Picking the Perfect Wood Stain & Sealer for Your Needs

Are you looking for the best stain or sealer for your deck or log home? Don't simply pick up the first can of cabin varnish you find on a store shelf. There are a few important things to consider before you choose a treatment for a wood surface. We're going to make it easy for you – starting with whether you should select a stain or a sealer to begin with.

Wood Stain vs. Wood Sealer: What's the Difference?

Although they are both protective wood coatings, stain and sealer are not the same thing.

A sealer guards wood against water, fungus and insects, yet it typically lacks few if any pigments which alter the appearance of the wood. A sealer is preferable when you wish to preserve the wood's natural grain and color, and are unconcerned about the wood becoming damaged by exposure to direct sunlight.

A stain provides the same protections as sealer, yet it also additionally provides protection against the ultraviolet rays in sunlight which gradually dry out wood and cause it to crack and split. Stain does this because it contains pigment, which sealer lacks. Stains range from translucent to opaque; the darker the stain, the greater the protection it typically provides against sunlight.

In the simplest terms possible, sealer and stain both protect wood and prolong its lifespan. Stain simply provides additional protection against sunlight at the expense of changing the wood's color and concealing its grain. With that in mind, stain hardly worsens wood's appearance. The tint it creates can enhance wood's natural luster, as well as conceal existing discoloration.

How to Pick the Right Wood Stain

Before selecting a wood stain (which is not to be confused with wood varnish), consider the qualities of the wood that you would like to preserve. If you would like to highlight its natural color, then a water-based stain may be your best option. If you would rather darken the wood, an oil-based stain is the right place to start. If you would most like to smooth out a wood with a coarser grain, then you will probably be most satisfied with a gel stain.

Your wood's location is paramount to picking the best stain. If it is indoors or otherwise not exposed to direct sunlight, then a stain which lacks very much pigmentation will provide adequate protection against humidity and mold. But if the wood is exposed to the elements, a darker stain is likely necessary to prevent gradual warping and splintering.

Before committing to a stain, make certain it will look attractive under whichever source of light your wood will be exposed to. Incandescent light, fluorescent light and sunlight all refract differently off of the same stain. In short, rather than relying on the stain's label, it is essential to take home a sample so you can observe its appearance on location.

How to Pick the Right Wood Sealer

If you are staining wood that does not require additional protection against sunlight, then a sealer will do nicely.

Several types of sealers are available, including latex, acrylic, butyl and polyurethane. Each has its own relative advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of which one you select, you should first consider how much water the wood surface will be exposed to. Although all sealers protect against water infiltration, some offer greater protection than others. For example, a sealer that is adequate to protect patio furniture may prove insufficient for a deck or gazebo.

The type of wood you are sealing also determines which product is best. Common woods like maple, pine and cedar easily absorb most types of sealer. But because they grow in humid climates, exotic woods are dense and accordingly resistant to absorbing sealers which don't aggressively penetrate their substrate.

Sealer's relative lack of pigmentation means that its impact on wood may be imperceptible. If your priority is to keep wood's natural appearance completely intact, then a perfectly clear sealer is advisable. That said, sealer can tint wood, even if the difference is less pronounced than a stain's. Just like you should with a stain, it is wise to test a sealer out so you can observe how it will alter a wood surface's appearance beforehand.

If you have sensed that there is a great deal of science behind picking the perfect wood stain and wood sealer, then you are correct. If you would like any technical advice before committing to a product, the friendly and knowledgeable team at Lovitt's Coatings is happy to provide it free of charge. We welcome you to contact us today!