How To Paint Or Stain A Fence

Roger Diez | Improvement Center Columnist | December 14, 2011

If you have a recently constructed wood fence, it is probably bare. One major component of wood is cellulose, which makes it attractive to insects and subject to rot. A fence paint or stain will help protect the wood against pests and the elements, and keep your fence looking like new for much longer. Before you apply any coating, make sure the wood has dried thoroughly.

Paint or Stain?

If you long for the traditional white picket fence, then paint is your medium. However, if you like the look of natural wood, you may want to choose a semi-transparent stain. Solid color stains are another good option. Stains are applied much like paint, but they are not as thick.

Paint provides the best protection against the elements, but tends to crack and peel, due to the difference in expansion rates of wood and paint. Paint tends to be a little more expensive, because primer and two coats are generally needed. While initially cheaper, stain fades with time and does not provide the same protection. Oil-based paints and stains give more environmental protection than water-based.

In the end, the choice between paint and stain is yours. The deciding factor should be the look you're trying to achieve with your landscape, and how the color of the fence complements the exterior of your home.

How to paint or stain a fence in 6 simple steps

Whether painting or staining a fence, following certain steps can help you achieve a successful result:

  1. Determine your method: brush, roller or spray gun. While paint sprayers are a small investment, they're a handy, DIY tool in the long run. They can save a lot of time on large jobs.
  2. Purchase your paint or stain. Know the square footage of your fence in advance, so you can buy the right number of gallons or quarts.
  3. Start with a clean, dry surface: Hand or pressure wash the fence and allow to dry thoroughly.
  4. Apply a primer for best results.
  5. If using paint, apply two coats. For best results, allow the first coat to dry overnight before applying the second.
  6. For stain, one or two coats will work. Stain dries quickly, so two coats can be applied the same day.

Fence paint costs

Fence paint starts at $15 a gallon for latex, while top-of-the-line linseed oil paint can cost as much as $80 per gallon. A high-quality, oil-based fence stain will cost between $25 and $45 per gallon. You'll get the most coverage per gallon from a semi-transparent stain.

Paint and stain brushes run $5 to $20 each; roller frames average about $8 each with an additional cost of about $2 per roller cover. Drop cloths, tarps and rags can be found around the house, or purchased inexpensively. Paint sprayers range in price point from $40 to $800. A consumer, "airless" sprayer ranges from $100 to $150.

Whether you choose to paint or stain your new fence, it's a good idea, because it "seals the deal" on a landscape investment, while augmenting your home's curb appeal.