4 Tips for Staining Exterior Wood Like a Pro

Here are four essential tips for getting your exterior stain job right the first time, straight from the Advance Painting repository of must do's.



We can usually determine if a cleaning agent is required by the level of gray-ness of the wood components. Paint stores and hardware stores carry several brands of wood cleaners, so you can pick one that fits your needs.

Wet your surface, then pre-spray as needed with your cleaning/bleaching agent. You can agitate the cleaner into the wood if desired with a semi-stiff brush.


Before the wood dries out, power wash the surface. This is the best way to remove dirt, old dried stain, mildew, and angry insects from your wood surfaces.

You will see the color changing as the old color and dead wood fibers rinse out of the surface. You can wash sections at a time, or a whole run of fencing at once if you don’t use a cleaning/bleaching agent.

Once the cleaning task is completed, wait at least 24 hours for the wood to dry.


Cover the ground surfaces underneath the area you plan to stain.  Plastic sheeting, drop cloths, and cardboard are good tools to protect the ground from your stain, and will keep your brush or roller from picking up dirt and transferring it to your wood.


With the stain poured off into a useable-sized container (a 2 gallon bucket is perfect for this job), begin by staining one board at a time. You can apply stain with a brush, roller, or spray system such as an HVLP gun. 

Working with the grain is essential; if you go across the grain you will get an uneven appearance when everything dries.

Also, stain is not like paint, where you can ‘cut in’ the edges and then roll out the inside area. It is important that you complete a board, top to bottom, before moving to the next board.  

Or in the case of a door or window, complete a component end to end before moving on to the next surface area.

If you stop your progress, you will find that the stain is difficult to blend in.  

There is a fix, however, if you find yourself in this predicament.

Re-apply the stain where the color is lighter, and apply less and less pressure with your brush as you near the ‘line’ where you can see the stain edge.  With a little finesse, you can blend in the stain until it is virtually unnoticeable. 

One coat of exterior stain is almost always all that is necessary.  The finished product will have an evenly uneven look to it, which will develop into a nice patina over time.  A well-stained fence will make for good neighbors, and some very good looking landscaping!

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DIY Cornhole Boards, Part 3: Paint & Clear Coats

Accenting the edges and sides of our reverse-stain corn hole boards with a California Woody-style paint job would prove to be the piece de resistance of this project.

Finding the right color was fun enough.  Since we were going for a Woody theme, we would look for a real, rolling woody with a paint color that made that famous wood siding ‘pop.’ The Pismo Beach Car Show always brings a crowd of classic Woodies to town, and sure enough, we spotted an old classic in the perfect shade of Sea Foam green. Using a photo we brought for reference, Sherwin Williams in San Luis Obispo mixed our custom color in Resilience satin finish. We were in business!


After taping off and priming the surfaces we wanted to paint, two coats of Sea Foam Green were applied. Once the paint dried for a day, we sprayed the first clear coat of Helmsman Exterior Spar Urethane.  Helmsman is a great product for corn hole boards and exterior wood projects because of its UV protectorants and full bodied leveling properties. The paint accent looked great! 

As we admired the newly painted boards, we realized one last touch was in order. The Sea Foam green looked good, but it was so bright and crisp that it was actually detracting from the reverse stain hibiscus design. 

After mulling ideas over, my wife, Jane, came up with the perfect fix, and suggested we antique the Sea Foam green paint with the stain I had leftover. Genius!  The perfect time to apply an antiquing stain is after the first clear coat. We rubbed the stain in with a small stain rag, let it dry overnight, and applied 2 more coats of Helmsman.

The finished product looked like a chip off the block of that old classic woody we first saw.

Having a backyard game set that could double as wall art rocks!

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DIY Cornhole Boards, Part 2: Reverse Stain

With my cornhole boards built and my classic Woodie concept nailed down, I set out to do the fun part: paint! 

This portion of the project presented a unique challenge, one I'd never encountered even after 30 plus years of painting. I knew I wanted to achieve a 2-toned lacquered look on the face of my boards, but the glaring question was how? Since wood stain absorbs into the grain, (i.e., stain bleeds once applied) how was I to go about applying my hibiscus graphic to the boards and achieve the nice clean lines I was hoping for? 

First, we cut out the hibiscus parts from our paper image, and used the remaining stencil to draw the outlined parts on some special sticky paper.

This next part proved to be tricky, since you have one chance to position the sticker after removing the backing. When it makes contact with the plywood panel surface, pulling it back off can irreparably damage the plywood. So we taped the original stencil image outline to the cornhole board, which showed us exactly where to stick each piece, on both boards.   

Finally, we set up a ‘spray station’ outside, and sprayed the stain using a commercial HVLP system.  Any other method would apply too much stain to the surface. The stain could migrate underneath the sticky paper, and ruin any hope of straight edges on our hibiscus design. 

Once the spray application was completed, we let the surfaces dry overnight.

The climax of the operation came the next day, as we removed the stain-coated sticky paper from the cornhole board surfaces.  This was make or break time.

By slowly peeling the adhesive at a 45º angle, the paper came off smoothly and cleanly. 

The boards looked great, all the image edges nice and straight!  

But still, for this much work, the boards looked a little bit understated. They needed one last touch to look finished. 

Next time: Part 3, Adding Classic California Woodie Paint and Clear Coats

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