With the fence completed, we really just had the finish to make a decision about. The fence and the gate are built out of cedar wood through and through, so technically we wouldn't have to do anything because cedar is naturally weather resistant. In fact, most properties in our area have cedar fences without any treatment. Over time the fence weathers and takes on a gray patina. Often I do like the way that looks, the grey finish definitely blends in with the surroundings a bit more. And if that's the look you're going for, then why not leave it.
However at the same time, I really like the look of the fence right now; warm with that natural wood color and I would like to keep it that way. Plus, a little protection is never a bad idea either, and since we want this fence to last a long time, we figured it would be a good idea to seal the wood to preserve the color and increase the longevity.
At first we came across water-based polyurethane fence staining products at the home improvement store, which definitely outnumber the oil-based ones! But, after talking a bit to the guy working there and realizing that 1) these water-based products don't last that long and 2) when you need to put on another coat on in a couple of years, you would have to strip the old finish off first. Now that sounds like a lot of unnecessary work.
He recommended that we instead use a linseed oil product which is what people traditionally used to treat their fences. This product is oil-based of course, and he told us to put on one coat this year, another coat next year and then the treatment should protect the wood and keep it looking nice for a good 10 years. Plus, when it comes time to put another coat on next year (and 10 years from now), you can apply this product right on top of the old coat, no stripping necessary. Now, this made so much more sense, and isn't this a good example of how old methods are usually sounder than newer techinques and new products aren't always better?
The guy at the store also suggested that we use a wood cleaner, despite the fact that our fence is new. He said that the wood cleaner will help the wood open its pores which will enable the oil to penetrate even further.
So, I followed the instructions on the wood cleaner container and first hosed the fence down with water, then sprayed a diluted solution of this wood cleaner product, let it sit for 10-15 minutes and then washed it off with the hose again.
Then we took a break for lunch (lentil, rice, vegetable and feta casserole!), and let the fence dry off. An hour later, the fence seemed entirely dry and we started applying the linseed oil.
The wood really soaked up the oil. As you can see from the picture, once applied the wood basically looks enhanced. It doesn't really look that different, mostly it takes on the color of wet wood.
You can definitely see the difference between treated and untreated.
So we repeated this process around the whole interior of the fence. However for the other side of the fence I think we're going to skip the washing part. First of all because our hose doesn't reach that far so I don't know how we would practically do it. And secondly, I don't know if I care quite as much about that side, as long as the wood gets protected and takes on pretty much the same color as the interior, I'm satisfied...