Best Exterior Wood Stains in 2021: Reviews and Complete Buyer’s Guide

DIY wood projects are some of the most fulfilling to work on, aren’t they? You can show them off to your family members or impress guests over. Imagine this; it is Christmas eve.

You’re planning a party at your house. The guests come over and compliment your patio furniture, fences, and other small wooden projects. At that moment, you say thanks and also, maybe do a cheeky little flex and say you made it yourself.

One great way of enhancing exterior wooden furniture is using wood stains. So, what are the best exterior wood stains you can buy?

If you plan to embark on a project that requires you to work with wooden surfaces, we rounded up the best ones right here. There is also a complete buyer’s guide and a step-by-step application process to get you up to speed. Let’s get started with the product reviews first.

We handpicked some of the best quality wood stains and tested them ourselves to give you a firsthand experience of using these.

Ready Seal 125 Dark Walnut

We don’t know about you, but we love the dark walnut color over here. It’s a classy color that looks great on wood. That’s why our first pick is this one. Ready Seal makes one of the best dark walnut wood stains around.

This wood stain requires no primer for wood. So, you can get started right away. The color you get is also fantastic. Newbies might get a bit worried about the unusually dark coat you get the first time.

However, that happens only in the first application. Give it just 14 days, and it will reveal its true natural colors. That is shorter than some people revealing their true colors – if you know what we mean.

Application is a breeze too. You can apply it either with a spray, roller, or even a brush. It does not require any wet-line application, diluting or thinning if you opt for spray application. That makes it a perfect choice for DIYers who aren’t that experienced with staining wooden surfaces.

The coat is vibrant. You can also apply it at any temperature. Although it is best to apply it during dry weather. More on this a bit later. We’re starting off strong with this product – perfect and vibrant coat and easy to apply.

Pros

  • Rich and vibrant color
  • Can be applied at any temperature
  • You can use either a roller, spray, or brush to apply it
  • No need for thinning or dilute it
  • Easy application
  • No back brushing required

Cons

  • Color might be too dark for some

2. DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent (Cedar Tone)

DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent (Cedar Tone)

Who says you need to hide your patio or fence’s natural wood grain when you stain it? DEFY certainly doesn’t think so. Enter the DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Wood Stain.

This is a water-based wood stain that will allow the natural grain of the wood you apply it on to shine through. So, if you have patio furniture, fences, or any other wooden furniture that can use a little help, this works perfectly. That isn’t its only redeeming quality.

The finish you get is great too. It’s a natural matte finish with a semi-transparent coat. A perfect makeover for your furniture and patio. It doesn’t only help your stuff look good but protects it, thanks to its protective properties.

The nano-zinc particles will protect the wooden surface from harmful UV rays and color loss. Think of it as sunscreen for wood. And if you have any experience working with wood, you know how damaging the sun can be.

Maintenance is as easy as just applying the wood brightener from DEFY and calling it a day. Some poor-quality wood stains in the market require you to work harder to maintain compared to applying the coat itself.

You don’t need to strip off the surface or sand the outer layer with this one. A single coat of DEFY wood brightener will do.

Pros

  • Easy maintenance
  • Semi-transparent, which allows the natural grain of the wood to show
  • Protects against UV rays color loss
  • 250 VOC Compliant and environmentally friendly  

Cons

  • Wood might look dull if not applied properly

3. SaverSystem #1 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain

SaverSystem #1 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain

This is another semi-transparent wood stain that you can use to let the natural grain of the wood to shine through. Some wood stains require a sealer afterward. Not this one though. That’s because it’s a dual purpose.

It is a wood stain and sealer. So, you can add color and seal it with a single product, which will prevent any water penetration. Just like all the high-quality wood stains on our list, this also protects the wood from the elements.

The sun’s UV rays are not a problem with this one. On top of that, you can use this with a lot of types of wood. Cedar, redwood, fir, or pressure-treated pine – it works on all of them. Therefore, you can apply this formula as an outdoor stain for cedar siding projects.

A thing to note, though, if you’re using it on hardwood, you’ll need more frequent maintenance coats. Speaking of coats, this stain comes in 5 great looking colors. You can pick from natural wood, light walnut, dark walnut, cedar, and driftwood gray. 

This is environmentally friendly as well. You can have beautiful looking wood and also keep the planet safe in the process. If that isn’t a win-win, we don’t know what is.

It features a flat finish and is water-based. That is mainly one of the reasons that allow it to be semi-transparent and dry quickly. Thus, this formula is often considered the best semi-transparent deck stains. Another cool feature of this stain is it works on damp wood.

Unlike other stains, where the wood needs to be completely dry, this can be applied when the wood is somewhat visibly dry enough. The application process is easy too. Just clean the wood, brighten, and stain.

