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How to Stain Wood like a Professional [DIY]



V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com


Staining wood can be tricky when you’re a beginner.

If you’re wondering how professionals get those amazing results when staining wood, this guide will show you how.

Wood stain is a type of paint used to color wood.

The factor that differentiates stain from regular paint is that while painting covers the surface of the wood, stain penetrates the wood.

In contrast to paint, which covers and hides the beauty of your wood, stain protects and maintains it.

Things You’ll Need

  • Sacrificial Sheet (MDF, plywood or similar)
  • Wood (2×4)
  • Orbital Sander Machine
  • Sandpaper
  • Respirator
  • Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
  • Wood Stain
  • Gloves
  • Clean Rag
  • Foam Brush
  • Safety Glasses

Staining Wood- Step by Step Process

Begin by placing a sacrificial sheet on top of the working surface.

Normally, a sacrificial sheet is used only when the work surface is in danger of being cut from some kind of power tool.

Here, however, the sacrificial sheet plays a different role.

The stain and pre-stain we plan on applying to the surface of the wood have a tendency to drip down and stain the work surface too.

The sacrificial sheet makes sure that any excess stain that drips down your wood will not fall on your work surface but instead will fall on the sacrificial wood.

sacrificial board
sacrificial board

Take two 2x4s and place them on the sacrificial sheet.

wood for staining
wood for staining

The key step in a really good stained wood is always in the proper preparation.

Sanding is a vital part of making the surface of the wood very even and smooth. The stain will be absorbed by the wood and so if a rough surface is stained then the end result will also be rough.

Using an orbital palm sander machine, sand the surface of the 2x4s completely.

This step is skippable for store-bought lumber as it will always come sanded and smoothened.

For smaller projects, a sandpaper block is enough but for bigger ones, I would recommend you to get an orbital palm sander.

sanding the wood
sanding the wood

It is worth noting that the stain not only colors the wood but also enhances the color already in them. This means that, the greener the wood the better the stain.

Safety goggles are highly recommended in this project because fine sawdust left behind after sanding can always get in your eye and cause irritation or damage to vision.

As the grit size of the sandpaper increases, the lesser the materials removed, and better the smoothness.

It’s always a good idea to start with an 80 grit sandpaper and then use medium grit sandpaper around 120 to 150 and finally finish off with a 220 grit sandpaper.

After the sanding is done, make sure the sawdust is completely removed. You can use a tack cloth or a soft-bristled brush to clean the sawdust completely.

cleaning the wood
cleaning the wood

The next key step is to use a pre-stained wood conditioner.

The conditioner works by permeating and temporarily sealing the wood in order to smooth out the rate of absorption, resulting in a more uniform stain layer.

Wear gloves before you touch any kind of chemicals as they may be allergic or toxic to you. Regular latex gloves should meet our needs.

wear gloves
wear gloves

Use a clean rag or cotton waste to apply the pre-stain wood conditioner to the 2×4.

applying pre-stain
applying pre-stain

Once a coat is applied it should take roughly 5 to 10 mins to dry out completely.

After the pre-stain wood conditioner comes to the stain.

There are two main kinds of stains available and they are oil-based stains and water-based stains.

Oil-based stains are popular and the most common out of the two options given but water-based stains are less fragrant and dries faster while being more expensive.

It’s also important to remember that all woods take stains differently. For example, while using a particular stain, an oak might look great but may not render the same color when used on pine, so remember to test the stain you want to use on the wood before making the final call.

Once the pre-stain has dried you can begin applying the stain.

While opening the can, use a mask or a respirator and try not to breathe in the toxic gases. Make sure you mix the stain before using it but remember to only stir and never shake.

Apply on the coat of stain on the grains of the wood using cotton waste or a clean rag.

staining the wood
staining the wood

The use of pre-stain can be seen here. You can see that the wood without the pre-stain has an uneven color while the wood with the prestained rendered beautifully.

wood staining with pre-stain vs without pre-stain
wood staining with pre-stain vs without pre-stain

One advantage of using a rag is that you can control how much stain can be applied on the wood and can also dispose of the cotton waste or rag easily compared to a brush.

You may also use a form brush along with the rag or cotton waste so reach spots that are more difficult using hand and rag, like corners or the joints made by gluing two 2x4s.

staining wood
staining wood

If you wish to form a darker and deeper color, make sure you apply another coat on top of the first one as soon as it dries.

The drying time of the stain can vary according to humidity and temperature levels but leaving it along for a day is mostly enough.

A top coat to your wood finish adds extra durability and protects the wood as well as to enhances the grain of the wood.

As for the topcoat, you have a lot of options from water or oil-based polyurethane to furniture wax to shellac.

I’m going to show you how to use oil-based polyurethane.

Most often I use a fast-drying oil-based polyurethane and use a form brush to apply it.

While applying a PU coat, remember to apply it in light long strokes for easy dispensing and also to avoid the mark of a brushstroke.

finishing with PU coat
finishing with PU coat

After applying the top PU coat, you may feel like the wood grains have risen in some places and that can be easily fixed by sanding the wood.

sanding between coats
sanding between coats

Apply another coat after the previous coat has dried for an even glossier finish. The PU coat needs to dry in a very ventilated room for about a day or two.

final stained wood
final stained wood

Another tip is to make sure you don’t use a roller for applying your stain always use something that is meant for a stain like a staining rag or a foam brush or cotton waste.

With that, you have beautifully stained wood that is ready to be used.

V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com