How to Stain Your Wood Garage Door

Natural wood garage doors give any house a striking appearance. From rustic to elegant, wood projects value. To keep your wood garage doors looking nice, it is important to stain and seal them. Staining and sealing protects your wood garage doors from the elements and brings out their beauty. As with any project, it is best to follow a few simple steps.

1. Begin with Cleaning

You always want to start with cleaning the wood garage door. Use a good quality wood-cleaning product. Dust and other dirt, mildew and moss are common on wood that’s exposed to the elements. You don’t want these things ruining the look of the door. But more importantly these things are bad for the wood.

If you are working on a new door, cleaning, then sanding the door, will remove “mill glaze”. Mill glaze is a name professionals use for the crushed pores milling leaves behind. This compaction of the wood’s surface prevents stain from penetrating to the wood garage door properly.

A water pressure washer can be used on many wood doors but low water pressure, 1000-1500 psi or less, must be used. This when combined with a wood cleaner will remove most stains and all types of grime. Take care not to cause any damage to the doors surface while using this powerful tool.

2. Apply Brightener on Tannin-rich Woods

You may want to brighten your wood garage door. This step is optional, but it does make the wood garage door look better if the wood is a high-tannin wood such as redwood or cedar. Tannin-rich trees are naturally fire and rot resistant so they are popular for exterior doors. When you disturb the wood during cleaning, it can bring the tannins to the surface of the wood. This changes the color of the wood and darkens it, usually unevenly. If you use a quality, wood-brightening product it will neutralize the tannins. This restores the natural color to the wood.

3. Allow Drying Time

Once you have cleaned the wood garage door, it must dry thoroughly. The rule of thumb is to 24-hours or longer. Oil-based stains will bead on moist wood. Water-based stains will apply unevenly on wet wood.

4. Apply Quality Stain

As always, make sure to choose a high-quality stain so you’re newly stained wood garage door will last longer and look professional. A penetrating oil-based wood stain is usually the best. You can use a brush, roller or air-sprayer. One coat usually does the job.

Use a technique called back brushing, even if you spray or roll the stain on. This encourages the stain to penetrate into the wood’s surface as deeply as possible. Just be sure to do this within fifteen minutes. Any longer, and the stain will be too viscous.

The darker a stain you choose, the longer you can expect your stain to last. The ultraviolet protection in the stain you choose comes from the pigment in the stain. Stain does fade over time. You can refresh the color by washing the wood garage door down with wood cleaner and recoating.

Once the oil-based stain has dried, you have the option of going over it with an exterior varnish or polyurethane, giving the door a glossy finish. However, keep in mind that unlike a penetrating oil stain, varnish and polyurethane will eventually peel, requiring a refinishing job down the road.

Garage Door Staining Tips

  • Use an oil base semi-transparent or semi-solid exterior wood stain. A second coat can be applied after the first has dried for several hours.
  • To stain the edges either lift open the garage door in stages, exposing the raw unstained wood edge under the rubber weather stripping, and stain it as the door is slowly opened or open the door all the way and stain the raw edges from inside the garage.
  • The back of the door doesn’t require staining as this is protected by the garage. Finishing this side is optional.

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  1. Anthony Welty

    Hello i have a client that has dark wood garage doors and he wants the polyurethane applied in the stain? We live in the Palm Springs desert and I feel an oil stain would last longer in our 110 plus heat starting now. Also in this type heat is it ok to do staining of such large areas? Right now he says he has them stained every year that seems excessive if the right stain combination is being used. I would love to be this customers hero and gain a client. Any info regarding what to use would be greatly appreciated my name is Anthony Welty and I could send some pics also of the current state the doors are in. Again thank you

    • Basically, the homeowner wants a exterior stain (semi-transparent most likely) mixed with a finish (poly) applied to the doors. Would it last longer? Maybe.

      I have applied something similar to log homes and it worked well. In my case; I used McCloskey’s Man-O-War spar varnish mixed with an oil based semi-trans stain (50-50) and sprayed (tiny tip) with back brushing, 2 coats (second coat just a quick spray only).

      Longevity is impossible to know for certain but I think it would last longer than a year. Maintenance might become interesting as the finish will fade and loose sheen but peeling might be an issue. In this case some scraping would be needed before resealing. Peeling can happen with just stain especially as more coats are applied over a few years.

      The doors can have another finish other than the same stain. Messmer’s and Sikkens both have a shiny stain/finish. Making your own is easy but would take a little experimentation to get the right mix and color. It’s possible 2 coats would be needed if the doors are very dry.

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