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Treating Your Wooden Gates

Treating your wooden gates, garage doors and external joinery

Like all exterior joinery, our wooden gates and garage doors need protecting from the extremes of the British climate if they are to last for many years. There are many types of treatments available, from paints to stains and oils.

Whats best for external joinery?

If you decide to oil your wooden gates or doors, then be aware that you could end up having to regularly apply additional coats of oil every 2-3 months to keep the timber in tip-top condition.

Of paints, steer away from ranch or fence paint as these are quite often made solely for rough sawn timber and will not adequately protect smooth planed timber. Gloss paints used to be the most common choice, but the main drawback with these products is that if water does penetrate the paintwork, then it won’t be able to escape effectively; if you’ve ever gone to repaint a window or similar that was previously coated in a gloss paint and found a paint shell on the exterior with rotten timber beneath it, then this is basically because moisture has gained access to the timber and not been able to be released.

Microporous? Moisture vapour permeable?

Our recommendations are microporous or moisture vapour permeable paints and stains; this basically means the paint or stains will allow the timber to breathe, stopping any moisture from entering the timber, whilst releasing any moisture already present. A good quality microporous paint or stain will also contain a UV (ultra violet) filter to help protect against damage caused to the timber by sunlight. Amongst the many makes and brands available, our favoured is Sikkens, which we have over thirty years’ experience of using. If used correctly, and according to the manufacturers instructions, you could get up to three years’ usage before having to re-coat your wooden gates or garage doors.

So which particular Sikkens product do we recommend?

As mentioned, our favourite is Sikkens, which is a translucent stain (i.e. you can see the wood-grain underneath but it does have a tint which acts as a UV filter) which comes in a variety of shades.

The Sikkens products that we recommend, after speaking to the very helpful people at Sikkens’ Technical Advice centre, are Sikkens Cetol HLS Plus as the base coat, with Sikkens Filter 7 Plus for the top coats.

As well as the traditional Sikkens stains, which are available in a variety of timber shades (i.e. Mahogany, Oak), you can also source stains in a choice of colours from Sikkens’ Classic Collection – just make sure the colour you settle on is for outdoor use (as previously mentioned, Cetol HLS Plus and Cetol Filter 7 Plus).

To UV or not UV that is the question

As mentioned we recommend using stains that contain a UV filter, an often asked question is do Sikkens make a clear external stain that has a UV filter – the answer being no.
Others do manufacture clear stains with UV filters for external use, however after talking to the British Woodworking Federation we do not recommend these. Think of the stain as sun tan lotion – the darker the stain the greater the sun protection factor of the sun tan lotion!

You want a paint rather than a stain?

If you’re looking to paint your gates or doors rather than stain them, then there are a few paints that are micro-porous/moisture vapour permeable. The most notable being International Paints and Johnstone Paints, but having said that, with the experience we have of Sikkens, we would always recommend the aforementioned Sikkens over everything else!

Do I need to seal the knots?

It used to be common to have to seal any knots with ‘knotting’ (shellac knotting solution) , this was to stop the knots present on the timber from releasing resin which in turn would bubble up under the paintwork which in turn would mean you having to recoat more often as the surface could become blistered.

Micro-porous paints work in a different way and knotting solutions are no required. Modern day paints and stains allow the resin to filter through the paint or stain so you won’t suffer blistering or bubbling on the surface. You can still over time get a build up of resin on the surface of your doors or gates, this can be wiped off using a lint free cloth with either meths or cellulose thinners.

Over time (around a year or so)  the resin supply becomes exhausted so you’ll no longer have to clear any excess resin away.

How to paint or stain your wooden gates.

Before you hang your gates, you’ll need at least one coat of your chosen treatment; however, the more coats the better. Personally, I would always start by coating the rear of the gates.

Start with the areas shown in the picture that are marked with 1, coat the higher ares first and work down.
As you coat the area marked 1, also be sure to also coat the underside of any horizontal rails and top of any horizontal rails that border the area; also paint or stain the diagonal braces as you go.

(Image from our Beaumaris driveway gates range)

Finish off the rear of the gates by coating the face of the horizontal rails marked as 2, before moving onto the stiles (vertical outer uprights) shown as 3. When painting or staining your wooden gate stiles, be sure to get a good covering on the joggles (pointy bits on the top corners) as these are timber end grains.

