Sealing Success: How to Properly Seal a Wood Fence

Are you planning to seal your wooden fence? Our guide to fence sealer covers everything you might want to know about how to apply sealer that is right for your property.
Renee Lewis
Renee Lewis
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Last Update:
December 12, 2023

Sealing your wooden fence can add years to its lifespan and protect it from the elements. Even better, there is no need to pay professionals to do the sealing for you - sealing a wood fence makes a great DIY project that can increase curb appeal at your home.

Wood Sealing for Beginners

Have you seen those wooden fences that have warped panels, or that have turned gray over the years? That is probably a fence that was not sealed. Sealing prevents moisture from damaging your wooden fence over time, and not sealing your fence can drastically reduce its lifespan.

What are the Benefits of Sealing a Wood Fence?

Wood sealing enhances your fence’s durability but is a little different than wood fence staining. Wood sealing will add a protective layer to your fence that will protect your wooden fence from moisture. It sits on top of the wood grain and is typically clear. Because it is a waterproofing measure, sealing your wooden fence will protect it from rotting or other damages from moisture. Wood sealing is not wood staining, though. A wood stain will not only protect the fence from moisture but also protect it from UV rays and usually add a colored tint to your fence that prevents it from looking gray over time.

When Should You Seal Your Fence?

Sealing is a preventative measure that should be done when you first put up your fence. In fact, some fence companies offer to seal the wood first before even putting the fence up. Because sealing your fence is meant to protect it from the elements, you should seal it as soon as possible. If you have a new fence, get it sealed as soon as possible. Pressure treated wood that is often used in fences has chemicals that protect it from the elements but these will leach out over time so it is important to seal your fence early. Of course, that does not mean that you should not seal your fence if it has already been installed and not sealed for years. The sooner the better! If your fence has already had a seal put on it, or you just moved to a new property and are not sure if the fence was sealed, there is a trick to determining whether it needs a new seal. Put some water on the fence; if the moisture beads on the wood then the seal is still good. If it absorbs, then your fence is ready for a new seal. Seal your fence every couple of years for optimal protection.

The Impact of Weather Exposure

Rain and wet conditions can damage your wooden fence. It can cause warping, splitting, rotting and even create an environment that can host fungus, mildew and other unwelcome lifeforms. Sealing your fence can protect against these kinds of damages. Sunlight and UV rays can cause fading of your fence’s coloring and can cause it to look gray over the years. Sealing your fence will not protect against UV rays unless you get a special sealant with sun protection added like they have in wood stains. Otherwise, for that type of protection you will want a stain. Stains will also highlight the grain of the wood and enhance the natural beauty and natural color of your type of wood. If you want more information about how to stain a fence, check out our blog.

The Cost of Sealing a Wooden Fence

The cost of sealing a wooden fence varies a lot based on whether you are doing it as a DIY home improvement project or hiring a professional. According to one fence sealing cost calculator the difference could be in the hundreds of dollars for a 500 square foot fence. For example, if you wanted to pay a professional to seal your wooden fence, it would cost between $500 and $650. If you were doing the job yourself, you could save between $340 and $410 on the project. In that case, the typical range you would pay to seal your wood fence as a DIY project would be $190 to $230. As a DIY project the price per square foot would be between $0.38 and $0.45 on average.

​​What You Will Need to Seal a Wood Fence

Let’s dive into what supplies and materials you will need to seal a wooden fence as a DIY home improvement project for motivated homeowners.

Wood sealer

We will discuss considerations for selecting the right sealer below.

Cleaning supplies

It is important to clean the wood before you apply the sealer. Wood cleaner and a stiff bristle brush will help remove built up dirt and grime. If you have mildew on your fence, be sure to select a wood cleaner that has ingredients to tackle mildew. Use a garden sprayer or pressure washer to rinse the fence after you have finished cleaning it.

Sanding equipment

Most of the time, the cleaning described above will be enough to prepare your fence for sealing. But use sandpaper, a sanding block, or power sander on any stubborn grit on the wood surface that is keeping your fence from being clean and ready for the seal.

Brushes or roller

Using a sprayer is the fastest way to apply sealer, and because it sprays a lighter coat it also dries faster. However, you can use a brush or roller if you want to as well. A roller will apply the sealer faster than a brush, but a brush is great for getting into hard to reach areas. Work from top to bottom to avoid drips, and work on small areas at a time - one or two wooden fence panels at a time.

