Applying Wood Stain
As with priming and painting, there's not a lot of technique involved with applying wood stains and finishes. But there are factors to consider before starting a finishing project and a few basics to remember as you begin.
Sealing Bare Wood
To make unfinished wood less porous, apply a sealer to the surface before staining. That'll help the stain spread evenly, avoiding spotty or splotchy areas which can really be a problem on the exposed end grain of wood pieces.
You can can mix your own solution by combining your topcoat material with an equal amount of solvent or buy a wood grain filler in a color matching the natural color of your wood. Use a clean rag to apply either product, wipe off any excess (a plastic scraper works
best with the wood grain filler) and then lightly sand the wood after it's dry. Then it's ready for staining. By the way, there are products that combine both the sealing and staining functions.
Water-Based Liquid Stains are growing in popularity because they clean up with soap and water and they dry quickly. They're now available in a wide range of colors as well. The main drawback is that they can raise the surface grain and require sanding to smooth out.
Oil-Based Gel Stains are also popular because they're easy to apply with a rag, they don't run on the surface and they don't raise the grain. But they're harder to clean up and they don't come in as many colors.
Penetrating Oil Stains, also known as "Danish oils" or "rubbing oils" are often used on antiques and on trim with more attractive grain patterns. They penetrate more deeply than the other types of stains, color evenly and do not raise the grain.
Testing Stain Colors
There's no guarantee what the stain you choose will look like once it's applied to the wood you're finishing. So it's a good idea to test the stain first on an inconspicuous part of your job or on a scrap of the same wood species.
You might even test a couple other stain options before making a final decision.
Stains can be applied with bristle brushes, foam brushes or staining cloths.
With liquid stains, you apply a thick coat with any of those tools and allow it to soak in a while depending on how dark you want it and the instructions on the label.
Then wipe away the excess, let it dry and buff it with a fine abrasive pad before finishing.
If the color seems to dark, you can try lightening it by scrubbing with water or mineral spirits. If it's too light, apply further coats until the proper color is achieved.
With gel stains, the staining cloth works best, and you can actually rub it into the wood to help it penetrate.
Let the stain soak in a while as with liquid stains, wipe away the excess and buff the surface with a clean cloth.
With gel stains, manufacturers usually recommend at least 3 coats of stains for proper protection. Let it dry after the third coat and buff it with an abrasive pad before applying the finish coat.
With penetrating oils, rub 2 coats into the wood, letting the first coat dry for an hour and wiping away the excess before applying the second coat.
Let that dry overnight and then buff it with an abrasive pad coated with a few drops of the oil. Let that dry 72 hours before finishing.