Staining furniture: 5 (and a few more) handy tips

August 12, 2015

For furniture that is as durable as it is beautiful, make sure you finish it with care. Here are five handy tips to help you do the best job.

Staining furniture: 5 (and a few more) handy tips

What you'll need for a standard staining job

  • Sandpaper (various grades)
  • Damp sponge
  • Clean lint-free cloths
  • Mineral spirits
  • Stain
  • Brush
  • Rubber gloves
  • 5 cm (2 in) paintbrushes
  • Wood grain filler
  • Plastic scraper

1. Sand it smooth

  • Sand furniture using progressively finer sandpapers, up to at least 180-grit.
  • If you're using a water-based stain, sand until all finish is removed, then wipe the piece with a damp sponge and sand further to remove any raised wood fibres.
  • Clean the wood with your lint-free cloth sprinkled with mineral spirits.

2. Evenly stain your surface

  • Apply stain with your brush or lint-free cloth.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions and make sure you cover all areas.
  • If any strokes overlap, quickly and lightly wipe or brush over the excess to ensure that you'll end up with a uniform colour, especially on large, flat surfaces.

3. Different types of stain and their excesses

  • If you're using a water-based stain, apply the product liberally and then use your lint-free cloth to wipe off the excess immediately.
  • If it's an oil-based stain that you're using, apply it and leave the piece you're working on to dry for about 15 minutes (check the manufacturer's instructions for a more exact drying time), then firmly wipe off the excess with a cloth.

4. Don't let your stain drip

  • Avoid over-filling your brush and you'll keep drips and uneven colouring from happening when you're staining turned or detailed sections
  • Take care to wipe off any excess stain that you apply.
  • If possible, turn the piece you're working on so that the section you're staining is horizontal instead of vertical.

5. Fill in the pores and gaps

  • To fill the open pores of woods such as red cedar, oak, mahogany or acacia, brush on a suitably coloured wood grain filler after you've finished staining the piece.
  • When your material hazes over, run a plastic scraper at a 45 degree angle across the grain to remove the excess, then polish your piece with a soft cloth.

Here are a few more handy tips:

  • Stains can vary in colour from batch to batch. Always buy enough stain to finish the job.
  • Add artist's paint in small amounts to a stain to fine tune its shade. Use oil paint for an oil-based stain, and watercolour for a water-based one. When working with oils, mix the paint with a little linseed oil first, then dilute it with mineral spirits before adding it to the stain. Do the mixing in a glass jar so you can keep an eye on colour changes, and always test the mixture on a hidden patch of the piece you're working on first.
  • If you plan on mixing stains and dyes, make sure they're compatible first. Dyes are usually water-based, but stains can be either water-based or oil-based. For a successful blend, both products must have the same base, so be sure to check the labels.
  • Use a cotton swab to stain intricate woodwork. A swab can get into tiny crevices, making easy work of finely detailed jobs.

Following these five (and a few more) handy tips when staining furniture will help you more carefully finish or stain your beautiful furniture.

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