Protective gear

While you are applying sealer to your wooden fence, it is important to wear protective gear like safety glasses, gloves and protective clothing.

Painter’s tape and drop cloths

Before you start sealing your fence, you will want to put a drop cloth beneath the fence to catch drips and keep the sealer from getting on things you do not want it on. Use painter’s tape to cover adjacent surfaces that you do not want sealer on.

Ladder or step stool

Use a ladder or a step stool to reach the top of your fence, and be careful up there!

Choosing the Right Sealer

There are several types of sealer for wood fences. Let’s go over the choices and give you some tips for choosing the best one for your project.​

There are two main categories of sealers for wooden fences: oil-based sealers and water-based sealers. Oil-based sealers are generally better for wooden fences and are usually recommended over water-based sealers. Oil-based sealers will take much longer to dry, usually around 24 hours. On the other hand, a water-based sealer will take about 4 hours to dry. Oil-based sealers are thicker and usually require fewer coats than a water-based sealer. Finally, there are natural sealers like linseed, soy, or walnut oil that you can apply to your fence - these are known as drying oils which penetrate, harden and preserve your wooden fence. There are also natural wax wood sealers that can be applied on top of the natural oils.

​​Evaluate the Climate

If you live in a wet or humid climate, applying a water-based sealer might be a better idea because it dries faster. You will need to have a dry fence to begin, and you will need to allow the layers of sealer to dry in between each coat. If you put an oil-based sealer on a fence and then it gets wet, there are ingredients in the sealer that acts as food for mold, mildew, and algae.

​​Assess the Fence’s Location

If you have a fence in full sunlight and a drier climate, then an oil-based sealer would be the better choice. It will dry faster and the oil-based sealer will offer stronger protection. If you have landscaping nearby that you want to protect, consider using a brush or roller instead of spraying it on the wood fence to avoid covering your plants in sealer because of overspray!

​​Think About the Desired Finish

Most wood sealers are clear and do not put a colored tint on your wooden fence. However, you can get tinted sealers, or a combined sealer and stain in one. If you are looking to protect or enhance the color of your fence, this might be a good idea for you!

Step by Step Approach to Seal a Wood Fence for Long-Lasting Appeal

Now, let’s outline the step-by-step process for effectively sealing a wood fence.

​​Cleaning

Unless you are dealing with new wood on a new fence, the first step will be to clean your existing fence. You will need to remove dirt, grime and other types of build up from your wooden fence using a brush or power washer. Then apply wood cleaner and rinse thoroughly. Remember to let the fence dry completely before moving on to the next step.

​​Sanding

Next, sand your wooden fence to create a smooth surface and allow for optimal absorption of the sealer. This may be a time-consuming process, but does help the sealer adhere better to your fence.

​​Repairing Damages

There is no point in taking the time to apply sealer to a broken down fence. First, you will need to address any necessary repairs. Take a few minutes to inspect your fence. Typical fixes include fastening loose boards, replacing damaged boards, filling cracks, and smoothing areas. Once you let the wood dry, you are ready to start applying the sealer!

​​Techniques for Applying Sealer

Even application makes for effective protection and looks better aesthetically. If you are using a sprayer, be sure to apply one thin layer at a time to avoid drips. If you are using a brush or a roller, start from the top down to avoid drips. Also, work on small sections at a time - like one or two fence panels at once.

​​Number of Coats

Most of the time, you will just need one coat of sealer on your wood fence. However, if you want to add a second coat for extra durability that is fine, just make sure you let the first coat dry completely before moving on to the second coat.

​​Drying Time

The time it takes for your coat of sealer to dry depends mostly on what type of sealer you have chosen to use. An oil-based sealer will take at least 24 hours to dry completely, whereas a water-based sealer could dry in a matter of several hours.

Conclusion: Extending the Life of Your Wood Fence

Wood sealing done right can extend the life of your fence as well as prevent weather damage. Sealing your wood fence prevents moisture from seeping into the wood and causing problems like rotting, warping, splitting, or the growth of mold, mildew or algae. Sealing prevents most types of weather damage and adds aesthetic appeal by protecting your wood fence and helping it to last longer!

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