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When to Stain a New Fence

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Matt Stone

Staining a new fence is important to protect it from the elements, but it is important to know when to apply the stain. Staining too soon or too late can result in an unsatisfactory finish or may risk damage to the wood. Knowing when to stain a new fence will help you avoid these problems. 

A new fence should be stained between one and three months after installation.

This window of time will be right for most new fences. Waiting too long to stain the fence leaves it exposed to damage in the environment. That being said, we will give some reasons below why you want to wait a little bit before staining.

Continue reading below for more details.

When Should You Stain a New Fence?

As a general rule, it is recommended to wait at least four to six weeks after installing a new fence before staining it. This allows the wood to dry out and acclimate to its new environment. During this time, the wood may shrink or expand slightly, which can affect the way the stain is absorbed and how it looks on the surface.

Waiting much longer than 3 months will allow the environment to start breaking down your fence. Beyond this time you will see the appearance of the wood start to change. The gray color you see on untreated fences will begin to appear. This means that the wood is already being weathered by the elements.

Reasons for Waiting to Stain the Fence

a picture of stained cedar boards with water beading up on them.

While it may be tempting to stain a new fence right away, there are several reasons to wait before applying the stain:

  1. Wood needs time to dry out: New wood can contain a lot of moisture, which can prevent the stain from penetrating properly. Waiting for the wood to dry out will ensure that the stain is absorbed evenly and provides a consistent finish.
  2. Wood needs time to acclimate: As mentioned above, new wood may shrink or expand slightly as it adjusts to its new environment. Waiting before staining allows the wood to settle, which can reduce the risk of warping or cracking.
  3. Wood pores become more absorbent over time: The more stain a fence can absorb, the longer the stain job will last. Giving the wood a little time outdoors will let the pores in the wood open and absorb more stain. We will explain this in more detail a little further down the article.

What Happens When You Stain a Fence Before It Is Dry?

Newly installed wood may contain a lot of moisture. This is especially true of pressure treated lumber.  Moisture in the wood will prevent oil-based stains from penetrating. The stain will sit on the surface of the fence instead of soaking into the wood fibers like it is supposed to.

When a stain sits on the surface instead of penetrating, it will fade much faster. It will also be much more likely to peel off. This means that the stain job will need to be redone much sooner than if it was done correctly the first time.

 Very wet wood can also create problems for water-based stains. It can prevent the stain from adhering properly and may cause the stain to peel or flake off over time. 

The exact amount of time you should wait before staining a new fence can depend on several factors, including the type of wood, the weather conditions, and the level of humidity. The higher your humidity, the longer it will take for wood to dry. Also, any rain will slow down this process as well.

The wood should be allowed to dry and reach a moisture content of around 15% before staining. This can be checked using a moisture meter, which can be purchased or rented from most hardware stores.

By waiting for your fence to properly dry, you can ensure that the stain adheres properly and provides the desired look and protection. This can also help ensure that the stain lasts longer and reduces the need for frequent re-staining in the future.

Pores in Wood Opening Up as the Fence Ages

When wood is exposed to the elements, it can experience changes in temperature and humidity, which can cause the fibers to expand and contract. This can result in the pores in the wood opening up over time, as the wood dries out and the cells shrink.

The wood can become more receptive to accepting stain and other finishes as the pores open up. This can make it easier to apply a consistent and even coat of stain, as the pores provide a larger surface area for the stain to adhere to.

Open pores will absorb more stain which will give the fence better protection from the elements. The greater quantity of pigment and oil taken in by the wood will last longer.

However, it’s important to note that not all types of wood will open up in the same way or to the same extent. The size and shape of the pores can vary depending on the species of wood, and some types of wood may have more closed pores than others. Closed-grain wood like pine may need a little more time to age before it is ready to stain. Other species like cedar are more naturally absorbent and will be ready to accept a stain sooner.

How Long is Too Long to wait?

Fences get weathered and damaged over time.

While it’s important to wait until the wood has had a chance to dry out, waiting too long to stain a new fence can also be detrimental. The longer you wait, the more the wood is exposed to the elements and the greater the risk of damage or weathering.

In general, it’s recommended to wait no longer than three to four months to stain a new fence. This timeframe allows the wood to dry out and reach a moisture content of around 12% to 15%, which is ideal for staining. Waiting longer than this can result in the wood becoming too weathered, which can affect the quality of the stain job and the overall longevity of the fence.

Overall, it’s important to find a balance between waiting long enough for the wood to dry out and not waiting too long and exposing the wood to unnecessary weathering. By waiting no longer than three to four months and monitoring the moisture content of the wood, you can ensure that your new fence is ready for staining and will look great for years to come.

Now that you know when to stain a new fence, read our guide on how to stain a fence.

Also, you may want to check out our fence stain reviews.

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Author: Matt Stone
Matt has worked as a professional painter for over 10 years. This includes much experience with all types of wood stains. He loves to write about wood stains to help others make good choices to protect their homes and make them beautiful.

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