Finishing Fences and Gates

This story covers priming and painting fences and gates.

A smart-looking fence in tip-top condition can greatly increase the curb appeal of your home. Wood fences and gates, however, are subject to the same effects of the weather as exterior house surfaces, plus the wear and tear of daily use.

Put your fence on a regular maintenance schedule and check the support structure first, repairing or replacing any damaged posts and rails. Grab each post at the top and put pressure on it from all sides. If it's properly seated in the ground, it should move little or not at all. Movement may signify rot at the base and the need for replacement. Do the same for the rails, and repair them if necessary. Look for mildew, especially on the lower sections of the fence, and clean it with a 1-to-3 bleach-water solution, letting the section soak for 20 minutes and keeping it wet during this period. Then scrub the area with a stiff brush, rinse it with a garden hose, and let it dry thoroughly before painting.

If your fence is in good repair, it may benefit from a yearly power washing to remove dirt. Use a fan head and low pressure to avoid gouging the wood.

In time, all unfinished woods will turn gray when exposed to the weather. Common naturally resistant species used in outdoor construction, such as redwood and cedar, weather without deteriorating. These woods can be further protected with weather-resistant finishes, and you can induce a weathered appearance with bleaching oils, a mixture of linseed oil and bleach crystals -- if you don't want to wait for nature to do the work.

Prestart Checklist

About an hour to prep, prime, and paint a 6-foot section, depending on its condition

Wide putty knife, nail set, cordless drill, paintbrushes, sandpaper

Preparing wood surfaces for priming and painting, applying primer and paint

Remove mildew, clean and repair fence

Exterior wood filler, stain-blocking primer, high-quality acrylic exterior paint

Spot-seal and prime new wood: Step 1

On a new fence or gate, set nails and screws below the surface, fill all cracks and nail holes with an exterior-grade wood filler, and spot-seal knot holes with an exterior sealer. This will keep the knots from bleeding through the finish paint.

Spot-seal and prime new wood: Step 2

Using roller, sprayer, or a brush sized appropriately to the fencing, apply stain-blocking primer to the wood. If you use a roller or spray gun, follow the application by back brushing, working the primer into the spaces between the fence boards. Paint with a high-quality exterior acrylic paint.

Rejuvenating an old gate

To rejuvenate an old gate, first make structural repairs as necessary, replacing rotted boards and squaring the gate by shoring up the frame. Scrape off any loose paint with a scraper or remove it with a heat gun and wide putty knife. Set nailheads and drive screws slightly below the surface of the wood. Fill holes with an exterior wood filler, sand, prime with a stain-blocking primer, and paint with a high-quality acrylic exterior paint.

Paint before assembly

If you're constructing a new fence or gate, prime and finish the individual parts of the structure before you assemble them. That way, you are assured of getting more complete paint coverage and better protection. Painting before assembly will reduce your maintenance chores in the long run.

Continued on page 2:  Painting Methods


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