Pro Painters Speak: Paint Grade vs. Stain/Clear

Written by on November 25, 2015 in Interior Products with 15 Comments

Second Anniversary of Pro Painters Speak! BE HEARD!

pro painters speakIts well known that along with our sister site, bloggingpainters.com, Topcoat Review is among the most recognized and reliable online resources in the paint industry.

A year ago, we launched the Pro Painters Speak segment at TCR. The question was, which line of interior paint could you live with as your exclusive interior line.

Painters spoke and the industry learned.

The raw, unedited comments from pro painters around the country (and Canada) became a reference for paint manufacturers and paint consumers to learn what qualities pros look for in paint.  The participants in last year’s poll was a veritable Who’s Who in the Paint Industry.

This year, the question is more disciplinary, and it was hatched at a training seminar in Chicago where we had an interesting discussion with contractors about the differences between paint grade and stain/clear grade work.

So, here is the question:

Which was easier for you to master and why…paint grade painting or stain/clear grade?

Assume interior and manual work only, not sprayed.

We look forward to hearing what YOU say!

Answers go in the Comments section below…

Scott Burt

Scott Burt is a contractor and freelance writer whose column "From the Field" has appeared in American Painting Contractor magazine (www.paintmag.com) since 2008. His writing and projects also appear in other print and digital venues. This site is an extension of Scott's publication work, and he encourages readers to leave comments and questions about articles published here. Hope to hear from you!

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  1. Lynn Jackson says:

    On whole, I would agree with the trend of the experienced group here. Just for fun though, I’d like to toss some food for thought out. There are, as you all know, a number of possible variables. Depending on the product and the conditions, getting an acrylic semi gloss or gloss to lay down and not look ropey can be a challenge. If you are able to choose the material and control the temperature etc. you’re better off, but on larger projects, working with products specified by an architect, and the conditions being controlled (or not so well) by a general contractor, it may not be optimum. The other side of the coin could be the application of a wiping stain and polyurethane top coat. Let’s say the wood is new, the stain color is a “standard” (no matching necessary), and you are able to set up in a controlled environment. Let’s also assume that you are pre-finishing the trim before installation. Lay it out, wipe your stain, brush the urethane and “Bob’s your uncle”.

  2. I believe I’m going to have to go with paint grade finishing being much easier manually to master than stain & clear grade finishes. Mastering any finish I believe is a continuing process with the ever changing VOC regulations and reformulations. I believe a craftsman has much more control over a solid paint grade finish and sheen than a clear/stain grade finish over a varying substrate such as raw or stripped wood. It all falls into the process of properly preparing the surface for any grade finish and I feel it comes much easier to master with paint and primer grades than clears and stains… Thanks TopCoat
    RWC Interiors

  3. Chris Haught says:

    I agree with Tim, dealing with different substrates takes more experience/skill. Knowing about toning, conditioning, blending is crucial when dealing with stain grade. The learning curve on the wood was greater than on the drywall here!
    Paint Grade

  4. john orgill says:

    I’m with Don on this one with painting being the easier of applications with only coming across a few staining jobs a year I would much rather paint than stain

  5. Don Goddard says:

    Definitely painting trim is easier. I love the look of stained wood trim, but, as a painter, I hate to hear the words “We want to stain the trim”. It’s much more time consuming to get it right, as well as labor intensive for both finishing it and cleaning up after it.

  6. Without a doubt easier to paint wood trim… aesthetically staining will always win out. Every time that enameling becomes the “In Thing” (lets all say HGTV) ,,, and cabinets get painted and trim gets painted.. we lose the character of a home. Nothing worse than painting beautiful old wood for a new modern look. I try and get Realtors to understand that when we enamel a kitchen for a sale in today’s market that they are losing potential buyers. If a person is dead set on enamel they can always do that… but once enameled they likely will walk from the home before the nightmare of stripping or replacing. Just an opinion…….

  7. I would agree with Tim Bodine and add that because so much emphasis has to be put into the substrate (wood) the cost for a “natural” look is significantly more in material and labor then a painted wood finish. Most materials that will end up being painted are synthetic (wood derived or any number of different substances from PVC to ?..).

    Stain grade wood is either flawless or has very little flaws to it. That said there is the need to be able to address any flaws and still stain the wood without the look of “repaired wood”. This is both time and expertise that must be monetarily compensated for.

    So if you buy a home, and it has beautiful stained trim, please keep the trim stained. Change the stain if need be, but only if you HAVE to.. paint it. Remember stained trim is worth more in the long run. Some of THE most beautiful wood I have seen has ended up painted.. what a travesty.

  8. Tim Bodine says:

    I would say painting would be easier to master than staining. With paint, you are covering the surface to the desire finish, and the substrate of the surface really doesn’t matter, as long as the color/finish is correct.
    With staining, you have to take into consideration the surface/substrate, as different woods will achieve different looks with different stains.

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