Paint vs. Stain

When finishing wood upgrades in your home, you have two general style options: paint or stain. Whether you want to enhance the natural beauty of your new Redwood fence, or cover up the flaws of your old plywood cabinets, each style has its pros and cons, and can be used to accomplish distinct goals in your home renovation. If you’re trying to brighten up an older home, but don’t want to spend the money to replace outdated cabinets, vanities, and bedroom doors – paint tends to be the way to go. It covers up imperfections in older wood, and gives you many more color options to match the rest of your home (convenient if you’re not doing a complete home remodel).

On the other hand, if you’ve just spent a bunch of money on brand new Cherry cabinets, or Redwood fencing, you’re not going to want to hide the gorgeous wood grain under a thick coating of paint. Instead, you’ll want to coat it with a stain that will penetrate deep into the wood’s pores, creating a richer wood grain appearance. Different stains will show more of the woods underlying features than others, depending on their opacity and pigmentation.

In some cases, paints and stains can complement each other quite nicely. Lighter paint tones used on trim or siding around darker stained doors and/or decking can yield some dramatic and beautiful results. Take for instance this San Carlos hills home pictured below, which masterfully pairs dark stained Brazilian Ipe decking with sleek white trim, posts and siding.


Paint can be more difficult and time consuming to apply than stains, as you typically want to prime a surface before painting, and give it a “finishing coat” of paint after the first coat.  Also, since paint is so much thicker than most stains, more care must be taken to roll it out evenly, ensuring no droplets form and harden on the surface of the wood.   Maintaining paint can be a bit more burdensome as well, as you will need to chip away any peeling layers before applying a new one.   Stains don’t normally chip or peel if applied properly.

With stains, surface preparation of the wood is minimal and primers are not always required.  For exterior uses of stains (siding, decks, trim) a finishing coat is not normally required either.  However, for some interior uses (floors, doors, butcher block countertops) you will want to apply a clear protective coating once the stain has dried.

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