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How to Select Exterior Wood Stain Colors

Gary Campbell gives his best advice on the types of exterior wood stain colors to use on your log home. 


Gary Campbell gives his best advice on what type of stain to use on your log home. 



Folks often approach us and ask us,  “What type of exterior wood stain colors should we use on our log house or conventional house with wood siding?” We do have something to say about that.

The lighter the color stain that you choose, the more often you’re going to have to freshen it up. The darker color stain you pick, the less often you’re going to freshen it up. If you’re surrounded by trees and you’ve got shade, the less often you’re going to have to stain it because the sun’s not beating directly down on it. If you’re sitting out in the open with no trees, the more often you’re going to have to stain. So, the color that you choose matters, and whether or not you’ve got shade matters.

We also encourage you to buy NBS 30 and mix that into your stain to help keep the bugs off of the wood. We sell that in-house. And if you’ve got any other questions about maintaining your wood outside, don’t hesitate to give us a call at Reliance Timber.

Old stained wood background


The Ultimate Guide to Exterior Wood Stains

Timber is a popular material for decks, siding, porches, patios, and railings, but it does require a little TLC on your end. Whether you’ve just finished construction on your deck or you’re in the process of rescuing some neglected siding, you’ll need to know some important facts about exterior wood stains. 

Why Is Exterior Wood Stain Important? 

Exterior wood stain is essential because it helps maximize the life of your timber. A good wood stain can make the difference between a porch that lasts for 5 years and one that lasts for 20. 

When you coordinate the proper type of wood with the right kind of stain, it also improves the overall appearance of the wood. 

3 Types of Exterior Wood Stain 

The first decision you have to make when shopping for exterior wood stains is what variety of stain to purchase. There are three main types of exterior wood stains you should familiarize yourself with: 

1. Oil-Based

Oil-based exterior wood stains are an economical go-to for many homeowners when it comes to staining wood. This type of stain is great at penetrating most types of wood, and — with the proper application — it creates a professional-looking finish. 

However, oil-based stains are not right for every project. If you live in a very humid or damp area, opt for a water-based stain instead since oil-based stains are more likely to attract mold and mildew. 

2. Water-Based

Water-based stains are a modern innovation and a more eco-friendly option than oil-based stains. 

They do not contain any harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are made from a combination of resins and stabilizers. Water-based stains also dry more quickly than oil-based stains, but this means they don’t have the opportunity to penetrate as deeply. 

Additionally, the application process for water-based stains is a bit more involved. So consider how much time you’d like to put into maintenance.

3. Hybrid Wood Stain

Hybrid wood stains give you the best of both worlds and are becoming increasingly popular. They contain very low levels of VOCs — so they produce less pollution than oil-based stains — yet the application process is just as simple as oil-based stains. 

Exterior Wood Stain Colors and Finishes

When it comes to wood stain colors, exterior stains come in a wide variety of shades. If you look hard enough, you can find a stain in practically every color, including:

  • Gray
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Gold
  • Black

This makes it easy to find wood stain colors that complement your house’s current exterior design and color. But once you decide on a color, you still have to find the appropriate finish. 


Clear wood stains don’t impart any color to the wood. Instead, these clear sealers preserve the natural color and texture of the wood grain.

However, it’s important to note that this kind of finish offers virtually no UV or weather protection. So annual reapplication is an absolute must. 


Semi-transparent stains have a small amount of pigment in them to lend a subtle color wherever it’s applied without obscuring the wood’s natural grain. This type of stain has a thin consistency — which means that there will be no chipping — and is ideal for people looking to balance protection and a natural appearance. 

On average, semi-transparent stains last for three to four years before needing reapplication. 


Solid wood stain offers the highest level of protection and pigment of any type of stain. Solid stains have a thicker consistency that excels at covering blemishes or inconsistencies in your wood. Solid stains come in a wide variety of color options and, on average, last for three to five years.  

How to Apply Exterior Wood Stain 

Different types of exterior wood stains have different application steps. For example, water-based stains usually require the wood to be sanded and prepared beforehand, whereas some stains can go directly on top of finished wood. It’s important to thoroughly read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific stain. 

How to Maintain Exterior Wood Stain 

You will need to reapply the wood stain at the interval specified by the manufacturer. For some stains, this is once a year, whereas others can last five years or longer. If you notice any peeling or fading spots, it’s best to address them right away to prevent uneven aging of your wood. 

Which Exterior Wood Stain Is Right for Me?

For assistance in choosing the right stain or selecting the right wood to stain, please contact us at Reliance Timber. We’d be happy to help.

Additional Questions for Wood Stains:

Should You Treat Logs before You Stain?

We say yes! Once your logs are cleaned and all ready to go, apply a borate wood stain to safeguard against any irksome pests. For this to be successful, keep in mind that it must be applied pre-stain!

Should You Apply a New Stain to an old wood stain?

Bare wood absorbs stains the best as you probably already realized. If you are looking to stain your wood a brand new color, be aware that applying a new stain over an old stain may not result in the desired effect. The old stain is going to interact with whatever next stain you are putting on so you aren’t starting from scratch. If applying a new stain, make sure to first remove the old stain. This is crucial.

How Do I Go About choosing the Right Color Wood Stain?

This is all based on your own predilections. The advice we can give, though, is to test a small amount of stain on your wood, let dry completely, and then assess the color. You want to make sure you can fully take in what a single coat looks like when dry. Also, remember that you can always add coats to go darker but you cannot add less coats to go lighter. So, be cautious before slapping on extra coats.



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