How To Apply Wood Stain On Your Furniture The Right Way

Why would someone want to stain wood? Maybe your table is worn out, your garden furniture or deck has faded over time, or you just want to revamp it. Wood stain is probably the most effective way to repair wood and bring it back to its former glory.

Staining a wooden surface using a paintbrush

You can apply plenty of techniques on wooden furniture and surfaces in general, like using masonry paint, chalk paint or french polishing. The good news is that you can paint your indoor or garden furniture. But staining wood is a completely different method that can protect your items, preserve their natural appearance and expand their lifespan. Thus, this article will walk you through the whole process of how to apply wood stains the right way.

Which stain to choose

Before staining any wooden item, you need to choose the proper stain depending on the wood. There are several types of stains: wiping stains, water-based stains, varnish and so forth. There are also available stains combined with a sealer which are labelled as stain/sealer.

A man's holding a can of clear coat wood varnish to seal pine furniture

1. Pigmented oil stains

These stains consist of pigments mixed in linseed oil, turpentine, mineral spirits or other similar solvents. They are also available as gel stains. You better use these stains while dealing with hardwoods, except they’re slightly darkening on close-grained, like maple. You should also seal the wood after application. Finally, keep in mind that the colour will fade away over time.

2. Penetrating oil stains

This type of stain consists of dyes mixed with turpentine or other similar solvents. It is very easy to apply such stains, but they tend to penetrate unevenly. That’s why you shouldn’t apply them on the hardwood but better on pine, cedars etc.

3. Varnish stains

Varnish is a nonpenetrating stain. Furniture makers usually use it to finish drawers, backs and other hidden areas as it’s inexpensive. But, you shouldn’t use it for the entire surface as it looks rather cheap. Plus, it isn’t suggested for refinishing.

4. Water-based stains

Using a water-based stain, you get an even colour, unlike oil-based wood stains. They smell less and are fast drying. Surfaces with water-based stains are easy to clean. Just soap and water can work well instead of using solvents. What’s more, there’s a great range of bright colours.

5. Sealer stains

These are a combo of nonpenetrating dye in a varnish, shellac or lacquer base. Two coats are usually required, and you need to protect the surface with wax.

What is the best way to apply wood stain

If you’re an experienced handyman, you know that you can use many different tools to paint a surface, depending on the paint you use. You can use a paintbrush, a paint roller, a paint sprayer, or even you can use a rag or a sponge. You need to know, though, which tool to use to get the best results.

paint brushes on wood

When it comes to staining wood, there are several different ways to do so. And we can promise that you’ll be satisfied with the result either way. Let’s see, now, what are the best ways to apply wood stain.

1. Lint-free cloth

The first way to apply stain is using a lint-free cloth. Using such a cloth, you can control the amount of stain you apply on the surface. What’s more, the result of using this tool is beautiful and with a stroke-free finish. Plus, you don’t need to clean it once you finish your DIY woodworking project like you would if you were using paintbrushes.

If you decide to use a lint-free rag, be sure you get a high-quality one to avoid fuzzies on the wood surface. You can find such cloths online and at any home improvement store, or else an old cotton T-shirt would work well too.

2. A foam brush

In case you want to apply stain on hard-to-reach areas like corners or nook and crevices, the best tool is a foam brush, as they have angled tips. You can find brushes of good quality at a low price. Another plus is that you can use these brush types for both stain and polyurethane application. Further, these brushes work well when staining a large surface as they can hold more stain than a rag.

3. A stain marker

If you have to deal with scratches or small spots on a stained wood piece of furniture, you better use a stain marker. Using this handy tool, you’ll keep your wood finishing in good shape without the mess and in no time. Just while using stain markers, be sure that you wipe over the excess stain with a rag, so there are no heavy spots left on the piece of wood.

NOTE: Avoid using paint rollers or brushes. The former will apply the stain unevenly on the wood, and the latter will leave brush strokes in the wood grain finish. In either case, the wood finish will look unnatural.

Knowing which wood type you’re dealing with

Before starting your DIY project, you also need to know the types of wood you’re dealing with. Is it softwood or hardwood? It’s important to know the type because they behave differently, and the staining process is different.

  1. Softwood includes pines, firs and cedars. They usually have uneven grain with patterns and blotches. A way to highlight the wood’s beauty is to dye the grain darker to make it stand out from the background. Otherwise, you can apply a pre-stain wood conditioner to get an even base.
  2. Hardwood includes oak, birch and walnut. They differ from the previously mentioned type of wood, as they have an even and finer grain. Hardwoods are more versatile, and you can use any stain you like. The main con is that you have to apply multiple layers of stain to get the same effect as the one you get on pines, firs etc.

Preparing the wooden surface

Prior to applying the stain is to prepare the wooden surface.

Needed materials:

  • 120-grit and 220-grit sandpaper
  • A tack cloth
  • A wood filler
  • A wood conditioner
  • A natural bristle brush or sponge

Hands sanding a wooden furniture

Steps to follow:

  1. Prepare the wood surface by sanding it with 120-grit paper and following the direction of the grain. You can use a detail sander for faster results, especially if you deal with a large surface.
  2. After sanding the entire surface, wipe it with a tack cloth to remove all the sawdust.
  3. Then, check the piece of wood for any imperfections, holes and dents. If you find any, fill them with a wood filler that matches the colour the wood had before sanding.
  4. Next, use 220-grit paper to get a smooth finish. After sanding, clean up the sawdust with the tack cloth.
  5. After that, dip a natural bristle brush into the wood conditioner and apply a thin coat to the item.
  6. Allow 10-15 minutes for the conditioner to absorb, and then, using a clean drop cloth, wipe any excess product.
  7. Finally, let the conditioner dry for 30 minutes.

NOTE: You should apply the stain within 2 hours after the conditioner has dried for best results.

How to apply wood stain

Once the wood conditioner is dried, you can follow the below tutorial to apply the wood stain successfully and get the best results.

Needed materials:

  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • A lint-free rag or brush
  • A wooden or plastic stick
  • A clean cloth
  • A sealant (like polyurethane)
  • A natural bristle brush

Steps to follow:

  1. Use 220-grit to sand the wood once more, following the direction of the wood grain.
  2. Then, use a clean cloth to remove the sawdust.
  3. Now, using a plastic/wooden stick, stir the stain into the can.
  4. Dip your lint-free rag into the can and apply a thin and even layer on the woodworking in sections. Again, follow the grain.
  5. Once you apply the first coat of stain, wait for 5-15 minutes before proceeding with the next step. The darker shade you want, the longer you need to wait.
  6. When you get the desired shade, use a clean rag to dab up the extra pigment.
  7. Lay the wood flat in a well-ventilated area and let it dry for 4 hours.
  8. If you aren’t satisfied with the stain colour, you can apply a second coat or more. Just be sure you let the stain dry.
  9. Once the stain dries, you should apply a top coat sealant to help the wood last longer. Stir it with a wooden stick using slow motions.
  10. Dip the bristle brush into the sealant and cover the entire stained wood applying a thin layer.
  11. Let the sealant dry for 3-4 hours. If you want a darker colour, sand the top layer again using 220-grit and wipe the dust with a cloth.
  12. Then, apply a second coat and let it dry. You can apply as many coats as needed until you get the desired shade.
  13. When you get the shade you like, wait for 8 hours to dry. Then, you can use the furniture.

A man wearing a rubber glove stains a wooden table.

Wood stains will make your furniture look brand new as long as you follow the guidelines mentioned above. It isn’t such a hard task. In the end, you’ll have new wooden furniture without spending a fortune!

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