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How to stain wood

By: Daniel Smith




How to stain wood? An age-old question where the answer isn’t always that simple. There are a lot of things you have to keep in mind when you start a wood staining project. Knowing this we think it is time for a complete guide that covers every step of the process.

Should I sand the wood before staining? How to apply stain to wood? If these are questions you have right now read on as we will answer all of them!

Why staining wood is important

Wood is a material that will naturally rot and break off over time. Therefore it is of great importance that you treat your wood every now and then with a good stain.

Make the wood look like new again

A sand job can make a huge difference in the appearance of your wood. This is especially when you are doing things like tables of kitchen cabinets. These objects get used a lot and can be like new after a proper wood stain.

Protect the wood from rotting

When wood is sanded and stained every now and then it can last much longer than untreated wood. This is because the paint creates a kind of seal around the wood protecting it from moisture and sunlight.

Things you need for staining wood

Things you need before you start

If you ask us: how to stain wood? Our first step would be to help you prepare in the right way. For a clean and professional wood finish, you are going to need the following things.

Get the right tools

  • A Sander is recommended. However, if you are doing small job sandpaper will also do.
  • Brushes and a little variety would be ideal.
  • For really large surfaces like floors or fences we recommend you get a paint roller.
  • A paint tray.
  • If you don’t want your floor to look like an artist’s studio, use something to cover the ground. Old newspapers work as well.

Choose the right wood stain

A good paint to stain the wood could be the most important thing you choose. Of course, there is the color but the quality is just as important. A high-quality stain specifically made for wood will work much better than anything else!

Preparing wood for staining

How to prepare wood for staining

1. Clean the wood

The first step in the whole process of staining wood is to prepare it. Make sure that whatever it is that you are staining is on a protected surface and free to move.

Remove any attachments like door handles or table legs. The easiest way to stain wood is when the object is free to move.

Finally, you want to take a damp cloth and remove any dust or stains from the wood.

2. Remove all grease

Sometimes there can be fat or other leftovers of dirt on the wood. Before we continue to the next step it would be good to remove those.

To do so, use a degreasing detergent like Sant Marc. Once you are done with this we can go to the next step.

3. Sanding

It is important to always sand wood before staining it. If done properly the paint will stick to the wood better and you will have a cleaner, better-looking result.

A rule when sanding is that you always start with the corsets grit sandpaper. For wood, we generally recommend you start with something like 100 grit sandpaper. After you did a pass with the 100 grit sandpaper you can move to sandpaper with around 120 grit.

Finally, you want to finish the wood with 180 grit sandpaper. This will give you the best and smoothest result.

If you are staining hardwood floors, and you are not sure which sander you should get. check out our guide: Best sanders for hardwood floors.

4. Removing dust

After you are done sanding you will have a lot of dust on the wood. It is very important to remove all of it before you start staining!

The best way to do this is with an air blower. However, if you don’t have one of these you can also use a damp cloth to remove all the dust.

5. Apply primer before staining

This step is kind of optional but in most cases, we recommend you use a primer before staining. Use a quality primer and apply one thin layer.

After that, you should let it dry for 24 hours and sand the wood again with 180 grit sandpaper.

Now the wood is ready to be stained!

How to stain wood

How to stain wood

After you did all the preparation it is now time to stain the wood.

In order to get the best result, you have to apply thin even layers of stain to the wood. Make sure there is not too much paint on the roller or brush. It is hard to see areas where there is too much stain so preventing is better than cure in this case.

How to apply stain to wood

The best way to apply stain to wood is by doing long continuous strokes with your brush or roller. Pay close attention to corners as they tend to collect a lot of paint.

Never let the stain dry and finish it at a later moment. There will be a noticeable color difference in the layers once the paint dries. It is important that you take your time and finish the job in one go so you don’t have to start all over again.

Tip: Keep wood looking like new

Now that you know how to stain wood it is just as important to keep it looking new. When you clean wood every now and then it will hold its original shine much longer.

The best way to do this is by using a liquid that removes grease and dirt. We recommend you do this once to twice each year for the nicest result.

Frequently asked questions

How long does wood stain take to dry?

Wood stain takes about 1 hour to dust-dry and 24 hours to fully harden. Therefore we generally recommend you wait 24 hours before moving painted wood.

How to get wood stain paint off skin?

Wood stain is most of the time a turpentine-based paint. Therefore it is best to clean your skin with some kind of alcohol-containing liquid. Be careful though for any cuts on the skin as this might hurt.

How to fix wood stain mistakes?

Unfortunately when the mistake is severe there often is no other way than to start again. However, you can skip a big part of the sanding and start with a 120 grit since you don’t have to get all the paint off.

The Author
Daniel Smith
My passion for power tools and work clothing started when I was a kid. My father and I used to build tree houses together, he taught me all the tricks of the trade! Meanwhile, I'm a 28-year-old with more than 7 years of experience on various job sites.

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