Q - I'd been thinking of painting the weekend cabin we bought, which is made of wood that has weathered quite a bit, but a friend suggested that an "opaque stain" would look better and still provide all the protection the wood really needs. I'd never heard of opaque stains; what can you tell me about them, and would they work in my case?
A Think of an opaque exterior stain as a hybrid finish for your home - sort of a cross between a housepaint and a true stain.
Like paint, opaque stain covers the wood completely with a film of pigment and resins that protects wood from the elements better than a semi-transparent stain.
But the opaque stain's film is thinner than paint's, which makes the stain somewhat less susceptible than paint to cracking, blistering and peeling. It also lets some of the texture of the wood beneath show through.
Opaque stains are at their best over bare wood. There they can penetrate, bond with wood fibers and provide best protection with the least chance a film failures.
Penetration is deepest if the wood is rough. That's fortunate because these stains also look best on heavily textured surfaces.
Opaque stains are a good choice, too, on bare wood that has weathered, like your cabin. The weathering makes the wood more absorbent, so it takes the stain well. At the same time, the opacity of the stain covers up any variations in the color of the wood brought on by uneven weathering.
The hiding power of these stains also makes them ideal for use on a house made of different species of wood, wood with unattractive grain, or wood discolored by rust stains from exposed nailheads.
ANother good place to use opaque stain is on trim. Most manufacturers of stains offer opaque stains in the same colors as their semi-transparents.
Do not use opaque stains on porches, decking, patios or railings. They tend to rub off on shoes and clothing. If you want to stain there, stick to the semi-transparents.
Opaque stains are based on many different formulas, but the most common are linseed oil, latex and alkyds.
Latex stains are easiest to use. They provide good protection, and are most resistant to mildew. But the oil and alkyd formulas penetrate better and give a better bond when applied over old paint that has begun to chalk. And they are better over cedar and redwood, since latex stains are subject to discoloration from natural resins present in these woods.