It’s typical for woodworkers, particularly the inexperienced lot, to carry out their projects without the right finish in mind. Deciding what floats your boat in wood stain vs. paint is even more complicated.

While various finish types saturate the market, the two we’ll focus on are paint and stains. Besides offering an in-depth comparison between wood stain vs paint, we’ll offer the best finish for your project and when to use each.

What Is Paint

Paint comes in a wide range of colors that you can apply on surfaces for different purposes. These purposes include enhancing the aesthetics or protecting wood surfaces from outdoor elements.

With its vast color options, paint allows for extreme versatility in projects. This enables you to achieve designs and styles that correspond with your home theme.

Moreover, the different paint types include metallic, semi-gloss, gloss, and flat. Each of these types features a unique composition, suiting different surfaces.

With its versatility, paint allows you to settle for the color pallets of your dream. Moreover, with paint, you can create any theme regardless of the one you have. You can go from shabby chic to a more modern look.

Additionally, if you’re a novice, you’ll find painting projects easier than staining. Staining requires prior preparation steps. These steps can be detrimental to your project if done incorrectly.

While there are mandatory preparation steps before you paint wood surfaces, you needn’t worry about sanding. Instead, you’ll need the basics; paint, paint brushes, tarps, rags, and paint trays.

Besides transforming a project and enhancing its aesthetics, painting also offers health benefits. Artistic activities such as poster painting and drawing lower cortisol levels. (Here’re some of the best poster paint pens for wood).

Subsequently, with low cortisol levels-the main stress hormone, you can lead a relaxed, satisfying life. Unfortunately, painting tends to cost more than staining.

Besides being more expensive, a typical painting project is a several-day affair. It requires recoating with several hours of drying between layers. This costs not only your money but also time.

Moreover, if you’re painting for the first time, you will likely have a streaky paint job. Solid painting requires good practice and experience to achieve the best strokes.

As a result, if you’re a beginner, practice painting mock surfaces. Afterward, you could tackle actual projects such as walls and furniture pieces.

Since paint lies on the wood surface, they tend to peel over time. While so unfortunate, this is a prevalent issue, especially after extended exposure to sunlight. Moreover, the UV rays from the sun also result in fading.

Peeling and fading result in an unappealing look and damage your furniture pieces. To avert this, keep your painted projects away from direct sunlight and keep an eye on any paint peel.

Wood Paint Pros

  • Easy maintenance
  • A wider range of color options
  • Easy application
  • Hides flaws

Wood Paint Cons

  • Paint traps moisture
  • Paint tends to be permanent
  • Recurring potential problems

What Is Stain

When you stain wood projects, you don’t change their color. Instead, staining aims to accentuate the natural color of the wood.

Moreover, it helps preserve the wood or paint on your furniture. In turn, your wooden projects maintain a flawless look for a long time.

Like paint, you can stain various materials and furniture. If you want your projects to maintain their beautiful look for longer, apply a durable stain.

One thing I like when it comes to staining my furniture is that it doesn’t cover the original look of the projects. Instead, it maintains the look, enhancing its appeal.

Moreover, you can opt for solid translucent stains depending on your preference. I prefer translucent stains since they allow the wood grain to show, accentuating the surface’s appeal. Also, wood stains don’t peel.

The stain will leave the paint underneath intact even when it fades completely. Since you can reapply the stain as often as you wish, fading shouldn’t bother you.

Besides delivering a beautiful look on wood surfaces, stains penetrate deep into the grains. It prevents moisture from warping or distorting the wood’s structure. Moreover, adding a clear coat of stain prevents the wood from rotting.

Instead of covering the original color of your pieces, stain penetrates the wood. This allows you to enjoy its natural beauty. Moreover, staining leaves you with a more vibrant and glossy wood surface.

This delivers a brand-new look to your wood projects and furniture. Typically, the stain will only last a few years, requiring you to re-coat surfaces at least once a year.

While staining is a seamless endeavor, it can be frustrating if you have to stain your projects often. Moreover, you’ll realize that not all woods are compatible with any stain type. Unfortunately, some woods will reject the stain you are using.

Similarly, some wood types fail to hold the stain well. In this case, you won’t notice much difference even after reapplication. This makes staining unpredictable, leaving you with an undesirable outcome.

Even worse, once the wood rejects the stain, you’ll have no other option but to strip the stain finish. Consequently, leaving an incompatible stain on your wood furniture will ruin the look.

Moreover, before you start staining, you’ll want to prep the wood surface. Wood preparation includes sanding the surface. Proper sanding ensures a smooth and even finish.

Finally, achieving the perfect look with any stain requires some practice. This said, don’t expect a desirable outcome if you stain your wood projects haphazardly.

But with sufficient practice, you can master your strokes and achieve the expected results. Practice applying your stain before embarking on a major project to prevent ruining your furniture pieces.

Interesting Article: Can You Use Wood Stain on Concrete?

Wood Stain Pros

  • It shows the color, grain, and texture of wood
  • Penetrates the wood grain
  • Highlights the beauty of the wood

Wood Stain Cons

  • It’s less durable
  • Certain woods do not hold stains well

Interesting Read: How to Get Wood Stain Out of Concrete

Wood Stain Vs Paint Face to Face

As we’ve learned, paint coats the wood surface while stain penetrates deep into the wood’s grain. Moreover, while stain protects and preserves the wood’s beauty, paint tends to cover and hide it.

Here is an in-depth comparison to help you decide whether to stain or paint wood.

1. Stain vs paint wood: Cost

Wood paint generally cost more than stains. While stains go for around 20-30 USD per gallon, paint costs start at 30USD and range up to 60 USD, almost double the stain price.

