How to Stain Wood – A Beginner-Friendly Guide

Want a primer on how to stain wood?

This beginner-friendly guide will put you in the right direction!

With the correct preparation, wood staining can greatly enhance the natural grain, shades, and textures of wood surfaces.

Sanding, though sometimes tedious, is a necessary step in many staining projects – frequently undertaken after the abundance has been stripped.

Miniatures basic knowledge will make this step go faster and more easily.

The grade or grit of a sandpaper is based on the number of sand granules per square inch of paper. The higher the number, the finer the grade.

Lower-numbered grades denote coarser sandpaper. The grit number is generally printed on the back of each folio.

Medium and fine grades of sandpaper are generally used in refinishing furniture and antiques. Coarse grits (those under #100) damage a fine wood finish.

Medium grits, such as #120 and #150, are useful for removing dated finish or scratches. Fine grits, such as #220, are frequently used for a final brilliance sanding just before applying stain to the wood.

Power tools make sanding go faster, nevertheless, heavy-duty ones such as belt sanders are designed for heavier carpentry job and could quickly ruin a fine antique.

A palm sander, a lightweight rotary sander, is more suitable for refinishing.

Hand-sanding is bigger for fine finishes and delicate pieces. Tear sandpaper sheets into fourths, then fold them into pieces just big enough to hold with three fingers.

You can make a makeshift sanding cooperate by wrapping an abundance of sandpaper around a block of wood that fits in your hand.

Better even, use a contoured sanding block, available at hardware stores, that allows you to attach sandpaper by inserting the ends into grooves at either end of the block.

Close inspection of an abundance of wood reveals pores in the surface that form an imitation called the grain.

A Few Notes on Sanding

Always sand in the plan of the grain–never perpendicular to it or at an angle. This as well applies when working on edges and rigid-to-reach corners.

Scratches made by sanding against the grain will observe unattractive on the finished abundance and will be particularly noticeable after staining.

Position the abundance so that the surface sanded is horizontal and at a comfortable height. For a clean finish, hold the sanding block flat, firmly applying slight pressure while moving back and forth in the same plan as the grain.

Exerting excessive pressure or using the corners of the sanding block will make unwanted depressions in the wood.

The same rules apply when you’re using a palm sander: sand with the grain and hold the sander flat against the wood while applying slight pressure.

Wood dust from sanding will intention problems if it’s not removed from the surface before staining.

Dry rags or brushes aren’t the most effective tools for removing dust. Instead, use a tack cloth, a sticky abundance of cheesecloth made chiefly for this purpose. Wipe the folded tack cloth across the wood to remove dust (figure H).

As each side becomes saturated with dust, refold the cloth to expose the latest surface. Inexpensive tack cloths are available at hardware stores.

Or you can create your own by soaking a 12″ abundance of cheesecloth in a brief space of tung oil. Store tack cloths in a sealed plastic bag to prevent them from drying out between uses.

Some of the wood dust from sanding will become airborne, so it’s wise to wear a particle mask while working.

Staining Basics

how to stain wood

Although the wide array of staining products on the market may seem bewildering, remember that staining is merely a plan of adding color to wood.

Staining may be used to darken the wood, to bring out a grain imitation, to create one variety of wood observe like another or to accent details or fixtures of an abundance of furniture.

Stains consist of three components: pigments, dyes and a carrier. The carrier determines whether the stain is oil- or H2O-based.

Staining dramatically and permanently changes the wood’s appearance, so always evaluation a stain before applying it to furniture.

One option is to evaluation stain on an area of the abundance that won’t display –such as the bottom or back of a dresser.

Another is to use an abundance of scrap wood for a tester. Because each stain produces a distinctive observe on different types of wood, it’s crucial to use a scrap from the same wood as the furniture is made.

Stir or shake stain before beginning, as heavier pigments tend to lay in the can.

If the evaluation-abundance looks blotchy when you use stain, you might call for to use a wood conditioner first. If so, use a liberal space of the appropriate type of wood conditioner (H2O- or oil-based, depending on your stain) about 15 minutes before staining.

Apply the stain, making still strokes with a brush, rag or staining pad. After a hardly any minutes, wipe off excess stain with a cloth. Leaving the stain on longer usually yields a darker color.

Once the complete abundance is stained, let it dry overnight. Apply more stain if you require to darken the wood further. As it dries, the stained finish may catch on a dull observe.