You then need to treat the front of the gates; to turn the gates around (if needed) grab a willing assistant and lift the gates using the underside of a rail (you can touch this up later, or leave a handhold unpainted for the time being; just remember to coat it before you start on the front of the gates). Then it’s simply a case of repeating the process as before, obviously leaving out the parts of the gate which are only on the rear.

To paint or stain the front of the timber gates, repeat the process, omitting any parts mentioned above that are only rear features of the gates (i.e. diagonal braces, various rails).

To finish off paint/stain the outside edges of the gate stiles.

Now I know, that if you’ve read all the way down, I’ve mentioned that you should coat all of the timber at once rather than leaving, say, the front of the gates to dry; how do you paint the very bottom of the gates? This is the one part that you can either leave until the rest of the gate is touch dry OR before you start painting/staining the gates, you can coat this area first; to use either method, it’s often easiest to tip the gates onto their sides, apply the paint, then lift them up the right way up (if doing this prior to coating the rest of the gates, then you’ll need to sit the gate on a couple of timber skids or packers to avoid them sitting directly on the floor).

How to paint or stain your wooden garage doors

Again as with wooden gates, timber garage doors should have at least one coat of your chosen treatment applied.

If staining wooden garage doors with windows, you’ll need to remove the glazing beads and get a coat of the paint or stain on where the glass would sit when fitted; I recommend starting on the rear of the doors and with this area first. The glazing beads will also need a coat, but they can be done once the doors are coated.

Moving onto the boarded area, shown as 1. Coat this, making sure to cover any other areas that border this (underside/top of any horizontal rails, inside edges of the stiles and diagonal bracing on the rear).
Next onto the Mullion and any glazing bars 2 (if applicable, for doors with windows only).

(Image from our Elwy garage doors range)

Horizontal heads & rails next 3 before finishing with the stiles 4. Remember to turn the doors around so you can coat the alternate side and finish the process by painting or staining the outer edges of the stiles 4. Also, don’t forget to get a coating on the underside of the doors as well.

Any door frame should also be coated prior to fitting, paying close attention to the side that will sit against the wall.

Tips for painting or staining timber

You’ll need to get a coat of paint or stain on prior to fitting, the easiest way to do this is whilst the gates or doors are leaning against a wall – to avoid the whole of the painted area being in contact with the wall place a small piece of timber between the wall and the gate.

Whether you are painting or staining timber, make sure you coat both sides at the same time; the paint/stain manufacturers will tell you this and we certainly recommend it as they tell you for a reason…

For instance, if you paint/stain one side of a gate, garage door or door, leave it to dry BEFORE turning it around and painting the alternate side, you are risking the gate twisting or warping; this is because you have created unequal surface tension within the timber and also because the unpainted or unstained side of the gate/door/garage door will try and suck moisture in, which again will cause movement within the timber.

Once one side of the gate or door has been painted, spin it around, lean against a wall with a small piece of timber between wall and gate and then coat the unpainted side- saves getting paint everywhere!

Paint/stain the timber in the same direction as the grain, don’t paint across the grain.

Use the best brush for the treatment you are applying; for water based paints, use a synthetic brush as these do not absorb much water. For oil based treatments, natural brushes are the best. Don’t skimp and use cheap brushes, you’ll spend more time removing bristles from the surface of your newly treated woodwork than actually coating the timber!

Also, make sure you get a decent coating of paint/stain on any end grain of the timber; the end grain is the most susceptible to sucking in water; you’ll notice this when treating, as the paint or stain will soon soak into the wood.

As you paint/stain, watch out for any drips or runs and brush them out.

Why paint/stain the bottom of the gates or garage doors?

It used to be tradition in joinery to leave the very bottom underside edge unpainted or unstained in the belief that any water that did gain access to the timber would be released. However, with micro-porous or moisture vapour permeable paints and stains, there is no need to do this as they are made to release any moisture/water that has somehow gained access!

If you’ve found this at all useful, then have a heart and please share on the social media medium of your choice so others can use this guide!

For quality workmanship by time-served Joiners

27 thoughts on “Treating Your Wooden Gates

  1. Dan says:

    Interesting that you use vapor permeable paints and that it stops moisture from entering the timber.
    I’m more familiar with using first a sealer and then something like a polyurethane topcoat to basically block out moisture and dirt. I’ve never considered allowing the timber to “breathe.”
    I wonder if it’s because of the type of wood you are using? I’m using mahogany.