Pros

  • Semi-transparent allows the wood grain to shine through
  • Protects against the elements and water penetration
  • Works easily on damp wood
  • Easy application process
  • Environmentally friendly

Cons

  • Not the best for old decks

4. Thompsons Waterseal TH .041851-16

Thompsons Waterseal TH .041851-16

If there is one brand that is renowned for its high-quality products, it’s Thompson. Their wood stains are no different. They give a perfect coat and keeps your patio furniture, fences, and everything else looking pristine.

Just like our previous wood stain, this one can also be used on dry or damp wood. Make sure the wood is not too wet, though. That will not allow the stain to sit properly.

If you want to keep exterior wooden furniture like patio furniture and other things like fences safe from environmental damage, this is your one-stop-shop. It prevents any kind of water damage. The water damage prevention standards exceed the industry standard ASTM D-4446.

Dull patio furniture or a fence without water damage prevention is of no good. Fortunately, that is not something you need to worry about. This wood stain also has advanced polymers that give you color that’s very fade resistant, which allows the shine and color to stay just as new for longer periods of time.

This level of thoughtfulness is one of the reasons we included this stain on our list. Thompson didn’t just do the bare minimum – they went above and beyond what’s needed.

It’ll protect the wood from harmful UV rays and even mildew. Not many wood stains out there can claim that.

Pros

  • Protects against water damage
  • Easy to apply
  • Color doesn’t fade
  • Works on both damp and fresh wood

Cons

  • Once applied, it might be difficult taking it off

5. Old Masters 24991 80704 Gel Stain

Old Masters 24991 80704 Gel Stain

Old Masters is another reputed brand when it comes to exterior wood stains. The user reviews speak for themselves. Still, we wanted to test the product for ourselves. So, we ordered 1 quart of it and got to work.

After testing this wood stain, we can recommend these to anyone who is looking to spruce up any wooden furniture, fences, or patio furniture. If you have anything wood and want a great looking stain, this Old Master Gel Stain is the way to go.

Its finish is very high-quality. The final coating you get is on par, if not better than other wood stains we mentioned here. This is also manufactured in the United States. So, you’ll be supporting the local companies as well.

This is an oil-based product and works on different materials too. You can use it on both exterior and interior wood, fiberglass, and also primed metal or composite surfaces.

Moreover, this is hands-down one of the most versatile wood stains we have tested. This specific one is a dark walnut color. That is not your only choice though. You’re spoiled for choice with this one actually.

Pick from a total of 17 great colors. Some of the more notable ones are of course dark walnut, natural, red, white, pecan, and rich mahogany.

Pros

  • Available in lots of different colors
  • Usable on different types of surfaces
  • Superior control for tough applications
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Not suitable if you don’t want a gel-based coat

6. KILZ L832211 Exterior Wood Stain Waterproofing

KILZ L832211 Exterior Wood Stain Waterproofing

This product is named KILZ probably because it ‘kilz’ the competition in the exterior wood stain category. Our last but certainly not least L832211 wood stain from the guys over at KILZ is one tough contender.

They have been in the business for over 40 years. That level of experience is what makes them one of the go-to brands for wood stains.

It is 100% acrylic based. This tried and tested formula will protect your furniture, fences, or whatever wood you cover from the harmful rays of the sun. Did we mention it has waterproofing as well?

So, during the rainy seasons, you can be sure all your exterior wood furniture will be safe and sound. Not only that, but it can also fight against mildew, which can be quite an annoying problem for people.

We have one small gripe with this one. While some of our other wood stains allowed you to apply on slightly damp wood, this does not work as well on damp wood. You need to allow the surface to completely dry for at least 24 hours.

This will make sure the surface is completely dry, and you can apply this wood stain seamlessly afterward. To achieve the best results, the manufacturer recommends lightly sanding if any wood fibers remain.

Pros

  • Provides long-lasting coating for wooden surfaces
  • Protects against UV rays and mildew
  • Waterproofing is great to have
  • Semi-transparent coating allows the natural wood grain to show through

Cons

  • Needs to be applied on completely dry surfaces

What to Look for Before Buying Exterior Wood Stains?

The products we mentioned here are most definitely some of the best exterior wood stains you can find. Having said that, there are a couple of things to consider before you shell out your hard-earned money. And some of these factors may also apply when you're shopping for interior wood stains as well. Here is what you need to look out for:

The Type of Wood You Have

First and foremost, before even you look into wood stains, determine what type of wood you will use the stain on. Different woods will behave in different ways. Some woods like softwood will absorb stain much easier than hardwood.

Exterior Wood Stains

This might require you to use only a single coat to get a nice consistent color. While hardwoods may need a couple more. Make sure you get the one that is usable with the type of wood furniture and fences you have.

Types of Finishes 

There are three main types of finishes. You have a solid finish, semi-transparent, and a clear seal. As you can probably tell, the finishes vary on how much of the natural grain the wood stain allows to show through.

