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Wood Stain Vs. Wood Varnish

Reviving the color and unique patterns of the wood grain can be as easy as adding some wood stain or wood varnish. Both of these options can make your fence look as good as new and protect it from water damage. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t know the difference between them, let alone which one to use for their fence. At A&O Texas Solutions, we believe that our clients should be informed about the best care and maintenance options for their wooden fence. Following in this tradition, below you will find information about wood stain and varnish so you can better understand which is best for your fence.

Wood Stain

Wood stain changes the appearance of the wood so that it seems like it is a different type. Wood stains are made from a base of water or solvent that is mixed with pigment to create the new color. As the water is absorbed by the wood, only the pigment remains which then settles into the grain, giving it that natural appearance.

Wood stain is extremely popular due to its quick drying times. Unlike paint and varnish, wood stain only takes about 15-30 minutes to fully dry. They are also available in a wide range of colors, allowing the homeowner to get the right fit for them. There isn’t much to worry about in terms of cleanup, since wood stain can be washed out of brushes with just soap and water, and anything that lands on the grass will eventually just evaporate.

Things to Consider

Oil-Based Stain

While wood stain is a fantastic option for homeowners, it can have some adverse effects that are important to consider. If the directions for applying the wood stain are not followed correctly, the grain of the wood can become raised, making it look rough and leaving it susceptible to water damage. Additionally, a wood stain does not add full protection to the wood by itself. If you want to protect your investment, it is highly recommended that you also add a film-forming topcoat to protect the wood.

Corner of a new custom wood fence

When it comes to wood stains, there is another option. Oil-based stains are different from their water or solvent counterparts in that they allow the pigment to sink deeper into the wood. This helps bring out the fine details of the wood better than water or solvent stain while also helping to protect the grain. A seal is formed when the oil-based stain dries, protecting the grain from raising. This negates the need for an extra layer of a film-forming coat, although it never hurts to add one anyway.

It is recommended to only apply water or solvent stains once a year, but oil-based stains can be applied every six months. Doing this allows the color to remain bright and beautiful without causing harm to the wood. Another advantage to oil-based stain is that it doesn’t crack over time as it doesn’t form a solid film over the wood.  Finally, oil-based stains give your fence a more traditional finish by highlighting the natural dark colors within the grain of the wood.

Something to keep in mind, though, is that oil stains take significantly longer to dry. They need at least 72 hours to completely dry and form a seal which protects your wood. If you are looking to install an oil-based stain on your fence, it is recommended to wait until you have several days of no rain in the forecast.


Unlike a stain, varnish is the topcoat that is typically applied to a fence after the stain has finished drying. The varnish is made of a mixture of oil and resin which helps protect the stain and the wood. When you are applying the varnish, you will want to use a brush with strong bristles as varnishes are usually thick. The thickness, a result of the resin, allows it to create a moisture-resistant shield on your fence, helping to strengthen its lifespan and giving it added durability during storms. It also helps bring out the natural vibrant colors of the wood, creating a unique and beautiful sense of depth. Warm temperatures are not a problem either, since it gives the wood room to breathe, keeping the shield from cracking as the wood expands and contracts.

Things to Keep in Mind

Varnish takes about 4-6 hours to dry completely. Additionally, while varnish can make your fence look even more aesthetically pleasing, it is susceptible to being scuffed or dented, since the shield is made of a flexible solid layer.

When it comes to wood fencing though, a few scuffs are nothing compared to having to completely replace a wooden fence due to water damage. A wood stain, varnish, or combination of the two can not only transform the look of your fence but also protect it from the elements, extending its lifespan. A&O Texas Solutions is always ready to help with fence installation, maintenance, and repair needs. Contact our team today for more information on our services or to schedule a free consultation.