The latest appearance will give back when the finish is applied later.

Homemade Stains

how to stain wood

Commercial stains have been around for about 100 years.

Nevertheless, woodworkers have stained wood for centuries using pigments and dyes made from plants and minerals.

You can create fairly simple stains at a residence and use them to give the wood a distinctive observe.


  • Nails
  • Vinegar
  • Ammonia
  • Turpentine or mineral spirits
  • Roofing Tar
  • Strainer or straining cloth
  • Clean glass containers with lids

When experimenting with homemade stains, measure and carefully record all of the ingredients used. This will allow you to duplicate the same color of stain later.

Without a record of how you prepared the stain, it would be nearly impossible to make the same stain twice.

Always evaluation any stain–whether homemade or commercial — on an evaluation abundance before applying it to an antique or abundance of furniture.

Homemade H2O-based stains:

For a dark gray or ebony stain, soak iron nails in a jar of vinegar for diverse days. Once the vinegar has darkened, pour off some of the liquid, and brush it onto an evaluation abundance of wood.

The results will not initially be dramatic, nevertheless as it dries, the wood will turn silvery gray or, with additional stain, almost black.

You can create a brown stain by soaking chewing tobacco in equal amounts of ammonia and H2O. As described above, strain off some of the liquid, brush the stain onto the wood and allow it to dry.

A common dated-fashioned stain may be made by soaking walnut husks in a jar of H2O for diverse days. Once the H2O turns dark, strain off the liquid, and brush it onto the wood for a dark-walnut stain.

Homemade oil-based stains:

A variety of materials may be added to turpentine or mineral spirits. Oil-based artist paints, roofing tar and still asphalt may be used to make stains.

For case, mix a brief space of roofing tar into a cup of turpentine and stir. Pour the mixture through a cloth or strainer into a clean container and label it.

Using a rag, evaluation the stain on an abundance of scrap wood. After the stain has been on the wood for a hardly any seconds, wipe off the excess to get an idea of what the final stain will observe like.

If you like the results, use the stain on a project. Rub the stain into the wood with a rag or applicator, making confident to wipe off any excess afterward.

Homemade stains don’t include a binding agent–the ingredient in commercial stains that seals the stain to the wood.

For that, it’s best to wait diverse days for the homemade stain to dry before applying a finish. Apply the finish lightly to avoid drawing the stain out of the wood.

Accent Staining


Although most staining projects use just one stain color, in some cases you may require to vary the colors creatively to highlight the details of a abundance or mimic the natural effects of aging.


  • Scrap boards
  • Stains, traditional and accent
  • Staining pads or rags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Protective safety glasses

Antiques often display more than one color on account of the period–for the case, on account of sunlight has faded the top surface of a table.

Many antique enthusiasts find this color variation appealing and indicative of a genuine antique.

When staining a reproduction, you can make a corresponding effect by wiping off the stain more quickly on surfaces that are to be left lighter (such as a tabletop).

Then you can let the stain remain longer on the surfaces to be left darker (such as a table’s base or legs).

You can catch color variation a step further when working with unfinished furniture. Accent pieces such as drawer-fronts or drawer-pulls may be stained with a second color to make a unique observer.

Stains are instantly available not only in natural and darkened wood tones nevertheless as well in a range of colors–blue, red, green and so on.

When working with stain, always wear protective rubber gloves and safety glasses.

To begin, whenever potential remove parts that are going to be stained a second color from the main protest of the abundance. If that’s not potential, use masking tape to protect those parts from the first stain.

Select a traditional wood-tone color for the main framework of the abundance.

Apply stain to brief parts that have been removed by dipping them into the stain, or wipe it on with a rag or a staining pad.

Apply the second stain–in a nontraditional color such as green or blue–to the portions you want to accent.

After the stain has dried, place the abundance place back together. After 24 hours, use a finish.

Concluding Remarks

When applying accent staining, be careful in selecting the details to be highlighted: there’s a fine path between a observe that’s tasteful and one that’s bizarre.

Two colors are generally considered the border–three or more colors tend to create the abundance observe more like a novelty than an abundance of furniture.

After finishing your staining project, avoid a fire hazard by safely disposing of stain-soiled rags. Place them in an H2O-complete container that can be sealed and thrown out.


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