Tips on Staining Wood

Follow this advice on how to properly stain wood furniture.
many wood staining products exist for projects

many wood staining products exist for projects

Always test stain on scrap wood before using it on your precious wood furniture.

A DIYer can save money by staining unfinished furniture. But staining is scary because it is permanent – and the DIYer does have to be careful. There are also a lot of products to use, including oil-based and water-based stains and wood conditioners, which can get confusing. Here are some ways to avoid common staining difficulties.

When working with stain, protect eyes and skin by wearing safety glasses and disposable rubber gloves. Remember, anything that can permanently stain wood will stain fingers, too. Also wear old clothes to work, since some stain could spill.

How to Stain Wood Furniture 00:57

Watch this demonstration on the best way to liven up wood furniture with stain.

- Always test stain on a piece of scrap wood before starting on the furniture.

- So that the stain doesn’t leave blotches on the wood, always apply a thin coat of wood conditioner first, using an inexpensive brush. Give the conditioner about 15 minutes to dry before applying the stain – but don’t sand it; there’s no need.

- Oil-based stains, which are the most common, consist of dyes and pigments mixed in with mineral spirits. Make sure to stir the can thoroughly before staining to bring the dyes and pigments up off of the bottom, so as to get the full color from the stain. When working with oil-based stains, there will be fumes, so make sure to always work in a well-ventilated area.

- Apply stain with a brush or a rag, depending on preference. With a staining brush, work both with the grain and against it. Don't worry about being neat; all that matters is getting a nice, even, liberal coat over the wood. At this point, wipe the stain off immediately for a lighter tone, or for a deeper tone, leave it on for five or even 10 minutes before wiping.

- Be sure to wipe off all the excess stain going in the direction of the grain of the wood. That will guarantee that the stain gets into the wood, instead of laying on top – and it really shows off the grain of the wood to advantage.

- To avoid fumes, go with a water-based stain. One of the advantages to water-based stains is that they come in a wide variety of colors, even more colors than the oil-based. Apply the water-based stain in the same way as oil-based.

- If the stain needs to be darker, go back over and apply more stain.

- Stain only provides color, not a finish. Always apply a finish on top of stained wood. Or, if time is short, reach for a product that combines both stain and finish with one coat. The product will need to be brushed on more carefully, finishing by brushing with the grain of the wood. Use a higher-quality brush with this type of stain/finish.

- It is possible to mix stain to make a customized color, provided both stains are made by the same manufacturer and both are either water-based or oil-based. Do not mix oil and water. Measure the amounts of each stain used and write it down, so it can be duplicated if needed.

- A water-based finish can be put over an oil-based stain, but only after waiting a full 24 hours for all of the mineral spirits to evaporate from the oil-based stain. If it’s rainy out, or cold, give it an additional 24 hours.

- Keep old cans of stain. Stains can be expensive, and the nice thing about them is that they don’t tend to set up in the can like the finish will. If there is a skin coat on the top when the can is opened, toss it. But otherwise, it’s still good to use.

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