Clear Seal 

If you want only the natural wood grain to show through, you might want to go for a clear seal. This finish isn’t the most durable, though. Over time the UV rays will cause visible damage to the stain. It will turn gray over some time. Not the best look for exterior furniture.

Solid Finish

On the other side of the extreme, you have a solid finish. This is the most durable coating you can get from a wood stain. As you can tell from the name, this finish will hide the grains of the wood just like a coat of paint.

If you have wooden furniture where the grain isn’t that important, a solid finish can be a good choice.

Semi-Transparent 

The more popular choice is the semi-transparent finish. It provides a nice balance between letting the natural grain show while giving it a premium color. Most of our choices in the review roundup are semi-transparent. It provides good protection from the environment too.

Exterior Wood Stains

Protection From the Elements 

Protection from the elements is also an important thing to consider. Ideally, you would want to get a wood stain that gives you the most protection while maintaining quality.

Things to look for here are UV ray protection and waterproofing at the very least. You don’t have to stop there. If you can buy one with more protection, go for it!

The Color 

This will be a very subjective choice. There is no single best color. When shopping for wood stains, you’ll see a lot of color options. So, pick the one that works best for you. We love the darker colors like dark walnut.

It looks classy and also premium. But then again, this will completely depend on your personal taste.

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based

Wood stains can be either water-based or oil-based. Both have their own set of pros and cons. Water-based stains will dry quicker. That means if you have less time for a project, water-based stains will fit the bill.

They also have comparatively less odor and are easier to clean up. You can just use soap and water.

Oil-based stains, on the other hand, absorb deeply into the wood, which makes the color come out more vibrant. It enhances the wood grain but takes much longer to dry compared to water-based stains. The longer drying period helps to mitigate brush marks and streaks.

Environmentally Friendly 

The planet is suffering as is with us humans in it. And the least we can do is to purchase products that are made in eco-friendly ways. That is not only good for the planet but also better for you.

Wood stains that are not made with a quality and safety standard in mind can have harmful chemicals in them. When looking for stains to buy, make sure they are VOC free and don’t have any carcinogenic compounds.

Brand 

When it comes to choosing a wood stain brand, it is always a good idea to go with a reputed one. These brands will have a proven track record of providing quality products. A lot of other users have already bought them, and you’re sure to find other user reviews on them.

All brands mentioned here are reputable and some of the best in their own right. Top-notch brands like DEFY, Thompson, KILZ, and Ready Seal are safe choices.

How to Apply an Exterior Stain?

Alright, so you bought an exterior wood stain and are all geared up to take on a project. But, how do you apply a quality exterior stain? Well, here is a complete beginner’s guide on just that. It’s easier than you think.

How to Apply an Exterior Stain

Step 1: Prepare the Wood

Before even touching the stain can make sure the wooden surface you want to stain is properly prepped. This step is necessary for softwood like cedar, pine, or redwood. Applying stain for pine and similar softwood materials is a bit different in this way.

Sand the wood to the desired level. Couple of things to remember here. The coarser grade of sandpaper you use, the rougher the surface will be. This will allow the stain to absorb better, but it’ll also leave you with a rough texture.

After that, you can apply a pre-stain conditioner. This basically helps give it a more even look. The extra hassle and prep time is worth it. It’ll make the end product look all the much better.

Step 2: Apply the Stain

The optimum condition for applying the stain is in dry weather and on dry surfaces. You’ll need the best brush for staining wood at this point (or a roller works too). Dip it into the stain and let it soak up.

Apply an Exterior Stain

Now, rub along the grains of the wood. With semi-transparent wood stains, it’s important to maintain a wet edge. Avoid allowing the stain to pond on the surface, especially horizontal surfaces. As for coats, more is not good here. Only coat as much as needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are exterior wood stains worth it?

Well, are good looking patio furniture and fences worth it? If you answered yes to that question, then exterior wood stains are most definitely worth it. They make wooden furniture or anything that’s made of wood look much more premium.

2. What kind of wood stain is right for me?

The right kind of wood stain will depend on the type of project you wish to do and also the finish you want. You can have either a solid, clear or semi-transparent finish. Other things like color and protection also come into play. So, evaluate all those when picking one.

3. What is the difference between wood dye and wood stain?

Wood dyes are just concentrated stains. They can be thinned down and intermixed with other products.

4. Is it easy to apply a wood stain or do I need to call a professional?

Applying wood stain is a fairly easy process. There is just some minor prep you need to do, like sanding and applying a pre-stain conditioner. If you do this and follow the proper technique of applying, you’ll be all good. In case you’re not comfortable doing that, it’s better to call a professional in that case.

5. Is sanding always necessary?

It’s not always necessary. However, it is recommended in some cases, along with a pre-stain conditioner.

Final Words

There you go. All you need to know about the best exterior wood stains you can buy in 2021, remember to pick the one that checks the most boxes for you, and you should be golden.

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