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How to Stain Wood Like a Pro

Don’t fall victim to some of those home improvement TV shows you see on cable TV. Many make projects look so simple, and some even skip very important steps. You can get into trouble quickly staining wood if you don’t follow a few critical steps.

Most of the time a homeowner like you that has no, or limited, experience staining wood makes a critical error by skipping a step. It’s understandable because your mom, dad or uncle maybe never showed you this magic trick to ensure a piece of wood is stained evenly and the grain of the wood really shows well.

You can watch a nice short video of me showing how to use the magic trick when staining wood by going here:


Degree of Difficulty: hammer-1-5

Step One: Assemble the needed tools and supplies you may use when getting ready to stain wood. When I stain wood, I use my electric palm sander, hand sanding block, aluminum oxide, and sometimes red garnet, sandpaper in grits from 60 to 220, razor knife to cut sandpaper, mineral spirits, old rags, stain, various paint or stain brushes, and wood conditioner.

Step Two: If you desire professional results when staining wood, the wood needs to be smooth. Smooth means like or very close to glass. What you may think is smooth, a professional may feel is more like a two-day beard growth. Smooth is achieved by sanding the wood in steps starting with coarse grit sandpaper and resanding with finer and finer grit paper until the final sanding is done with 220 grit sandpaper.

Step Three: Not all sandpapers are the same. Aluminum oxide paper contains mineral chips that self sharpen. Red garnet sandpaper may be chosen for your final sanding because the garnet particles round off slightly with wear and this give the wood a nice burnished effect. Test using red garnet sandpaper when you get to the 180 and 220 grit sanding stages.

Step Four: As you sand your finished piece of lumber or furniture, sand a sample of the same wood at the same time using all the same sandpapers and techniques. You’ll want to test your stain on this test piece of wood before you apply the stain to your finished piece of lumber or furniture. You can’t afford to make a staining mistake. You only get one chance.

Step Five: Once you feel the wood is smooth, remove all dust. Be sure the air is clear in the room by using an exhaust fan and vacuum up any and all dust. Wiping the wood with a thin coat of mineral spirits on a rag will help get rid of dust on the wood and it will not raise the grain.

Step Six: Apply a coat of magic wood conditioner to your test piece of wood. This is a clear liquid that helps limit the absorption of stain in softer woods. It works well on harder woods too. Follow the directions on the label of the wood conditioner paying attention to any notes about wood species.

Step Seven: When the wood conditioner is dry, this often takes an hour or less, you can then apply your wood stain. Remember, you’re working with your test piece of wood. Apply the stain with a brush or rag and allow to sit for a minute. Take a clean old rag and lightly wipe off any excess stain. The wood should look gorgeous. The color of the wood while the stain is wet and after this wiping is what it should look like once you apply a clear varnish or urethane finish.

Step Eight: If you make a mistake and the color of the wood is not exactly right once the stain is dry, you can sometimes get the color you want by adding pigment to the clear finish you’ll apply once the stain is dry. This is a secret trick used by pros to match stain colors in older homes. Once you achieve a perfect match, then you apply a final coat of clear finish that has no pigment in it.

Summary: Staining wood is a true craft. Don’t assume it’s easy. It can take years of practice to match wood stains with an existing finish. Remember to stain test pieces of wood until such time as you get acceptable results. Then advance to the real project wood you wanted to stain from the get go. Good luck to you!

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One Response to How to Stain Wood Like a Pro

  1. Can you use oil base stain over old water base stain? How can I tell if the old stain was water or oil based?

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