7 Wood Stain Tips Every Beginner Woodworker Needs To Know

wood stain

Last updated on July 23rd, 2021 at 02:26 am

Wood staining is one of the best ways of beautifying wood or any woodworking project you have. A wood stain helps to change the color of the wood or helps to highlight the wood grain.

Even though staining wood is a good practice, there is a wrong way and there’s a right way to do it. Do it right, and you’ll end up with the color and effect you want.

Do it the wrong way, and you might just end up ruining the wood and your project. And one thing about wood stain is that it’s not like wood paint.

You’re not painting over the wood. With staining, the wood absorbs the stain changing the wood color beyond the surface of the wood. The wood absorbs it like a sponge absorbs water.

So, you can’t just sand off the stain. It’s permanent and there’s no turning back once you’ve stained it.

With that said, here are 10 wood staining tips you need to know if you want to stain wood the right way and achieve the best result or the result you want.

Related: The Different Types Of Wood You Can Use For Furniture Making

1. Wood stain is different from wood finish

staining wood

You don’t have to stain wood to finish your project. A wood stain is different from a wood finish. A wood finish protects the surface of the wood from scratches, spills, UV damage etc.

On the other hand, a stain does not protect the wood it’s applied on. It only changes the color. Nothing more.

So, even after staining any wood, you still have to apply an appropriate protective wood finish to protect the surface of your wood project from damage.

2. Stain wood if you want to highlight the wood grain

stain highlights wood grain

Once you’re ready to finish your project, you’ll have to decide whether you want to paint it or stain it. Painting hides the grain and natural color of the wood.

On the other hand, staining wood highlights the grain of the wood and does not hide it. So, if you have a project that you don’t want the grain to get covered up after changing the color, then you should stain it.

Painting it will hide the beautiful grains that you still want to see even after changing the color. Staining the wood will not hide the natural grains, instead it will highlight them and make them stand out.

Related: The Different Types Of Wood Glues And Where You Can Use Them

3. Wood stain is permanent

I’ve mentioned this before. Unlike a wood paint which you can easily sand off, a stain penetrates the surface of the wood. So, you can’t undo it.

Once you’ve committed to a certain stain color, that’s it. You can’t go back. Hence, you have to be very sure of the color before applying it on your project.

A little tip is to apply that stain on rough piece of the wood you want to stain. If you’re okay with the color and result, then you can go ahead and stain the whole piece.

4. Sand the wood thoroughly before staining

sand wood before staining

Without thorough sanding of the wood, the stain will distribute unevenly throughout the wood with some part taking more stain than other part.

The stain will enhance any scratch left on the wood. So use make sure to sand the wood so that the surface is perfectly smooth.

After sanding, remove any dust from it using a vacuum, as dust can also make the stain not to distribute evenly in the wood.

Related: 11 Clever Ways To Use Scrap Wood

5. Don’t apply excess stain

Any stain left unabsorbed usually takes a lot of time to dry off. So if you don’t want to wait a few days for it to get dry, always try to use the right amount of stain that can be absorbed easily.

Use a foam brush or a rag which will help you to apply just the right amount of stain while wiping off any excess stain from the surface of the wood.

If there’s any excess stain left on the wood, don’t wait for it to dry. Always wipe it off with a clean dry cloth, else you’ll likely wait for a long time.

6. Apply a wood conditioner first

It’s important to apply a conditional first before applying the stain, especially when you’re working with softwood.

With softwood, the stain can end up getting unevenly distributed on the wood, even though you’ve sanded it thoroughly.

The solution to this is to apply a conditioner first before applying the stain. The wood conditioner will help prepare the wood surface to help the stain penetrate evenly and get your desired finish.

7. Allow the stain to dry

Don’t start applying a topcoat on the wood immediately you finished applying the stain. Allow the stain to dry first, even though it takes a couple of days.

Then you can apply your top coat to finish your project. Note that, once the stain is completely dry, you can use any type of finish on it, whether it’s an oil-based finish or a water-based finish.

Both will work if the stain is completely dry before you applied the finish. However, it’s always better to apply an oil-base finish over an oil based stain and a water-based finish over a water-based stain. That way, you can leave little chance for mistakes.

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6 thoughts on “7 Wood Stain Tips Every Beginner Woodworker Needs To Know”

  1. I tried staining my end tables just to cover up the scratches. They look awesome but they won’t dry. Still sticky after 3 days
    How do I fix it.

    1. It may be that the coat you applied was too thick. When staining wood, it’s better to apply several thin coats, allowing them to dry than one thick coat. It may also be that you didn’t sand your end tables down properly before applying the stain. Sanding the wood allows the stain to soak into the wood and dry properly. Without sanding it, the stain will just sit on the surface and will still remain sticky after several days.
      To remove the excess stain, just apply a fresh coat of stain, allow it to soak in for a few minutes then use a cloth dampened with mineral spirits to wipe off the excess stain, leaving only the stain that penetrated the wood.
      If all the stain comes off when you wiped it with the clothe, then you probably didn’t sand the tables down before you applied the stain the first time. This prevented the stain from soaking into the wood.
      If this is the case, then you should wipe off all the remaining stain with mineral spirits, allow the table surface to dry, then sand it down to bare wood.
      Now, you can apply one or two fresh thin coats of stain on the surface, and it will soak right into the wood.
      Follow the process just as explained here, and your tables will dry up in no time.
      I hope you find this helpful, Sharon.

  2. Hi,
    My painter has just finished staining my staircase. He did 3 coats and a final coat of polyurethane satin. My staircase looks so uneven and patchy it’s horrible, it’s light and dark in areas and we can see heavy brush strokes. What is the best steps to take to get a beautiful even colour? Please help!

    1. It depends if the entire staircase looks horrible as you described. If it’s just some spots, then you can correct those spots to blend with the surroundings. But if the entire staircase is bad, then you have to redo the entire staircase.
      Since your painter didn’t do a good job, then it’s recommended that you hire someone else to do it for you. Maybe ask your friends to recommend a professional for you.
      What he/she’ll do is to re-sand the entire staircase to lift off the stain. Apply a wood conditioner so that the stain can get absorbed evenly once it’s applied, then he’ll follow up with an appropriate wood finish to protect the stained surface.
      If you want to do it yourself, the process is still the same.

    1. Here’s what I think you should do. Stain a very small part of the furniture. Wait for it to dry and see the result. If you’re okay with the appearance, then you can stain the whole piece.
      If you’re not okay with the appearance of that small part you stained, then sand the whole furniture and apply the stain properly. Sanding helps the wood absorb the stain evenly. Remember to apply a wood conditional first before applying the stain, and don’t apply it in excess.

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