DIY Network

How to Stain Wood Furniture

Learn expert advice on basic steps for staining -- a simple and inexpensive way to update wood furniture.

More in Painting

tips on staining and finishing wood furniture
  • Time

    Under Half Day

  • Price Range

    $50 - $100

  • Difficulty

    Easy to Moderate


Step 1: Prepare the Wood

Prepare the wood by sanding it with coarse sandpaper (lower numbers indicate a coarser grit). Then sand with a medium- or finer-grit sandpaper (higher numbers indicate a finer grit).

Sand until the wood is smooth and even to the touch. Sand with, not against, the grain of the wood. Between sandings, use a tack cloth to remove dust.
Clean the wood with mineral spirits, applied with a rag or a sponge. This helps bring out color variation in the wood.

Apply the wood conditioner. This will help a soft wood absorb stain more evenly.

Step 2: Stain the Wood

Use a rag, a soft sponge or a brush to apply the stain. Move with the grain, not against it. The longer you leave the stain on, the darker the finish.

Note: Stain is either oil- or water-based, although some hybrid products are available. Water-based stains are nontoxic and clean up easily with water but have a tendency to cause streaking. Oil-based stains, available in liquid or gel form, are more user-friendly; however, they produce stronger fumes and are harder to clean up.

apply stain with the grain not against it

Courtesy of Cary Wiedman

Step 3: Finish the Surface

After the stain is dry, apply a finish to protect the wood and stain. Several finishing options are available, depending on the desired results. Because of its durability, polyurethane is probably the most commonly used finish today. Tung oil is also popular.