How To Stain Cedar Wood? (5 Steps)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

Cedar wood is obtained from different species of cedar trees that are known for their durability and attractive appearance.

You can stain Cedar wood with exterior-grade wood stain to improve its durability and enhance its natural color.

To stain cedar wood, clean the wood, sand the wood, apply pre-stain wood conditioner, apply wood stain, and seal the finish.

Is Staining Cedar Wood Necessary?

Staining cedar wood is necessary, if you don’t the wood won’t be durable and will develop a greyish tint due to moisture and UV exposure. The ultraviolet rays from the sun cause it to fade gradually until it turns grey.

A semi-transparent or transparent wood stain (with UV blockers) finish will protect the surface from UV degradation. It will also protect it from scratch marks, dents, and surface cracking.

Cedar wood isn’t durable, it will develop scratches and dents if exposed to high-foot traffic, furniture stands, or high weight. An exterior-grade wood stain will protect it from these elements.

Pro Tip: To ensure Cedar wood remains durable refinish it at least once a year.

Does Cedar Wood Accept Stain Well?

Cedar wood doesn’t accept stain well because it’s a softwood. Softwoods have tight grains (or small pores) that prevent proper wood stain absorption. Technically, they are stainable but the result is often a patchy or uneven finish.

You must apply a wood conditioner to ensure even wood stain absorption or sand the surface to create small pores for the wood stain to penetrate. If you don’t apply wood conditioner or sand the surface, the finish will be uneven or blotchy.

Note: Cedar wood must be stained within 2-3 months of installation.

Which Types of Wood Stain Can You Use on Cedar?

You can use water-based, oil-based wood stain, and gel stains on cedar wood. The best stain to use on cedar wood is water-based wood stain as it’s easier to use, dries fast, penetrates easier, and produces a rich color tint.

Semi-transparent water-based wood stain (with water & UV protection) will allow the natural grain of the wood to show while producing a color tint and protecting the surface. It’s also easier to clean and maintain this finish.

You can use oil-based wood stains too as they offer great protection and weather-resistant qualities. But, you must use a Zinsser shellac sealer as an undercoat because Cedar wood has tight grain (small pores) and can’t absorb oil-based wood stain properly.

How to Stain Cedar Wood?

To stain Cedar wood, do the following things.

  1. Clean the Wood.
  2. Sand the Wood.
  3. Apply Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner.
  4. Apply Wood Stain.
  5. Seal the Finish.

The tools you need for this project are listed below.

  • Medium-fine grit sandpaper
  • A pair of gloves
  • An electric sander
  • Pre-stain conditioner (use the same brand of wood stain)
  • Wood stain (use the same brand of pre-stain conditioner)
  • Natural bristle paintbrushes
  • Clean rags
  • Wood cleaner (or dish soap and water)
  • Paint mixer
  • Polyurethane sealer (optional)

1. Clean the Wood

Clean the cedar wood with a damp rag to remove dust, debris, and dirt that can prevent the wood stain from penetrating and adhering to the surface.

If you don’t clean the wood and apply wood stain over it directly, you’ll trap dust underneath the finish which will eventually cause it to peel off. You’ll also end up with a blotchy finish.

2. Sand the Wood

Sand the cedar wood with medium-grit sandpaper (100-grit) and move your way up to fine-grit sandpaper (220-grit). The sandpaper removes the surface imperfections and bumps and creates tiny pores (holes) that the wood stain can penetrate and adhere to.

For small surfaces, such as furniture, you can sand manually, but for larger surfaces, you need a power sander. Ensure to wipe off or vacuum the dust from the surface when you are done.

3. Apply Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Apply two (2) pre-stain wood conditioner coats over the Cedar wood using a paintbrush or lint-free rag. Wait until one coat dries, wipe the excess, and apply the next coating.

The pre-stain wood conditioner covers the surface pores, creates a smooth layer to enhance adhesion, and prevents wood stain over-absorption.

Ensure the pre-stain conditioner you use is compatible with your choice of stain. If not, the stain will not be absorbed properly.

A good way to ensure this is to buy the same brand of pre-stain conditioner as your wood stain. Manufacturers often produce them in sets, so you can buy the complete set.

4. Apply Wood Stain

Apply three (3) wood stain coats over the Cedar wood using a bristled paintbrush or lint-free cloth. Ensure to cover all the wooden surface spots and apply the stain in single strokes from one end to the other.

Wait until one coat dries, remove the excess, and apply the next coat. Water-based wood stain takes around 30 minutes to dry while oil-based wood stain takes around 1 hour to dry between coats.

4. Seal the Finish

Seal the stained cedar wood finish with a moisture-resistant sealer to protect it from water, moisture, scratches, and weather elements.

What Color To Use for Cedar Wood?

Use a natural color, such as brown or beige, for Cedar wood as it matches its natural color. Bright colors, such as green or yellow, won’t offer a good finish.

To get a beautiful and natural finish, use toned-down colors, such as brown, grey, tan, or off-white.

The type of finish; solid or opaque color, semi-transparent color, and transparent or natural finish, is also important.

The solid finish contains a high level of pigments (or wood dye) that produces a colorful finish that hides the grain and imperfections on the wood. It also offers the most protection compared to other finishes.

The semi-transparent finish produces a mix of color and clarity. The finish shows the natural beauty of the wood grain with a slight color tint. Semi-transparent finishes are resistant to moisture and UV rays.

The transparent finish gives you the most clarity. It doesn’t color the finish. Instead, it leaves a water-resistant film on the surface that shows the wood grain and protects it against water damage.

How Long Does Stained Cedar Last?

Stained Cedar lasts between 1 to 3 years when installed outdoors, and between 5 and 10 years when installed indoors.

You must re-apply fresh coats of wood stain once its surface starts to chip or peel. The finish will last longer if you clean and maintain it regularly.

Outdoor stained Cedar wood doesn’t last long because it’s exposed to weather elements, such as rain, wind, snow, etc. Indoor-stained Cedar wood isn’t exposed to weather elements or to high-foot traffic, so it lasts longer.

Cedar wood naturally lasts a long time. On average, Cedar lasts 15 years before you’ll need repairs or replacement, but adding a few coats of stain increases its longevity.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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