Wood decks are always subject to damage from the elements: that’s unavoidable. Some common issues we come across are UV damage, insect damage, rot, greying, splitting, and splintering. Without something to protect your exterior wood, any deck will eventually gray and rot. And the thing to protect it is a stain. But how to choose?
First you’ll want to know a little about the differences between stains, of which there are four major types: solid color, semisolid, semitransparent, and clear toner. Let’s go through them one by one:
(1) Solid color stains: these are the stains that most closely resemble flat paint. Solid color stains will hide the grain of your wood, though not the texture, and—of all your stain options—they provide the most UV protection for your deck. One common complaint about solid stains is that they can and do peel, though maintenance on them is relatively easy and, when properly applied, you should only need to re-coat your deck every five to seven years.
(2) Semisolid stains: these stains contain less pigment than solid stains. Semisolid stains will partially obscure the grain of your wood, but they resist peeling very well, leave no surface film, and only need to be reapplied every two to four years.
(3) Semitransparent stains: these stains are another ghostly step away from pigment, containing just enough coloring matter to change the tone of your wood without obscuring its grain. Like semisolid stains, they don’t peel, leave no surface film, and need to be re-coated more often than solid stains (about once every two to three years).
(4) Clear stains: these stains are for the homeowner who wants to preserve the natural color of his or her exterior wood. Clear finishes play a kind of parlor trick on UV damage, containing minutely ground-up iron pigments (known more technically as transoxides) that protect your wood from the sun without obscuring its grain or imparting color. Be aware that clear stains will require more upkeep than your other options, as you’ll likely need to reapply the stain annually.
No matter which kind of stain you choose, though, you’ll thank yourself for sealing your exterior wood. Protecting your deck from foot traffic, water damage, mold, mildew, sun damage, and the many enemies of bare wood that lurk in the New England climate is not only smart deck management: it’s essential.