Staining a Deck

Once you have properly prepared your deck (see the procedure under the Tip of the Week archives) you are ready to apply your Stain of Choice. There are several options available depending on the look or durability that is important to you:
1. Clear
2. Transparent Toner
3. Semi-Transparent
4. Semi-Solid
5. Solid

These 5 options are listed in order of life-expectancy.  A clear sealer offers the most natural look but has a life-span of 1-2 years depending on the exposure to direct sunlight.  A transparent toner has a slightly longer life, perhaps 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 years.  A semi-transparent stain, having more solids than either the clear or transparent product,  will last a little longer, perhaps 2-3 years, a semi solid 3-4 years and a solid stain the longest at 4-6 years.  Remember that these are estimated times and can be affected by a number of other factors, including color, the sun exposure as mentioned above, weather, amount and type of traffic, condition of the deck when stained, and application.
 - The darker the color of the stain, the more sunlight it will absorb.  This will not only cause the deck to feel hotter but it can also cause the stain to break down sooner and shorten its life.

 - The more intense and longer the exposure to sunlight, the quicker the stain will begin to break down and show signs of age.

 - Rain or snow can shorten the life of a stain, but not perhaps in the way you would expect.  Stains are designed to resist moisture so just the act of being rained on doesn't necessarily affect the life of the stain job.  However, if some of the deck or railing boards are cupped from aging and warping, rain or snow will sometimes collect and stand in the cupped parts.  No coating is totally water repellant so if it remains under water for a day or two, the water will slowly work its way through the coating and into the wood, which can create a peeling problem.  For this reason it is also important to remove snow from your stained deck as soon as practical.  The moisture from snow buildup on a deck will have the same effect as puddled water.

 - Obviously, the more foot traffic on a deck, the quicker it will wear away.  Sometimes these areas can just be touched up without having to repaint the entire deck, depending on how much the stain has faded since the original application.  Dogs' claws can do major damage to a stain job if they are allowed free reign on and off the deck. But hey, we all love our dogs, right Mr. Reisenberg?

- Related to the issue of cupped boards as discussed above is the issue of spits in the wood. Splits also allow moisture to penetrate to the inside of the wood and can create peeling problems along the grain of the wood.  If your deck displays peeling primarily along the lines of grain, it almost has to be a moisture problem. You can try priming(oil base primer) the areas that display cracks and letting as muchprimer as possible bleed down into the crack and seal it. This may help, but the only true solutionis to replace old cracked and cupped boards.

 - The best application on most exterior surfaces is with a brush and/or roller.  A brush especially helps to work the stain into the nooks and crannies where it needs to be, especially on a rough surface.  A roller does this ok but is probably second best to a brush.  I am not a big fan of spraying most exterior surfaces as this does nothing to work the stain into the porous surfaces you are trying to seal and protect.  The exception to this is a smooth surface that has already been sealed.  In this case you are just applying another coat on top of a surface that doesn't need to have the coating worked into the microscopic openings.  Sometimes a painter will apply the stain with a sprayer and then back-brush it to get the stain into the surface.  This can be just as effective as applying the stain with a brush.  I personally use a pump-up garden sprayer to apply the thinner types of stains(clear, transparent, and semi-transparent) and then brush them out. This allows me to get the stain on quicker but still get the advantages of a brush application.
Having twisted your brain with all of the above information, remember that these are just my personal thoughts on stains and their advantages.  And personally, I think the Transparent Toners are the prettiest on new wood (but remember they have the shortest lifespan).
Bottom line:
The more solid the stain, the more expensive but longer lasting.  In the long run, its probably less expensive to stain your deck with a solid type stain, even though you may pay more for it to begin with.