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Whether you’re dealing with wood decking, fencing, or furniture, painting and stain are wonderful tools to improve your outdoor fixtures and amenities. Stain is a bit trickier than paint because it seeps into the wood and is harder to change or cover up. So, choosing the right stain is important. It isn’t the most important decision in your life, so don’t stress, but there are some key steps to follow that can help you choose a stain that hits the mark you are envisioning.


Take a tour of your yard first and ask some questions. What is already stained? How long has it been stained? Do you want everything to generally match or are you looking to create some interesting contrasts? These observations will help you decide on what you want. Note that stains fade with time, so perhaps it will take time for your different structures to blend the way you want.


Once you have taken the time to look around the yard and make decisions, take the time to test the wood you are going to stain. If it is a DIY project, try to save some of the unused wood to use for testing. This is a fantastic way to see how the stain will settle in. It is also an opportunity to perhaps try a few different options. If it is a small piece of wood, you can carry it around to see how it looks in different light and next to the other existing pieces. Remember that light changes throughout the day and take a look at the sample at various times in the day. If you don’t have an extra piece of wood, just choose a small part of the structure that won’t be as visible. Then check in on it a few times in the day to see how the light changes the look.


Knowledge is power, and not just in a deeply philosophical way. Knowing what kind of stain is good for what kind of projects will help you choose the one that is best for the project at hand. There are a few options:

  • Clear Sealant Stain: This is a great stain to choose if you want to protect the wood and not change it. It will simply highlight the natural color of the wood and keep it looking that way for a very long time.
  • Toner Stain: This stain is just one step above clear. It will add a slight tint that will enhance the natural grains and features of the wood as well as provide protection.
  • Semi-Transparent Stain: This is the next step in the progression. This will begin to change the color of the wood, but the original color is still apparent.
  • Solid Stain: This is the choice if you are looking for something bold. It offers the most protection and the most change in tone. This stain is definitely one you want to test!


You already know the size of the structure, but it’s also important to know the size of the space that the structure is in before choosing the stain color. Darker colors have the potential to make smaller spaces appear even smaller. They can also bring some intimacy to a larger space. Lighter stains will have the opposite effect, opening up spaces large and small. While the stain cannot change the size of a fence, it will affect how it appears in the space. A darker fence will be more imposing on the space, while a lighter fence will blend in and open the space more.


After you have looked, tested, learned, and measured, the staining will begin. It will look amazing, and you will want to keep it that way. Take time to protect it with a sealer to preserve the carefully planned look you designed and created.

While some people go the paint route, stain is often regarded as more aesthetically pleasing. It can also preserve the character of beautiful wood or make run-of-the-mill wood (no pun intended) look more expensive and elegant than it actually is.

There will be bigger decisions in your life than picking the best stain for your yard. No need to stress about this one, but you won’t regret taking some time to look around, plan it out, and move forward. Then, just sit back and enjoy your work. You deserve it.