How to Stain Wood

Four Methods:Know Your Woods:Preparing wood for staining:Staining:Polyurethane:

There is more to staining wood than simply buying a can from a hardware store. If the job is to look professional at the end it needs some time, thought and effort. But never fear: you don't need a professional to get this job done! With some help from wikiHow, you can get a professional finish on your own with a little practice and these practical tips. See Step 1 below to start learning how to select the right product for the job and get the job done right the first time!

Method 1
Know Your Woods:

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    It is important to know what type of wood you have before you begin, as this will determine how you proceed and the effect you can expect at the end.
    • Basic wood types are:
      • Softwoods- Pine, Fir and Cedar. (etc.)
      • Hardwoods- Oak, Beech, Ash, Elm, Birch and Walnut.(etc.)
    • This is sometimes confusing because you have:
      • Box wood and Aspen: A very soft Hardwood.
      • Fir: A very hard Softwood.
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    If the wood has uneven wood grain, or blotchy patterns to it, chances are it is a softwood. When you stain it, it will stain unevenly. You may want this, to let the stain enhance the natural beauty of the wood. If you do not want this, place a pre-stain wood conditioner on your wood. It seeps into the wood fibers so that the wood will stain evenly. Check with the manufacturer.
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    If the wood has a consistent flow or pattern to the grain, it's probably a hardwood. Use whatever stain you wish to enhance the wood grain.
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    Hardwoods, such as oak, may take a few more coatings of stain than softwood, but the results are still very pleasing.

Method 2
Preparing wood for staining:

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    With the selected piece(s) at hand, check to make sure the wood is free of dirt, grease etc.
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    Drawing on a mental image of what you want to create, decide what type of sandpaper you should use. The lower the grit number, the rougher the wood will be, the more stain will absorb into the wood and the darker your project piece will be. (And that's on the first application). The opposite is true as well. The higher the grit number, the smoother the wood will be, the less will absorb into the wood and the results are a lighter stained project piece.
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    For flat surfaced pieces, use a lower grit sandpaper (60 or 80) to remove any blemishes and scuffs. Next use a higher grit number (100 or 120). Keep in mind what depth of stain you are looking for in your finished piece. If you want a finished (med.) depth of stain, stop with the 100 or 120 grit. If you want it lighter, go with a higher grit number.
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    You can go with a high grit number (200 or more) and add multiple coats of stain. Experiment on a scrap piece of wood to see what is right for you.
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    When sanding is complete, wipe down wood with damp cloth, making sure wood is free from any debris.

Method 3

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    Put your rubber gloves on. Make sure stain is stirred well.
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    Using a sponge, brush, rag or clean cloth, apply stain to wood generously.
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    Make sure you work in one continuous movement across your wood, going with the grain. Make sure the entire piece is brushed well and evenly.
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    Wait 5 to 15 minutes for stain to absorb. The longer you wait, the darker it will be. If you are not sure how fast your wood will take the stain, use a clean cloth and wipe on, and then wipe off again immediately. This will give you a good idea. It's easier to add more stain than to have to take it off.
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    When you are satisfied with the stain color, place the piece(s) on something flat (workbench, garage floor) and let dry for 6 to 8 hours.

Method 4

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    You can use this for protection and beauty. It comes in Satin, Semi-gloss and High or Clear gloss.
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    Make sure that your wood is free of any debris. If you are using a spray can, stay 8–12 inches (20.3–30.5 cm) from piece being sprayed. With long even passes, apply the Polyurethane. Don't over-spray or you will get runs. Make about two passes and go on to the next piece.
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    After a couple hours, reapply if you wish.
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    If you are using the liquid type, wearing gloves, brush it on with the grain. If you put too much on, you must continue to brush it out. You will have to babysit the wood, making sure that it doesn't hold bubbles or run. Once it looks like it is setting up, leave it alone for another 4 hours. Then reapply if you wish.
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    Please refer to the Manufacturers instructions and times. Mine are for reference purposes only.

Types of stain:

  • Oil-based stains provide long lasting wood tone color. They penetrate deep into the pores to seal and protect the wood, bringing out its natural beauty
  • Water based stains provide an even stain color. They will not absorb unevenly like an oil based stain.
  • Gels add natural colors to a wide range of wood and non-wood products but it can be difficult to get out of grooves in wood.
  • Pastels are an oil-based wood stain which provide a soft pastel color while highlighting the grain of the wood.
  • Pigment stains will fill the grains and leave the wood surface with less colorant.
  • Dyes will stain the grain and the areas between the grain approximately the same color.


  • Do not let the stain sit longer than 15 minutes in low to medium humidity. It will start to gum-Up and it makes your project look like a 6 year old did it. (nothing against 6 yr.olds.)
  • Fillers can be nice to use when you are filling nail holes or brad holes. However, using a wood filler usually won't stain the same color as the wood. You can buy some powder form of the filler and add the color of stain that you will be using. Perhaps this will make the overall "filled holes" less noticeable.
  • If you are working in high humidity areas, you may want to reduce the time to 5 or 8 minutes max.
  • One thing you might try is using some matching colored putty to fill holes.
  • Use the best quality products you can afford.
  • Choose a piece that is unique, within itself.


  • Work in a well ventilated area
  • Wear rubber gloves and eye protection

Things You'll Need

  • Stain,
  • gloves,
  • Polyurethane,
  • brushes,
  • sponges,
  • clean white shop towels
  • putty (if needed)
  • table

Article Info

Categories: Woodworking