sunlight

Bright sunlight is a problem for many Australian homeowners. Untreated wood will quickly suffer in direct sunlight, and, without protection, a timber fence will quickly dry out and turn grey. If your fence is likely to receive a lot of direct sunlight, you may want to consider paint.

Wood stain is normally only UV-resistant to a limited extent. Without regular applications, wood stains will quickly degrade in hot sunshine, allowing damage to the timber. However, a coat of paint will offer more resistance to heat and sunlight, thanks to the thick, tough barrier the material provides.

You want a surface that's easy to keep clean

You can't really clean a stained wood fence, as the surface remains porous, but a high-quality paint finish makes it easy to clean the fence with a little soap and water. If you need to contend with mould, mildew and other types of dirt, a painted surface will take minimal effort to keep clean.

A painted fence is easier to deal with if you suffer with graffiti, too. Although annoying, it's relatively easy to paint over spray paint, ink or crayon left by a street artist. It's harder to recover a stained timber surface that suffers the same fate.

Both paint and stain can help look after a timber fence, but some products are more suitable in certain situations. Talk to a timber supplier like Hayter's Timber & Paving for more information and advice.