How to Apply Wood Stains

Enhance the natural beauty of any wood fixture with a stain

1-2 hours
How to Apply Wood Stains

Stains promote a dramatic look from wood's natural grain while providing long-lasting protection. Top coat stains are available in oil- or water-based, and are either formulated with pigment or dye. This guide will teach you how to easily apply wood stains for best results.

What You'll Need

Sand thoroughly
Sand thoroughly - Apply Wood Stains

• Sand the item you plan to stain with the grain, starting with 120-grit on refinished pieces. (Start with 80-grit on new wood, and then treat the wood as if you're refinishing it.)
• When you have removed imperfections and sanded the entire surface thoroughly, wipe off the dust and all loose sandpaper grit. Sand with 180-grit until you've removed all the marks left by the 120-grit.
• Brush clean.

Wet the wood
Wet the wood - Apply Wood Stains

• Wipe down the wood to raise the grain. If you don't raise the grain now, the stain will raise it later, but resanding to get the wood smooth again removes much of the stain.
• Let the wood dry, then sand with 180-220 grit paper.
• Remove dust with a cloth.

Apply conditioner and stain
Apply conditioner and stain - Apply Wood Stains

• Some woods, such as cherry and pine, turn blotchy when stained. Others, such as oak, maple and walnut, don't.
• If you work with cherry or pine and aren't using a gel stain, apply a stain conditioner. It seals the wood, preventing the uneven absorption that causes blotching. If you use a gel stain, you can apply it without applying a conditioner.
• Whatever wood you work with, it's less important how you get the stain onto the wood — cross grain or with the grain — than getting plenty of it on the wood. Follow manufacturer’s directions for application instructions.

Wipe away excess stain
Wipe away excess stain - Apply Wood Stains

• Wipe off the stain with a cotton cloth or rag — old T-shirts work in a pinch — wiping with the grain.
• If the stain has dried too much, it will be difficult to remove. Loosen it by applying more stain and rubbing vigorously. If it dries hard, paint thinner will loosen it.