How do I Choose the Best Cedar Stain?

Nick Mann

Cedar wood can often provide an elegant look for decks, furniture, fences and other wood pieces. Choosing the right cedar stain is an effective means of preserving the wood while increasing its eye appeal. There are essentially four types of cedar stain to choose from, including clear, semi-transparent, semi-solid and solid. Understanding the differences between the four will make it possible for one to select the ideal stain for whatever the job may be.

Stains are used to protect decks from the elements.
Stains are used to protect decks from the elements.

Clear cedar stain is the most translucent of the stains and contains only a minute amount of color. It is basically made to provide protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays while altering the natural appearance of the cedar only minimally. Using a clear stain leaves the grain patterns on the cedar intact while slightly darkening the overall color of the wood.

Wood stains may protect against the sun's rays and mildew, and help retain natural colors.
Wood stains may protect against the sun's rays and mildew, and help retain natural colors.

Semi-transparent stain adds a bit more color than a clear stain while maintaining a level of subtly. This would be considered a middle-of-the-road cedar stain, because it adds character while leaving the wood's grain patterns visible. It also provides protection from the sun and helps to extend the life of the cedar. It comes in a variety of mainly warm colors to suit an array of styles.

Semi-solid cedar stain adds even more color than a semi-transparent product would. It is substantially less subtle than the previous choices, but it still allows the natural grain and texture of the cedar to be seen. It also comes in a variety of colors that encompass both warm and cool styles and is mainly intended for outdoor use.

Solid cedar stain provides the boldest color and highest level of protection from ultraviolet rays and the elements. It completely obstructs the grain patterns from view but leaves the texture of the cedar intact. It also comes in a plethora of colors that can range from natural shades to unconventional shades such as purple and green. It, too, is primarily intended for outdoor purposes.

It can be difficult to decide on a stain simply by browsing through the displays in a store. That is why it's usually a good idea to narrow the choices down to three or four and ask for some free samples. The samples of each stain can then be applied to a small portion of the cedar to determine which looks best. This works best if a piece of scrap cedar is available; otherwise, test the stains on an underside of the wood that won't be seen.

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