Moreover, paints require a wood preservative, forcing you to dig deeper into your Pockets. On the other hand, stains don’t require extra preservatives, making them comparatively cheaper.

Verdict: The winner is wood stain

2. Staining wood vs painting: Naturality

Stain works by filling the wood pores with its pigment, thus delivering a natural look. In addition, stained wood features an a natural grain pattern, making it more attractive and elegant.

In contrast, paint delivers a layer of rich pigments, which hides the original look of wood. As a result, painting a wood surface will alter its quality and look.

Verdict: The winner is a wood stain

See Also: Can You Stain Cherry Wood?

3. Wood paint vs stain: Variety

Since stain enhances the original look of wood, it’s available in a few varieties. These variations include pigment stains, gel stains, and dye-based stains. On the contrary, paint comes in myriad shades and types to achieve your desired look.

Moreover, while stain works on wood only, different paint types suit different surfaces and materials. This makes it easier to pick a paint type that floats your boat.

Verdict: The winner is wood paint

For more information on stain varieties and their differences, here’s a guide on gel stain vs penetrating stain to help you out.

4. Painting vs staining wood: Application

A typical staining process requires that you sand the wood surface first. After cleaning the dust, apply the stain and allow the surface to dry naturally. While you may require additional coats in some cases, recoating is optional.

On the other hand, you don’t have to sand a surface for the paint to adhere. Provided the wood is clean, apply the paint and coat it with a quality primer.

You require two coats at a minimum to achieve the desired finish. Moreover, I recommend sealing with a clear Polyurethane finish for a painted surface to last longer.

So, we can conclude that painting costs more money and takes more time and effort to get the desired look on wood.

However, it offers a variety of colors that stains fail to provide. Nevertheless, staining a surface is worthwhile if you wish for a more natural wood look at a lower cost.

Verdict: The winner is wood stain

Related Post: How to Stain Wood Paneling

5. Stain vs paint furniture: Durability

Wood stain is prone to heat-related discoloration, while paint tends to chip and peel. However, painted surfaces tend to last longer than stained ones.

Moreover, painted surfaces feature a polyurethane sealer that keeps them intact for longer. Also, paint offers protection against UV radiation, among other external elements, while stain only protects wood from moisture.

Verdict: The winner is wood paint

6. Paint vs stain wood furniture: Difficulty

You needn’t be an expert woodworker to help with staining wood. With minimal practice, you’ll learn how to stain surfaces correctly. In contrast, the painting features extra steps you’ll have to master before achieving the required finish.

These steps include applying preservatives and primer. Finally, while painting requires that you recoat the surface, staining needs one coat. This makes staining more seamless.

Verdict: The winner is wood stain

7. Staining vs painting furniture: Maintenance

Both painted and stained surfaces require regular maintenance. However, staining offers less maintenance compared to painting. For instance, for previously painted surfaces, you’ll need to remove mold and bacteria at least once a year.

Also, you’ll want to apply a cleaner using a sprayer or roller for staining deck while scrubbing down the dingy spots.

Verdict: It’s a tie

Painting Tips

If you’re a first-time painter, use the tips below to ensure that you end up with a high-quality painting project.

  • Invest in high-quality paint
  • Choose a trusted paint brand
  • Use quality paint brushes

Staining Tips

Here are some general tips to help you get staining exterior wood down pat, especially if you haven’t any prior experience.

  • Use the right stain type that’s compatible with your wood project
  • Decide whether you want clear, semi-translucent, or solid stains
  • Prepare the wood surface adequately using a sander or sandpaper before you apply stain
  • Apply a pre-stain conditioner for better stain reception and enhanced outcome

More Tips: Do You Have to Remove Old Stain Before Restaining a Deck?


Is It Better To Paint The Wood Or Stain It?

Paint tends to last longer than stain due to its thick film, which protects against moisture and Ultra Violet rays. While stain also works as a protective barrier, it doesn’t last as long as paint. Moreover, the durability of your stain will depend on whether it’s solid or transparent. As a result, if you’re seeking to protect your wood project for a longer period, consider applying paint instead of stain.

What Is The Difference Between Wood Stain And Wood Paint?

The major difference between stain and paint is that paint delivers a protective layer on top of the surface while stains penetrate deep into the wood fibers. Moreover, while paints require that you prime surfaces before application, stains don’t require prior priming.

Is It Cheaper To Paint Or Stain Wood?

Stain, which comes in fewer color options, typically costs less than paint. Moreover, staining surfaces is cheaper and less time-consuming since it doesn’t require subsequent coats.

Related: Is it better to stain or paint a deck?

Which Lasts Longer, Paint Or Stain?

A quality paint job by a professional woodworker can last for several years before the need for repainting. Contrariwise, you’ll need to reapply stains every couple of years since they tend to fade over time, offering limited protection against the elements.

Can You Put Stain Over Previously Painted Surfaces?

While you can apply stain over previously painted surfaces, you won’t achieve an authentic wood-grain look. However, if you’re working with paint with greater gloss, you’ll need to strip it before applying the stain. Gloss paint is less porous, and the stain will slide off easily. This will result in a lighter color. However, to increase its aesthetic appeal and durability, painters apply paint over stained surfaces.

Stained wood vs painted wood: Verdict

So, what’s the verdict; wood stain or paint? You’ll need to consider the nature of your project before settling for a stain or paint. You can also go over the face-to-face comparison in this guide to make an informed decision before embarking on your project.

When to use wood stain

  • You wish to protect your wood without losing the natural grain
  • You want to accentuate the wood’s grain on your furniture 

When to use wood paint

  • When you wish to waterproof and pest-proof wood
  • When you wish to alter the aesthetics of the wood
  • You value durability over ease of application

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