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Varnish vs. Stain: Which One is Best for You?

Although some people use stain and varnish interchangeably, these aren't the same finishing products. If you're considering these two for outdoor surfaces, it's essential to know the difference between varnish vs. stain.

C&M Painting and Home Improvements can help! We're the experts on outdoor finishing products, such as paint, stain, and varnish. If you're considering fixing up your home, here's what you need to know.

What Is Wood Varnish?

Varnish creates a waterproof barrier on the outside of wooden surfaces. It doesn't soak into the wood, but rather it sits on top. It establishes a glassy layer of protection, similar to plastic, that protects wood from exposure to moisture. Varnish is often used on window frames, doors, flooring, wooden walls, and more. You can apply it inside or outside the home.

Like stains, deck varnish can have a tint. Tinted varnish is most effective on wood that already has a natural color and appearance. For example, a cherry varnish is most effective on wood that has a dark red tint. Even clear varnish has the potential to shade. Light-colored wood turns more golden, and dark wood becomes even darker.

How Do You Apply Wood Varnish?

To apply varnish, mix and thin it with a thinning agent. Apply the varnish to the wood, moving the paintbrush in the direction of the grain. The manufacturer’s instructions should include a length of time for it to dry. Wait for the proper amount of time, then apply a second coat, repeating the same process as the first.

Wood Varnish Application Tips:

  • Bend the paintbrush as few times as possible when applying varnish. Do not press hard on the wood.
  • Apply thin coats of varnish to prevent bubbling and undesirable textures.
  • Act fast when applying stain to the wood. Water-based varnishes dry quicker than oil-based.


What Is Wood Stain?

Stain is a wood tinting agent which possesses some protective properties. Use stain to darken the color of wood, emphasize tints and hues, or create an all-new look for the wood.

Stain's protective properties are not as strong as varnish, and it often needs to be applied and replaced more frequently. You can use it on decks, fences, and decorative outdoor surfaces, like pergolas.

How Do You Apply Wood Stain?

Applying stain can be a labor-intensive process, depending on the surface receiving the treatment. To make it easier, start by sanding the wood. Fill in any holes or imperfections. Then, repeat the sanding, and rid the area of any dust.

Next, wash the wood, and allow it time to dry. Once the wood has been thoroughly prepped, apply the first layer of stain on the wood. Wait for the first coat to dry, and use a second coat if needed. Usually, one coat will suffice.

Wood Stain Application Tips:

  • Apply the stain in the direction of the grain.
  • Reapply every three to five years.
  • If you notice water beading up on the surface of the wood, then the stain is still good. If the water soaks into the wood, then the stain needs to be replaced.


Varnish or Stain? How to Decide

Varnish and stain are attractive and protective, so deciding which is right for you can be tricky.

Focus on Style

Take into consideration the style you're seeking when trying to decide whether to apply varnish or stain. Varnish is shiny and rests on top of the wood. It's often lighter in color, and even tinted varnish doesn't change the color of the wood. Stain is usually matte instead of shiny and can darken the wood to a deeper, richer shade.

Consult with the Home Painting Professionals to Find Out Varnish Versus Stain

Some surfaces are more appropriate for stain, while others are better suited for varnishes. If you're having difficulty deciding on deck refinishing or another outdoor project, talk to a professional. Painting contractors know best which finishing agent (wood stain vs. varnish) to apply to each surface.

Ready to Varnish or Stain Your Wood? Contact C&M Painting and Home Improvements

C&M Painting and Home Improvements offer exterior painting services like deck refinishing, siding painting, and other home improvement services. We can paint your fence, deck, home siding, latticework, shed, garage, and more. Our experts will help you decide on which finishing material to use on your home's exterior or interior to ensure the best results on your property. To find out more about our home improvement services, call today for a consultation.