Cedar is a popular choice for outdoor furniture and home décor due to its natural beauty, durability, and resistance to insects and decay.
But does cedar take stain well? If you’re a beginner woodworker, you may risk damaging the wood without knowing its staining capacity. To help you out, our woodworking pros are here to provide what you need to know about staining cedar.
Is Cedar Wood Good for Staining?
Staining a cedar wood surface can turn out beautifully as stains adhere well to its surface. Almost all cedar pieces and furniture are stained to increase their lifespan and strength.
When you stain cedar wood, you protect it from UV  radiation, moisture, mildew, and other environmental factors that cause it to deteriorate and turn silvery over time.
With the proper methods and techniques, you can effectively stain this softwood to completely protect it from wear and tear and other possible damages. You can also stain it so the surface is smooth, glossy, and tinted in your preferred shades and hues.
By covering the natural grain of the wood, opaque stains make the surface of your cedar wood look shiny and smooth. Opaque stains hide the wood grain, knots, and flaws, and they also help to hide surface flaws.
Opaque stains provide a thick layer of protection to the cedar wood, shielding it from the elements and prolonging its lifespan. This is especially important for exterior cedar wood exposed to weather and sunlight.
They can cover any imperfections or blemishes in the cedar wood, creating a uniform and consistent appearance. In addition, they come in a wide range of colors, so you can choose the one that best suits your preference and style.
Because of their durability, opaque stains require less maintenance than other finishes. They resist fading, chalking, and peeling and are easy to clean with soap and water.
However, opaque stains do not penetrate the cedar wood like transparent or semitransparent stains. As a result, the protection they offer may be shorter.
If you really prefer opaque stains, here’s our review of the best clear cedar finishes suited for outdoor use.
Although opaque stains are durable, they may require more frequent maintenance than other finishes. This is especially true if the stain is exposed to heavy foot traffic or harsh weather conditions.
Moreover, opaque stains can be more expensive than other finishes due to the higher pigment content and thicker formulation.
Unlike opaque wood stains, semi-opaque stains do not cover the entire cedar surface, allowing some natural wood grain to show through. The wood grain is visible in all its glory using semi-opaque stains on cedar.
Semi-opaque stains add a layer of protection to the cedar wood, keeping it safe from the weather and lasting longer. This is especially important for cedar wood outside and exposed to rain and sun.
The pigments in these stains also help block UV rays, which can cause wood to fade and break down over time. The wood can be protected from water damage with semi-opaque stains, which keep water from getting into the wood and making it warp or rot.
And if you prefer the au naturel look of cedar, the natural grain of the wood can still be seen through semi-opaque stains. This lets the beauty and uniqueness of the wood show through.
However, there are drawbacks you should be mindful of when working with semi-opaque stains. If you don’t let these stains dry completely before adding a second coat or a protective finish, they might look blotchy or uneven.
To avoid this, dry the paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions before adding more coats or finishes.
If you also want more color options, you won’t find much luck with semi-opaque stains since the pigments are mixed.
When you want to highlight the natural color of cedar wood while providing sufficient protection from the outdoors, a semi-transparent stain is your best bet. A semitransparent stain does not completely cover the wood grain.
It seals off the wood’s pores, preventing water from penetrating the material. You need to dry it thoroughly after application to avoid a patchy appearance.
Semi-transparent stains are designed to penetrate deeply into the cedar wood, creating a strong bond that ensures the stain won’t crack or peel over time. This makes semi-transparent stains an excellent choice for high-traffic areas like decks and fences.
Also, some semi-transparent stain products are specially formulated for moist surfaces, saving time and effort. These stains also offer protection similar to toners, which helps prevent UV rays and weathering damage.
This means your deck or outdoor furniture will stay looking new for longer. Semi-transparent stains are ideal for new or recently refinished decks, but older cedar wood may require a different treatment due to its age and condition.
If you’re a beginner, semi-transparent stains can be challenging to apply evenly, especially on large surfaces like decks. This can result in uneven color or patchy coverage.
