Q: We had our backyard fence replaced last year. The new fence is redwood, with lattice on top, in a neighbor-friendly style. It is exactly 1 year old and has darkened to a grayish hue. I was told we should have stained it to preserve it.

Was it necessary to stain it? Is it too late to do this now?

A: As homeowners and renovators we’ve faced many of the dilemmas presented to us, including this one. Both of us have had to figure out what to do with discolored redwood in fences or decks.

You needn’t be concerned. It’s not too late to apply a stain or a clear preservative to your fence. Having waited a year will only require that you do a little more work cleaning than you would have done a year ago.

As with any type of paint, stain or sealer application, you should start with a clean, dry surface. You can clean your fence in one of two ways, depending on the color you want.

The grayish color comes from the tannin in the redwood leaching out as the wood dries. Some elbow grease and a scrub brush will get the surface dirt off but leave much of the gray.

Wood cleaners and brighteners usually come in concentrated solutions that are mixed with water. Depending on which product you use – and how hard you scrub – you can come close to restoring the original redwood color. These products are available at hardware stores, paint stores or home centers. We’ve had good success with Chico, Calif.-based Duckback Products. The company also makes premium stains and oil finishes.

The second cleaning method is to use a pressure washer. You can rent one at a tool rental shop or buy one at a home center.

If you go this route, be careful! The high-pressure water stream can eat a hole in your fence or make kindling out of your lattice lickety-split. Go slowly and get the hang of it. The advantage is that chemicals – and scrubbing – are unnecessary.

Once your fence is clean, let it dry for several days. Then apply the finish you choose.

Finishes range from the traditional opaque redwood stain (which we don’t like for aesthetic reasons), to transparent stains, to clear finishes.

If you choose a stain, a silver-gray semitransparent stain looks good. This is a look that is similar to what is on the homes at northern California’s Sea Ranch.

For a clear finish, we’ve used a 50-50 mix of masonry sealer and wood sealer with success. This is a very thin mixture that penetrates and protects well and brings out redwood’s rich natural tones.

Apply finishes by brush, roller or pump-style garden sprayer.

Whatever finish you choose, make sure to apply it liberally to all surfaces so that it penetrates the wood. To maintain the look, you should plan on repeating this process every two to three years.

Tip of the Week: Because it will take several gallons of material to coat the fence, work from a 5-gallon bucket with a grid. Use a disposable roller cover to reduce cleanup. A radiator roller works great for the lattice.

Bill and Kevin Burnett will attempt to answer your questions, although the volume of e-mail sometimes makes this impossible. Contact them at sweat-equity@comcast.net.


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