How to Stain Wood

After years of use, your hard wood floors, deck, and furniture might be looking tired and worn. Staining your wood can make your items look nice and polished while adding a new tone to areas around your house. Since wood comes from Mother Nature, it can vary from tree to tree even in the same species. Some woods like maple, birch, pine, and cherry are infamously difficult to stain. They can be uncooperative and may end up with dark, splotchy areas after applying a stain. This can be avoided by following a few easy steps to have your wood looking brand new again. Instead of paying big bucks to have a professional come in, follow this step-by-step guide to learn how to stain wood

Step 1: Dress the Part

Safety gear

When working with wood stain, make sure to protect your eyes and skin by wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves. If you get any stain on your skin, you could have unsightly dark spots for weeks. Also, wear old clothes you wouldn’t mind getting dirty or stained in case of a spill.

Step 2: Location

Where to stain your wood

If possible, make sure to stain your wood in an area that won’t be busy, i.e. away from kids and pets to avoid prints on your finish. Find an area where dust won’t affect your wood as it dries. Low air temperatures and high relative humidity will slow the evaporation of the stain, which increases the length of time it will take for your wood to completely dry. For a good drying process, try to find a space out of direct sunlight where temperature will remain around 65 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity around 50% during both application and drying. If you’re staining wood indoors, find a well-ventilated space to avoid harmful fumes.

Step 3: Pick Your Stain

Water and oil based wood stains

Wood stains can be oil-based or water-based. Choose your base depending on what you want to see with your wood. Water based stains dry faster, which allows you to stain and finish in one day. They have fewer odors, require only soap and water to clean up, and come in more of a range of vibrant colors. However, oil-based stains give you a longer working time, which enables you to stain floors, cabinets, paneling, doors, and other furniture without having to worry about dried lap marks. Oil-based stains also do not raise the grain, eliminating the need for additional sanding. Decide which stain you would prefer depending on what you’re staining and how long you have to work on it.

Step 4: Test a Piece of Scrap Wood

Testing wood stain

First, sand down your test wood to make it smooth and free of bumps and debris. Divide your piece of scrap wood into three pieces. Wipe full-strength stain sealer on one section, half-strength sealer on another section, and leave the third section raw. Let the sealant dry for about half an hour and rub your wood stain over all three sections with a brush or old rag and then wipe it off to leave a nice, even layer. After staining, you can also test your stain-finish to decide if you prefer a more glossy or matte look. By testing your stain on scrap wood, you can now decide which type of sealer gives you the look you’re going for.

Step 5: Seal the Wood

Sealing Wood

Remember to fill all holes and cracks of your wood using wood filler. Since additional sanding will be required if you smudge wood filler around the hole or crack, use the tip of a screwdriver to carefully pack it into the whole. After sanding down your wood, you can use wipe-on oil finish, de-waxed shellac, or a sanding sealer as a sealant. First, make sure your stain and sealer are compatible. It’s safest to use these products from the same manufacturer. After applying sealer to your wood, allow it to dry before applying your pre-stain conditioner. 

Step 6: Apply the Stain

Staining wood

Before staining, make sure to stir the can to bring the dyes and pigments up off the bottom to get the full color from the stain. With either a stain brush or rag, apply your oil-based or water-based stain to your wood and work it both with and against the grain. It’s crucial to get an even and liberal coat of stain over the wood. If you would prefer a lighter tone, wipe off the stain immediately after applying. If you want a darker tone, leave it on for a few minutes before wiping it off. As you wipe the stain off, go with the grain to ensure that it gets deep into the wood while highlighting the grain. If it’s not as dark as you would prefer, reapply your stain until it reaches your desired tone. You can mix stains to create a costumed color if both stains are from the same manufacturer and have the same base. If you choose to mix your stains, measure the amount of stain used in each can so you can duplicate it in the future. 

Step 7: Apply a Finish

Finishing Wood

To protect your stain, apply a clear finish like polyurethane to the wood. Most clear finishes are available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin. You can choose a finish based on your personal preference. Wood that will see heavy use, like floors or a tabletop, will require more protection. If your wood will be exposed to sunlight or temperature changes, use a clear finish that has ultraviolet absorbers and special oils that expand and contract with temperature changes. Using a clear finish after staining will help combat water damage, household chemicals, and everyday wear while having your wood look glossy and alive.

Staining wood can be tricky and tiresome, but when you finally bring yourself to do it, your wood will thank you. By following these seven easy steps, you can brag to your friends while your wood products and surfaces look gorgeous and brand new.




Images:, labmuffin, youtube,, familyhandyman,,

Sources: minwax, diynetwork, familyhandyman.