Apr 23, 2014

Wood stains - secrets, tips, how to apply

      Paint or wood stain  - what to use on the piece we are working on? And what is the difference?

     Wood stains are liquid pigments that dye wood, yet allow the grain of the wood to show through - in my opinion, that's the most important fact regarding the wood stain. They   bring out the work of the crafter. Paint, on the other hand,  covers up blemishes or less than ideal woods on a project. As a general rule, it takes more efforts and time when preparing the piece of furniture for stain then it is for paint, but I love to use it over paint whenever I can.

Types of wood stain

Wood stains can be water based, oil based or alcohol based, mixed with finely ground pigments. As for the paint, I prefer water based stain - it is much easier to clean the tools, and the dry faster. But,which type of wood stain to use depends also on the type of wood - for the most porous wood (almond tree, birch, poplar) any type of stain is OK. For other, less porous, alcohol-based ones are better. 

Regarding opacity, there are basically two different types:
- low-build wood stains allowing enhanced wood structure appearance
- medium or high-build stains that are rather opaque (something between stain and paint, not my favorite)

Stains are designed to soak into the wood, but those marked as outdoor form a thin film on the surface in order to protect the wood.


Good preparation is essential for the good results, especially in the case of wood stain. 
This means sanding, sanding, sanding - sand the piece you are working on a few times, using progressively finer grits of sandpaper (larger number  = finer grit).  For flat surfaces I am using sander - it is much easier. Usually I start with the paper grit 80 and finish with the paper grit 120. And remember, always sand with the  grit. Next step is to to get rid of all of the sanding residue. Use vacuum cleaner (with brush) first, then wet clothes (repeat the cleaning with the cloth as many times as necessary; after sanding, this is the easy part).

How to apply a stain

That depends on the type of stain. In the case of oil-based stains use  natural bristle brush, whereas a water-based stain could be  applied using a synthetic brush or a roller. Some crafters use clean cloth to apply stain, I tried this, but it didn't work well for me.
Whatever you choose, try to apply first on the part of furniture that is not visible. For closets, I am using the back side of it to test colors and patterns. For tables, i am using bottom side of the table. It is always good to test the ideas first, and then make final decision.

Protecting stain

I am usually always protecting the stained piece with the transparent varnish.
Be sure to read the instructions on the can before applying it, and  do not shake the can before applying it (as this introduces bubbles that could mar your surface).

Tips and tricks

a. In more porous parts of the wood (eg. around knots), the absorption of the tint will vary - to minimize that, if you don't like it, use pre-stain wood conditioner.

b.  Read the instructions before you apply the pre-stain conditioner or stain. In some cases,  you are advised to wipe the conditioner off after a few minutes, and then apply the stain within two hours. So you may have to plan your time accordingly. 

c. For water - based stains, before applying the first layer of stain, lightly wet the wood. This will help to produce an even spread of the stain.

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