  2. JWC says:

    If you’ve totally sealed the timber and moisture does gain access (through a scrape in the coating of sealer), then the moisture has nowhere to go. Using a micro-porous or moisture vapour permable product any moisture that manages to get into the timber will be released.

    We do use Mahogany from time to time and treat it exactly the same way as mentioned in the article above.

  3. Ashley says:

    hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

  4. potential customer says:

    as someone who lives in Cumbria where it is very wet, I cannot understand how something that lets water out will not let water in.
    we want our doors to be as similar as possible as existing wood work, which is painted a mid blue..
    How can we get the best treatment to protect our considerable investment in our climate to go with the rest of our timberwork?

    1. Jon says:

      It’s the microscopic make up of the product, the pores on the outside of the paint or stain are smaller than the pores on the inside of the coating thus the product has the ability to release moisture whilst stopping any moisture from gaining access. This is how Sikkens’ very helpful technicnal people explained it to us.
      If your’re looking for advice on Sikkens, then they do have a page within their website for contacting them with your questions (theres also a phone number if you prefer to contact them that way). You can get in touch with them at
      Hope that helps!

  5. Alun Wilkie says:

    I plan to follow your advice with my new untreated redwood garden (side) gates, using Sikkens Cetol HLS Plus as a base coat, followed by Sikkens Cetol Filter 7 Plus as the top coats.
    However, I have been unable to find out if one should rub down the doors (sandpaper) between coats.
    The Sikkens Technical data sheets and FAQ don’t specify.
    Can you please advise?
    Many thanks,

    1. Hi Alun,
      As long as you don’t leave too long between coats then you shouldn’t usually have to do any sanding down.
      Hope that helps!

  6. Peter Roberts says:

    I have gates made of Iroko hard wood which the previous owners finished from new with Danish oil.
    The weather side looks terrible and has blistered and peeled away but the other side is in good condition. What do you recommend I do – I would like to use a Sikkens product that is clear but they all seem to be stains requiring application to new wood not previously coated wood as mine is. Could I use a Sikkens product after a good sanding?
    Any advice would be welcome.

    1. Hi Peter.
      Wouldn’t like to say yes go ahead and use Sikkens once you’ve given it a good sanding as I don’t honestly know how the Sikkens would react with any remaining oil that you’ve not been able to remove. Your best bet would be to give the Sikkens tech helpline a call and see what they say, you can get them on 01254 687 950. Whatever you treat the weathered side with, do the same on the opposite side too!
      Sikkens don’t do a clear external stain, as to get a decent UV filter you need a bit of colour tint.
      Hope that has helped – if so please give this page a share/like 🙂

      1. Peter Roberts says:

        Thanks for the advice Jon- I called the helpline and the advice was that I should not have used Danish oil in the first place. I would have to sand off at least 2mm and even then there may still be some wax remaining from the oil.
        I am left with a problem that requires I continue using the Danish Oil every 2 or 3 months.
        What a lesson to learn – The gate manufacturers apparently recommended the use of the oil!
        Never again.

        1. That’s why we don’t recommend it, has to be maintained far to frequently! It’s become quite fashionable to use due to programs like Grand Designs etc but they always fail to mention the maintenance required to maintain the protection of the timber.

  7. Brian Worsley says:

    Wanted to say a massive thank you for your advice on caring for the timber of smooth garden gate’s. Sikkens it is but the price!…….frightening!!!!!

  8. Henry Phillips says:

    Thanks for the advice. Looking at the Sikkens products, is it really necessary to use both to have an undercoat and topcoat or would 1 be sufficient in reality. Having both is going to be both time consuming and very costly! Thanks in advance for your advice.

  9. sixpack says:

    I’m having some oak sleepers milled for our garden just to surround a bed that runs the length of the garden to replace the current rotten softwood sleepers. They are well priced and should last a very long time.
    I have been told that the oak ones may go black before weathering to something more attractive. Is this correct? Should I treat them to stop them going black as I’ve heard that sometimes they just stay black forever and a day? What should I use?
    Low maintenance is important and they’re not part of any beautiful landscape, just run the edge of a lawn, and have been chosen to hopefully give long life.
    thanks all.
    Anyone having experience of this I’d be grateful for any pointers.

