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Posted by Michael Whalen on 5/17/2023 to Wood Stain Application Tips

Understanding the Different Types of Coatings and Their Uses


There are a number of different types of wood coatings. Each has its own purpose, and may be used independently or in combination with other coatings. Whether you are building a new home, maintaining a log home, or simply refreshing the appearance of your wood siding, deck, or fence knowing which coatings you should use is essential to a successful project. We want you to love the results of your hard work, which is why we have prepared a brief overview of the various wood coatings and their applications! 


Stain is a type of solution that is used to permanently alter the coloration of wood. The most basic type of stain consists of two ingredients: vehicle, and pigment and/or dyes. The vehicle is the liquid which makes application of the stain possible. It may be as simple as water or alcohol. Alternatively, it may be a product that is commonly used for finishing such as shellac or varnish. Pigments and dyes are both substances which alter wood's color. Stains that primarily contain pigments are referred to as "solid"; those which mainly consist of dyes are called "transparent."

Stains are used to bind colorants to all kinds of wood surfaces, including decks, furniture, and the interiors and exteriors of log homes. It is important to note that stains are specialized: A product that is designed for interior use will fail to withstand constant exposure to weather.


Unlike stain, which is designed to add color to wood, finish is formulated to safeguard the wood against moisture and other sources of environmental damage. That doesn't mean finish won't enhance wood's aesthetics, however, as many products do deepen or brighten wood's natural luster.

Finishes are divisible into two categories: penetrating and surface. Penetrating finishes include tung, linseed and Danish oils, all of which soak deeply into the wood's surface to protect it from cracking, drying and swelling. True to their name, surface finishes do not penetrate deeply into the underlying wood. Products such as shellac, lacquer, varnish and wax serve only to create a durable protective outer layer.


Wood cleaner is any product designed to remove grime and dirt from wooden surfaces, including log cabin exteriors, decking, flooring, furniture and cabinetry. Various wood cleaning products can contain active ingredients such as sodium hypochlorite (aka bleach), calcium hypochlorite, sodium percarbonate or dipropylene glycol methyl ether.


Wood cleaners are often combined with wood brighteners. Wood brightener contains acid that lowers the wood's pH level, which in turn induces pore dilation. Open pores reflect light more effectively, which has the overall effect of lightening the wood's color. Because they are frequently applied simultaneously, a product which combines wood cleaner and brightener halves the amount of time the contractor or property owner must spend on application. 


Wood preservative is commonly applied to wooden surfaces that are exposed to the elements, such as decks, siding, log home exteriors and fencing. It contains chemicals which actively deter rot and decay from sources such as mold, fungi and insects. It may also create a barrier against water, oils, salts and acids.

Wood preservatives traditionally contained substances such as chromated arsenicals, creosote and pentachlorophenol (PCP), although these have since been deemed harmful to the environment and have largely been abandoned for residential use. Safer yet still effective alternatives such as alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ), copper azole and copper naphthenate are presently used instead. High-quality wood preservatives can include a silicate solution which promotes deeper permeation of and bonding with the wood.

Borate Treatment

Borate treatment is also a preservative. Borate boasts excellent water solubility. Alongside its superior insecticidal and fungicidal properties, that makes it an optimal treatment for wood that is at risk of becoming damaged by termites, beetles, carpenter ants and other wood-boring insects. Borate kills the symbiotic microbes that reside within those insects' stomachs. Some insect species instinctually avoid consuming borate-treated wood; others don't, and die soon afterward.


Insecticide, such as Walla Walla Environmental Bug Juice, may be added to any oil- or latex-based paint, stain or sealant in order to provide greater protection against insects. The active ingredient is deltamethrin, which destroys an insect's nervous system if it comes into close contact with (or eats part of) the treated surface's coating. Deltamethrin is significantly less toxic to mammals, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency has approved it for both interior and exterior use.

Lovitt's Coatings specializes in producing high-quality stains, sealers, cleaners, brighteners, preservatives and insecticides for a wide range of architectural applications. If you would like to know anything more about which coatings are best-suited for your goals, then we welcome you to contact us today!