What Are the Different Types of Wood Stains?

Wood StainFor wood products, stain is a popular option as a coating but as in most things, there are trade offs. We have, solid stain, semi-transparent stain and clear stains, each serving a slightly different role. Some of the differences are opacity, longevity, film building and penetrating while there are different solvents such as oil, latex and acrylic.

Stain Types

A solid stain is the most like paint, there is a robust range of colours to choose from and it offers UV protection against fading. Other than the fact that most applicators will use it without a primer, it is nearly indistinguishable, once applied, from paint on a surface. Not all solid stains are made equal, but all are meant to be film building. Film building coatings create a protective layer outside of the surface of the substrate, this is less protection than using a paint would be but still offers more protection that other stains, especially against UV damage.

Semi-transparent stains and clear stains are penetrating coatings, meaning they fill the small cracks of the substrate. This helps to protect the wood against rot and mold as many stains have discouraging preservative chemicals in them to prevent mold growth. It also helps to protect against moisture. The main difference is that over time, film building coatings will chip, flake and crack while penetrating products will merely fade. Clear and semi-transparent coatings add colour and protection to surfaces. Clear coatings degrade faster but allow the most natural colour and texture of the surface. Semitransparent coatings run a wide spectrum of colours and utilities.


Maintenance of clear penetrating coatings is the simplest so long as the surface is clean; very much like reapplying furniture polish inside the house. Semitransparent coatings will often show inconsistencies when recoating with the same colour, especially if they have faded. The ease of reapplication is inverse to the longevity of the products, however. Solid stains will last the longest, up to 10 years with ideal application, semi-transparent 3 and clear stains are generally redone every year.

UV and other weathering factors impact longevity of the coatings. It stands to reason that the stain on your deck may not last as long in the high traffic walking areas while under the protection of the eaves and out of the way it remains reasonably intact. It is key to select a material well suited to its environment and utility. Trends and technology will continue to make stains and substrates interesting, when considering what stain, you may want to use, make sure to consider all of these factors.

Andy Capodouca
Pro Works Painting
Photo Credit: Photo by 21 swan on Unsplash