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How to Stain Wood

bucket of wood stain and a paint brush

Applying a wood stain when finishing a woodworking project not only lets you choose the final colour of the wood but can help protect it from moisture and rot as well. We’ll show you the tools and techniques you’ll need to apply wood stain in a few simple steps.    

Skill Level: Beginner
  1. Step 1 Test Your Wood Stain

    Scrap wood with wood stain on them

    The first step is always to test your stain colours on a scrap piece of wood, or a side of your furniture piece that won’t be visible. Wood stain will soak into different wood types in different ways and will look different each time. Test a small area and when it dries, test your wood finish on top, as the finish can also change the look and colour of the stain slightly.    

  2. Step 2 Prep Your Wood


    You can prepare your wood for stain by using a pre-conditioner or wiping water onto the surface of the wood. Both processes will help the wood take in the stain of your choice by opening up the grain of the wood and letting the stain penetrate. If you are using a conditioner, apply generously and then wipe off and wait the amount of time suggested on the can before staining wood. If using water, you can apply stain immediately after (ensure no sitting water on surface).    

  3. Step 3 How to Apply Wood Stain

    bucket of wood stain and a paint brush

    Apply your stain to the wood using a shop rag, brush, or roller. Always use the proper safety protection and gloves when applying and wiping stain. Stir stain well before applying to wood. The basic idea is to apply a wet coat and wipe off any excess before it dries. The longer you let the stain sit, or the more coats of stain you give your wood, the deeper the stain will be when it dries. Sometimes it’s appropriate to wipe off your stain within seconds of applying it. For example, if you want a hint of a darker colour overtop of a light stain you can apply and remove immediately. Other times it is more appropriate to apply stain generously (you can even pour it right onto the wood) and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it off (just make sure it doesn’t dry before wiping), for a deeper application of that stain. 

  4. Step 4 Wipe Off Stain

    Person wiping off wood stain

    Use a lint free rag to wipe off stain evenly. If stain dries before you can wipe it off, you may end up with blotchy spots. When possible, apply stain to the entire surface before wiping to get the most even coat.

    Once your stain has dried as per manufactures directions a second coat can be applied if you want a darker look, repeat step 3 & 4 for additional coats until desired look is achieved.    

  5. Step 5 Clean Surface

    Person cleaning surface of wood

    When the stain has set and dried (according to the instructions on the can) use a tack cloth to remove any dust or debris from the surface, before you apply your finish.    

  6. Step 6 Apply Wood Finish

    Person applying wood finish

    Apply your wood finish. Wood finishes come in a variety of forms that are meant to protect and seal your wood. They protect the wood from cracking, swelling or staining. Use the proper safety precautions when applying finishes, which may include gloves and respirators (for oil-based finishes), and work in a well ventilated area. Apply wood finish with a brush. Begin by brushing stain on in the middle of your wood, and work towards the edges to avoid drops and runs. Once the entire surface is coated, allow the finish to dry completely.    

  7. Step 7 Apply Second Coat If Needed

    Person applying wood finish

    If you are completing a piece that will have high use (such as a table), you may want to apply more than one coat of the finish. The best way to get a professional look if you are using a surface finish is to lightly sand the first coat of your finishing product with a high grit sandpaper (200 or higher) before applying the next coat. This will also allow you to address any runs or imperfections in the finish is there are any. This will catch any imperfections, bubbles, or dust in the first coat, and give a smoother final finish. Repeat steps 6 and 7.

This article was published in partnership with Love Create Celebrate.  

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