Staining a fence can be a tedious job, but it's one that needs to be done if you want your fence to stand up to the elements and not begin to rot after a few years. Though it may be a dull task, it's also a simple one, and even an amateur can stain a good-sized fence in a single day.
What You Will Need
Whether you're painting a solid-plank privacy fence or a picket fence, you'll need the same basic tools. They include a roller, roller brushes (semi-rough or rough), a 2-inch wide and a 4-inch wide brush, a drop cloth (optional), a paint tray and a paint tray liner. You'll also want to buy some painter's tape to cover the hinges and latches on your fence. When buying stain, talk to someone in the paint department and describe the size and style of the fence your are staining. More than likely, you'll need to buy a 5-gallon can of stain, which will probably save you time and money in the long run (over buying multiple 1-gallon cans to complete a job). Most fences---especially ones made of cedar---absorb a lot of stain, so start with 5 gallons and see how far it takes you. Also make sure the stain matches the color and make of the wood you are staining (most fences are made of cedar or pine). And if your fence was made from scratch with new lumber, wait at least three months before staining it to allow the wood to cure.
Staining the Fence
To start, stain the top of the fence, and give it a thick coating. This is the section that bears the brunt of the rain and sun and needs the most protection. Also, this allows any runoff to drip down the fence where you can work it into the wood. Whether you use a brush or a roller, paint the front and right edge of each picket or plank and repeat the process until one side is done. When that's complete, repeat the process on the other side of the fence. If you are painting over a patio or other area you don't want stained, slide a drop cloth or a thin piece of wood under the fence to catch runoff.
Allow the stain to dry for an hour or so, then go over the entire fence and look for spots that you missed. Staining a fence is essentially sealing it off from the elements, so you don't want to leave any spots exposed.
Additional Tips and Follow-Up
When you're painting your fence with a brush, use short, quick strokes and try to paint in the direction the wood grain runs. This ensures that you'll provide it with a smooth, even coat. And after six months or so, add a second layer of stain to the fence, or paint it to add another protective layer and to protect areas that didn't get enough stain the first time (different parts of the fence will be more porous than others). If your stain doesn't contain sealant, you can add a layer of sealant instead. Either way, spending the extra time and money to add a second coat will protect the investment you made in your fence for years to come.
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