How to Stain Wood

How to Stain Wood

Timber surfaces can look fantastic when left untreated; the natural colour of wood can be visually very interesting. However, there are a variety of wood stains that can change the colour of your timber furniture and hardware and give a measure of protection as well. Here at Build & Plumb, we’ve created a guide on how to stain wood and elevate the appearance of your wood furniture.

What is a wood stain?

Primarily a decorative change, a wood stain seeps into the body of the wood and brings out the existing tones and contrast in the natural grain. Some stains will change the colour of the wood completely, so don’t think that you’re stuck with the natural wood colour. Where extra durability is required, consider a top coat treatment in conjunction with the wood stain.

Wood stain or varnish?

This is a common question. While a stain penetrates the wood deeply to give it a new colour, a varnish remains on the outside of your wood surface. A varnish creates a protective barrier against oils, grease, and dirt. Normally clear and transparent, a varnish doesn’t often colour your wood.

In most cases, we actually recommend applying a clear coat of varnish once you’ve applied a stain, because using both together will ensure that your wood furniture or hardware will last as long as possible.

How to Stain Wood

How to choose a wood stain

When you’re deciding to stain your wood surfaces, the first step is to decide on the colour of stain you’d like to use. We recommend trying out samples of colours on a rough piece of timber before starting your stain on the finished product/timber.

How do I prepare wood for staining?

A wood stain will take much easier if you prepare the wood first. Ensure that the wood is as clean and dry as possible before you start staining.

  1. First, remove any existing varnishes, waxes, oils, or stains with a suitable remover/stripper.
  2. Remove visible marks, grease, dust, or dirt with either a damp cloth or a dry brush.
  3. If there are any holes in the wood, now is the time to fill them with a wood filler. Level off with a filling knife and allow to completely dry.
  4. Sand the surface timber until smooth. We recommend completing this step outdoors to minimise dust indoors. A 100 grit (medium) or 180 grit (fine) sandpaper works well.
  5. Dust the wood down with a dry brush.
  6. Ensure the work area is clean, especially if you sanded the area you are working. All wood dust should be fully settled before cleaning. Floating wood dust can affect your stain.

How to apply wood stain

After selecting the stain you’d like to apply and you’ve prepared your wood, you can apply the stain directly to the wood. Here are the steps on how to stain wood furniture:

Step 1: Stir the can properly

Shake the can of stain well. This is to stop the pigment from only collecting at the bottom of the can if it has been sitting on a shelf for a while. Next, open the can and take a stick or small piece of wood that reaches the bottom of the can and stir the stain. Make sure that you mix well.

Another good idea is to mix the stain before staining another piece of wood. What this will do is keep a consistent colour across the whole selection of wood. Stains have a tendency to darken when you reach the bottom if you don’t mix them regularly — again because the pigments in the stain are affected by gravity and float down!

Step 2: Transfer the stain to a tray

If you’re planning on using a rag for applying your wood stain, transfer the stain from the can into a bigger bucket so that you can easily dip the rag without ruining your hands. If you’re planning on using a brush or roller, transfer the stain to a tray.

It’s generally best to only transfer part of the stain at once, however much you’ll need. Exposing the stain to air allows it to dry, and the quality will reduce.

Step 3: Apply the stain

This is a straightforward step. Apply a small amount of stain to your rag, brush, or roller and put it on your chosen wood surface. Spread the stain out so that you get as even a coat as possible. Be careful near the edges of the wood, as hard edges can gather more stain than the rest of the wood, which would result in darker edges.

The best way to apply a stain is to first go over the wood with a brush and then to go again with a rag. Use small, light movements. Stains have a tendency to flick if heavy or fast movements occur, staining your surroundings as well.

Step 4: Wipe the excess off

Once you’ve applied the stain, especially if you used a brush, it’s a good idea to use a rag to wipe off the excess stain. This creates an even distribution of the stain in all directions, and results in a neater, cleaner application that will dry much faster than if you coated too much on.

What should I remember when staining wood?

The wood stain process should be the centre of your attention whilst you’re completing the task. If you stop halfway through to talk to someone, get a cup of tea, or open a new can of stain, you can find that you get visible streaks where the older and newer stain overlap and don’t dry evenly.

Finish a whole section before you attend to other issues.

Once you’ve applied the stain, it’s a good idea to dust off the wood before considering a top coat of varnish.

Finishing off the stained wood with varnish

Once the stain has dried, to protect the wood it’s a great idea to use a clever varnish. Before you apply the varnish, you have to ensure that the wood is as clean and dust-free as possible. We’ve written a guide on how to apply varnish as well to take you through the next steps.

Now that you’ve got a handle on the process of adding a stain to your wood, take a look through our wood protection products or wood fillers for those unsightly holes.

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