Furthermore, it is important to note that once you have applied a semitransparent stain to your deck, it is not possible to switch to a semi-solid or opaque stain without first removing the existing semitransparent layer.
With these in mind, semi-transparent stains are not ideal for use on uneven surfaces as the stain may not adhere properly and may peel or crack over time.
Natural or Clear Stains
If you want to highlight the wood itself or refinish and restore an older cedar piece, natural or clear stains are a great option. A clear finish will protect your home’s exterior for years.
Clear coatings excel well in blending with most wood. Clear wood finish products are almost transparent and thus draw attention to the natural beauty of wood without coloring it.
They give a touch of shine, making your cedar wood seem fantastic in the early morning or late evening sunlight. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage or discolor stained wood, but clear wood stains can keep your cedar wood looking great for years.
Since coatings soak into and connect with the wood grain, they are usually challenging to remove. You may be unable to remove the current finish if you’re working on a major restoration project for your cedar wood. There would then be a requirement for a second layer of varnish.
Do You Need to Put Wood Conditioner on Cedar Wood Before Staining?
A wood conditioner is not required. You can stain fine without it. However, applying a pre-stain conditioner leads to smoother finishes, particularly when employing dark wood stain hues on light, delicate woods.
How To Your Stain Cedar Wood
Step #1: Clean Cedar Wood
Before applying any stain, cleaning the cedar wood thoroughly is essential. Use a soft-bristled brush to remove any dirt or debris from the surface of the wood.
Step #2: Sand and Clean the Sawdust
Using 120-grit sandpaper, sand the cedar wood to create a smooth surface. After sanding, use a tack or lint-free cloth to remove sawdust.
Step #3: Apply Your Chosen Wood Conditioner
Apply a wood conditioner to the cedar wood to help the stain penetrate evenly and avoid blotching. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply the conditioner evenly with a brush or foam applicator.
Step #4: Dry Cedar Wood Completely
Let the wood conditioner dry entirely before applying the stain. This typically takes about 15-30 minutes. Check the label of the wood conditioner you’re using for specific drying time.
Step #5: Apply a Wood Stain
Apply your chosen stain to the cedar wood using a brush or foam applicator. Apply the stain in thin coats, working toward the wood grain. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat.
Depending on the type of stain and the desired color, you may need to apply multiple coats. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time and recoating.
Our Top Picks for Cedar Wood Stains
1. General Finishes Exterior 450 Water-Based Wood Stain
The vertical surfaces of your outdoor project are perfect for the exterior pigmented wood stains of General Finishes’s 450 Series, which are designed for use in the great outdoors. Large, flat surfaces, like a deck, shouldn’t be stained with these water-based outdoor wood stains.
2. Cabot 19202 Cedar Wood Toned Deck and Siding Stain
The Cabot 19202 Cedar Wood-Toned Deck and Siding Stain is a high-quality stain designed to protect and enhance the natural beauty of cedar wood. This semitransparent stain offers excellent UV protection and water repellency.
This helps prevent damage from the elements. The wood-toned color is specifically formulated to enhance the natural grain of cedar wood, providing a beautiful finish that will last for years.
Can You Stain Cedar Wood Grey?
Cedar wood can be stained gray. However, the original color of cedar cannot be restored if it has been stained in another color (such as grey). Methyl alcohol will need to be used to remove the wood stain.
Can You Stain Cedar Wood White?
Identical to the color of the paint, Cedar can be whitewashed. Unlike painting, a primer or other coatings are not required when staining Cedar white.
Will Cedar Wood's Stain Fade Over Time?
Cedar wood stain fades over time if it needs to be appropriately maintained. To keep cedar from turning gray, seal the fence with a stain that blocks.
You’ll Also Like: Using Spar Urethane on Cedar
As shown in this guide, cedar does take stain well when properly prepared and maintained. Semi-solid and semitransparent stains are great options for cedar furniture, offering a range of colors and excellent protection from the elements.
However, make sure you follow the proper steps and choose a quality stain designed for cedar wood.
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