Finishes vary according to how much of the wood's natural grain they show. The best opaque treatments tend to last the longest. But you may prefer a semitransparent or clear finish for aesthetic reasons. The cost of all types of wood stains and treatments is $15 to $50 a gallon.
Opaque wood treatments
Also known as solid-color stains, opaque treatments typically hold up for at least three years--the longest overall. They're fine for pine decks, where seeing the grain isn't important. On the downside, they hide the wood grain the way paint does. Opaque finishes might also build up a film, especially after several coats, which can peel, chip, and crack like paint. That's a concern with older decks made of arsenic-laden, CCA lumber.
Semitransparent wood treatments
Although generally not as weather-resistant as opaque treatments, some semitransparent products go the distance better than others. Semitransparent products let some of the wood grain show through, making them a good choice for cedar, redwood, and other costly woods that you want to show off. But they range from little pigment to nearly opaque. And even the best we tested needed refinishing after two years.
Clear wood treatments
These may contain only a little pigment, along with water repellants. They're ideal for showing off the natural grain of a premium wood as much as possible. Clear treatments may have ultraviolet inhibitors and wood preservatives. But with most, deck refinishing is an annual chore.
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