How To

How To Stain Wood


How To Stain Wood

Share this article
How To Stain Wood

How To Stain Wood

How to Stain Wood: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners and Experts


Staining wood is a transformative process that can enhance the beauty and durability of wood surfaces. Whether you’re working on a furniture restoration project, refinishing a deck, or simply adding some color to your home décor, choosing the right stain and applying it correctly is crucial. This comprehensive guide will provide you with everything you need to know about staining wood, from selecting the right stain to applying it like a professional.

1. Selecting the Right Stain

The first step in staining wood is selecting the right stain. There are several factors to consider when making your choice, including:

  • Type of wood: Different types of wood absorb and react differently to stains. Some woods, such as oak, walnut, and cherry, have distinctive grain patterns that can be highlighted with certain stains. Others, like pine and birch, have a more uniform texture that may not show much grain.
  • Desired color: Stains come in a wide range of colors, from subtle tints to bold hues. Choose a color that complements the wood’s natural tone and the overall style of your project.
  • Purpose: Stains can serve different purposes, such as enhancing the wood’s natural beauty, hiding imperfections, or protecting it from wear and tear. Choose a stain that is suitable for your intended use.

Types of Stains

There are three main types of wood stains:

  • Oil-based stains: These stains penetrate deep into the wood, providing excellent durability and color retention. They are ideal for outdoor projects and areas with heavy wear and tear. However, oil-based stains can be more difficult to apply and may require multiple coats.
  • Water-based stains: These stains are easier to apply and clean up than oil-based stains. They penetrate less deeply into the wood, but still provide good color and durability. Water-based stains are a good choice for indoor projects and areas with less wear and tear.
  • Gel stains: These stains are thick and viscous, allowing for precise application. They can be used to create faux finishes, glaze over existing finishes, or accentuate wood grain. Gel stains are suitable for both interior and exterior projects.

2. Surface Preparation

Before applying stain, it’s crucial to properly prepare the wood surface. This involves:

  • Cleaning: Remove any dirt, dust, or debris from the surface with a clean cloth or tack cloth.
  • Sanding: Sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spots and open up the wood grain.
  • Conditioning: Apply a wood conditioner to the surface. This will help the stain penetrate evenly and prevent blotching.

3. Applying the Stain

The following steps describe how to apply wood stain:

  • Stir the stain: Stir the stain thoroughly before using. This will ensure that the color is consistent throughout.
  • Apply thin coats: Apply thin, even coats of stain using a foam brush, staining pad, or lint-free cloth. Avoid applying too much stain, as this can lead to blotches.
  • Work in sections: Apply stain in small sections at a time, working with the grain of the wood.
  • Wipe off excess stain: After applying each coat, wipe off any excess stain with a clean cloth.
  • Allow drying time: Allow the stain to dry completely between coats. Drying time varies depending on the type of stain and the temperature and humidity of your environment.

4. Finishing the Surface

Once the stain has dried completely, you can apply a protective finish to enhance its durability and luster. Some suitable finishes include:

  • Polyurethane: Polyurethane provides excellent protection against wear, scratches, and water damage. It is available in various sheens, from matte to gloss.
  • Lacquer: Lacquer is a fast-drying finish that creates a hard, durable surface. It is often used on furniture and other pieces that are likely to experience heavy use.
  • Varnish: Varnish is a traditional finish that provides a rich, warm glow to the wood. It is a good choice for outdoor projects and areas with high humidity.

Tips for Staining Wood

Here are some tips for achieving professional-quality results when staining wood:

  • Use a quality brush or pad: Invest in high-quality staining tools to ensure even application and minimize streaks.
  • Test the stain on a scrap piece of wood: Always test the stain on a scrap piece of wood before applying it to the entire surface. This will allow you to see how the stain reacts with the wood and adjust the application process accordingly.
  • Overlap your strokes: When applying stain, overlap your strokes slightly to avoid gaps or streaks.
  • Allow ample drying time: Do not rush the drying process. Allow the stain and finish to dry completely before using or handling the surface.
  • Maintain your stained wood: To preserve the beauty and durability of stained wood, clean it regularly and apply touch-ups as needed.


Q: How long should I let the stain dry before applying a finish?

A: The drying time for wood stain varies depending on the type of stain, the temperature, and the humidity. As a general rule, allow at least 12-24 hours before applying a finish.

Q: Can I stain over existing stain?

A: Yes, it is possible to stain over existing stain. However, it’s important to ensure that the existing stain is clean and in good condition. You may also need to sand the surface lightly to remove any imperfections.

Q: How do I remove wood stain if I’m not happy with the results?

A: Removing wood stain can be challenging, but it is possible. You can try using a commercial stain remover or a mixture of paint thinner and acetone. Test the remover on a small, inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire surface.

Q: Can I use oil-based stain over water-based stain?

A: No, it is not advisable to use oil-based stain over water-based stain. Oil-based stains require a longer drying time and can trap moisture in the wood, leading to bubbling and peeling.

Q: What is the best way to protect outdoor stained wood from the elements?

A: To protect outdoor stained wood from the elements, apply a high-quality sealant or finish specifically designed for exterior use. Consider using a water-repellent finish to prevent moisture damage.