    1. Yes they will turn black, not really anything you can do to stop it other than using a stain on the timber.

  10. Brian McCarthy says:

    Hello, I’ve been following your instructions on how to fit a gate and it has been really helpful, thank you. I wanted to ask you a question about fitting the hinges – the Band and Gudgeon type. I have made my gate so I have 10mm gaps left and right but I seem to be running into problems if I fit the hinge the way you describe. If I fit it so the first line of the crank is in line with the edge of the gate it means the gap between the gate and the post increases so much that it moves the whole gate over and it then of course won’t close. I can’t move the pin side of the hinge any further over to the right as I am using 4×2 and the pin plate only just fits the thickness. Can you tell me if it matters if I use a 10mm spacer between gate and post and then fit the hinge in place? It means that that line you mention ends up much further in. Will the gate still swing ok? I hope you can help me as I don’t want to spoil the gate by drilling holes in the wrong place. Thanks in advance for your help.
    Kind regards
    Brian McCarthy

    1. It should be fine and should not make any difference.

      1. BRIAN MCCARTHY says:

        Thank you Jon, I’ll go ahead then and hope for the best.

  11. Tony Taylor says:

    Hi, I have two brand new driveway gates and one single the same all made of softwood, now people saying treat it with linseed oil but do I have to put wood treatment on first before coating with linseed oil? I want the best for the gates to last some time and to keep them covered with the linseed oil as it has to be on a regular basis year after year I presume but just baffling me if I need the wood preserver on the first coat or is it needed if linseed oil will be okay? Regards, Tone

    1. Jon C says:

      If you want your gate to last then use a micro-porous paint or stain (with a preservative applied first if you like as additional protection).

      If you want to be re-oiling your gate every 2-3 months (not year after year) then use an oil, this will give no UV protection to the timber so this will split due to expansion and contraction. Water will then get in to the splits and ultimately rot the gate a lot quicker.

  12. Tony Taylor says:

    Thanks Jon, I had proceeded with the preservative on my new gates as I had put coats on while they are on my trestles laying flat so that the liquid can get into the joints where the brush cannot get into as I have the Denbigh design gates. Many people had said to ‘treat preserve’ them like you said and pretty happy on your reply. 2-3 coats was done and now will treat it with linseed oil with the rag with the scotch pad in between coats to give it better coatings. I’m just in the middle of doing the job as coats of linseed oil take a few days to thoroughly dry but would I need to paste wax them after the final coat? someone had said but baffled me to wax gates?? Things are easy getting done on my trestles and within weeks will begin to hang them on the adjustable hinges to align them if they tend to drop a little. Thank you for your reply and keep up the good work.

    1. Jon C says:

      Hi Tony,

      I wouldn’t advise on the waxing as we don’t recommend oiling any external timber. To maintain what little protection this gives you, you need to recoat every 2-3 months.

      Any external joinery should be painted or stained with a micro-porous / moisture vapour permeable paint or stain.

      Hope that helps

  13. Joyce ellis says:

    I had wooden gates made for my side entrance…when they came they poor quality
    So my son in law complained and we had them for half price….I stained them with
    Sadolin 2years ago and would like to do it again….BUT IT GOT LOTS OF SAP ON THE GATES NOW ALL GONE HARD how do I remove this before I Varnish them again..
    Thank you …

    1. Jon C says:

      If it is a big build up of sap/resin than scrape off with a sharp chisel and the give it a quick sand! If it’s just small spots then sand down.

  14. Tess says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading your recommendations with interest and wonder if you could give me some advice. We had some oak pedestrian gates made a couple of years ago. They were installed before treating properly and basically expanded and split beyond repair. The tradesman made us a replacement set and claimed to have used seasoned oak and danish oil but the same thing has happened within a few weeks. The gates have expanded and joints popped. Lots of ££££ wasted on our behalf. It is quite an exposed site on the coast. When it rains the gates get full force on one side.
    We have found a new carpenter who is going to make us some pine gates (affordability now a priority for us!). I would like to stain them a light grey. Could you comment on what treatment we should use, including any preservatives. I’d like my next set of gates to last several years!
    Or perhaps I should avoid wood?

    1. Jon C says:

      Oak will move, probably more than any other timber and without knowing how long it was up before treatment I say much, however we don’t recommend oils as you have to recoat every two – three months to maintain what little protection gives you.

      Use a decent stain that is micro-porous and that contains a UV filter and use as per the manufacturers guidelines and retreat as often as required and you shouldn’t go far wrong.

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