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Is It Better to Brush or Roll Stain My Deck?

calander Apr 6 , 2021 user-icon Nash Painting

Regardless of the nature of a given residential exterior painting project, many of the same questions come up: “What will it cost?” “How long will it take?” “What type of coating is best for the surface in question?” The list goes on. Some of these common questions involve the painting technique and tools themselves, namely rolling vs. brushing. By now, you might think there would be a clear winner between these two painting methods, and yet both tools can be found in any professional painter’s arsenal. In most cases, there is a time for brushing and a time for rolling (spraying, too). The chosen method for a given project will depend on what the painter is trying to achieve at that moment. So, is it better to brush or roll stain your deck? The answer isn’t so clear-cut, as you might imagine. That said, let’s go over the various reasons to either brush, roll, and/or spray your deck with stain, so you’re armed with the knowledge necessary to approach your project properly.

Should You Stain or Brush Your Deck?

Why Bother Brushing Your Deck Stain?

Paint and brushes go together like any iconic duo you can name. And yet, you might notice that most professionals ditch the brush for a roller when painting large surfaces. This isn’t to say they never use brushes, though, nor that brushes are obsolete. On the contrary, quality brushes offer key benefits that rollers lack, especially when it comes to staining a deck. For starters, the smaller, handheld nature of brushes give you more control over the tool’s movements, allowing you to make more precise decisions and reach those crevices, crooks, and crannies -- the shape of a brushes’ bristles help in this regard, too, making it easy to provide full coverage to tight and hard-to-reach surfaces (i.e., areas between boards, corners, trim, etc.). This control and flexibility are why the pros primarily use brushes to cut in edges and tackle the smaller details and touch-ups.

For deck staining purposes, brushes become even more useful. Unlike paint, stain is designed to penetrate the surface’s pores to provide a deeper level of protection. Of course, simply going over a surface with a single stroke might not allow the stain to fully soak in like it’s supposed to. This is where brushes come into play. Using a brush, you can move the stain in a given area back and forth, which in turn lets it work its way deeper into the deck’s wood. Note that “brushes” in this regard don’t only refer to handheld brushes, either. While a small brush is essential for reaching those smaller, tighter spaces, a large staining brush attached to an extension pole will be your best friend when staining your deck, especially for back-brushing, which we’ll discuss later on.

Reasons to Roll on Your Stain Instead

Benefits of brushing aside, there are plenty of reasons to roll with a roller when applying wood deck stain, too. After all, paint rollers are popular for a reason. The first and most obvious reason to roll on deck stain as opposed to brushing it on is that the former allows you to cover a much larger surface area in less time. Rollers are wider, more efficient, and easier to operate. Additionally, using a roller helps you achieve a smoother finish. You do, of course, sacrifice much of the precision and texture (i.e., bristles) that can only be achieved with a brush when deciding to roll it on instead. Still, virtually all painters and staining contractors would agree that a quality roller is an essential (though not the only) tool for any staining project.

Consider Spraying Your Stain

The battle is often between brushes and rollers, but what about the third common application option: spraying? As it turns out, there’s a big place for sprayers in this deck staining discussion, too. In fact, starting your staining process via spraying is often the way to go, as long as you implement the proper technique. Spraying your waterproof deck stain from the get-go allows you to cover even more area than rolling does and also reach those tighter spaces. When spraying, it’s important to use a low-pressure setting, so you don’t overspray and stay relatively close to the surfaces you’re staining so you don’t under spray -- achieving this balance can be challenging for beginners, but professionals will know how to approach this process. Also, if you’re going to use a sprayer, make sure you’re not working on a windy day, as even a moderate gust can throw off your workflow.

The Benefits of Back-Brushing (back-rolling, too)

As handy as spraying your stain can be, you shouldn’t rely solely on this technique for deck staining. Instead, you’ll want to start with spraying and then use your brush and/or roller to complete the job. The best way to ensure full, even, deep coverage is through a process known as “back-brushing” or “back-rolling,” depending on which tool you’re using. This process involves going over the still-wet, recently-applied stain with a brush or roller with the intent of working the coating deeper into the wood and its various crevices. This isn’t a second coat or anything, but rather a subsequent pass-through with your brush or roller to “fine-tune” your stain application after it’s been initially laid down via sprayer, roller, or brush. Ideally, back-brushing will occur section by section in a one-two punch, where one person applies the stain and another immediately back-brushes the coating afterward.

The Verdict

So, is it better to brush or roll on your deck stain? By now, it should be even clearer that there is no objective answer to this question. Professional deck staining services use a variety of tools and methods to achieve the ultimate goal of protecting and enhancing a given deck. In many cases, you’ll see professionals use some combination of sprayers, rollers, and brushes at different junctions for the best results. At Nash Painting, for instance, we typically start by spraying the stain on the surface and then back-brush for optimal coverage. We also perform brush- or roller-only projects upon request from our clients across Nashville, Brentwood, and Franklin, TN. To learn more about us, our hassle free painting services, and our values, call us at 615-829-6858 today!