One of my earliest memories is the time my dad drove us to the hardware store on a warm spring morning to buy cans of Thompson’s Waterseal to protect the bricks on our house. As a boy, I didn’t understand what a clear water repellant did, but somehow the memory of those classic square cans stuck with me enough over the decades that they caught my eye earlier this year as I was scouting around for up-and-coming new wood finishing products worth telling you about. Thompson’s has been pretty wiley to put their new waterproofing wood stain in a can with a 50+ year panache, but it’s what’s inside that makes it worth talking about.
Decks, fences, docks and outdoor wood furniture all present the toughest finishing challenges going. Water, sunlight, seasonal temperature swings and abrasion are the reasons why. This is why so many outdoor wood finishes fail after a year, though this isn’t actually the biggest problem you’ll face as a homeowner with outdoor wood to maintain.
If all you needed to do was recoat ratty decks and fences with fresh stain, that would be easy. The real problem is the way some types of outdoor wood finishes leave behind a peeling mess that needs to be sanded and washed off before refinishing. The culprits here are usually those finishes that form a varnish-like film. These always peel in time and that’s one big problem you might want to avoid. In fact, the prep work involved in getting old outdoor wood ready for finishing is almost always way more work than actually brushing on something new. Almost always, but not quite.
Film-forming outdoor wood finishes have their place, but there are distinct advantages to products that colour and protect the wood, without forming a peel-prone film. I call these “soak-in stains” and the new Thompson’s Waterproofing Stains fit into this category. They operate mostly below the surface – not much on top – so they can’t create a peeling mess in time. They also offer two other advantages that many people don’t understand.
Do you have some old, outdoor wood to finish? You’ll need to sand back to bare wood if you expect any kind of film-forming finish to resist major peeling, but not so with soak-in stains like the new Thompson’s. They come in opaque and semi-transparent versions – 5 colours each – and according to my tests so far they work with minimal prep. I especially like the opaque version for older, weathered wood. The semi-transparent formulation lets woodgrain show through on new lumber.
Since 1990, I’ve run deck finish field tests where I apply specific products onto wood samples, then monitor how they perform outdoors over the years. Since the Thompson’s Waterproofing Stains are brand new, I’ve only just created samples for them and I can’t comment on long-term durability yet. For what it’s worth, these products do come with a stated life expectancy of 4 to 5 years for one-coat applications on decks, and a 6 to 15 year life on fences.
These are really big numbers based on my experience with other outdoor finishes, but they are backed up with a full refund option if you’re not satisfied, potentially right up to the stated life expectancy. Even if they only end up lasting half the stated time, they’re still better than many deck finishes I’ve tested, and they won’t have much surface peeling to deal with. In my preliminary tests, the product is fast (dry to the touch in a couple of hours) and there’s only the slightest, mild odour.
There’s no product that makes outdoor wood finishing a maintenance-free picnic. The task will always involve a fair amount of work. The trick is choosing something that set’s you up for the least ongoing maintenance. And if that happens to come in a classic, resealable metal can, then all the better.