Maple is very light colored; it is an almost white hardwood. It is difficult to try to put a dark stain on it because it isn’t very stain friendly due to being hard wood it will most likely turn blotchy from the uneven way the wood lays naturally. You might get decent results with a sprayer but not every do it yourselfer has spray equipment. I am assuming this is unfinished maple, something that has never had a finish of any kind put on it.
Stains for Maple
I would use good brush able polyurethane in the shine you are looking for, satin, semi gloss or gloss for the clear coat. That is the easy part. Before you apply a gloss if you want some definition to the wood then a light stain like a light maple would be good to use. Using the right kind of stain is important to get the results you desire on the wood since maple stains unevenly.
Check with a local paint center or hardware store for the proper stain. There are some brands on the market that will help reduce the blotchiness of the wood you might want to see if your supplier carries a gel type stain, it is thicker and will stay in one place better. Now that you have the proper stain and clear polyurethane coat it is time to prep the wood.
Which Sandpaper to Use
While you are at the store, pick up some fine grit sandpaper in 220, 240 or 280 grit the higher the number, the finer the paper. Personally I would buy the 220 and the 280.
Start with the 220 and thoroughly sand the piece, then wipe the dust off and sand with the 280. This will help to further even out the stain when it is applied. Now, wipe off all traces of dust with a tack rag (also available at the hardware store).
Open the can of gel stain you bought and follow the manufacturer’s directions for application and drying time. This is generally an overnight drying time. Wipe off any excess stain then mix some of the clear coating with 50% of the recommended thinner for the product. This will allow for better penetration with the initial coat of sealer. Make certain you cover all the edges well and let it dry overnight.
Hold on, we aren’t done yet! You will need some 320 grit sandpaper and you need to lightly sand the coating you just put on, it isn’t the final coat, merely a sealing coat. Lightly sand the piece, carefully removing all traces of dust with your tack rag. Then put on the final coat of clear polyethylene UNCUT with the thinner. Let this dry 48 hours before touching it and you should have a lovely piece of work.
There are some precautions that you should take when you begin this project for your own safety. Work in a well-ventilated area but not with a fan that will stir up dust in the final stages. You may want goggles or safety glasses to keep some of the dust out of your eyes. And lastly, a mask to keep dust out of your lungs and nose.
Remember that the perfect piece only comes with listening to directions and patience. If the poly isn’t hard enough and you touch it there will be fingerprints in it forever unless you want to re-sand and re-coat it. It is better to wait an extra day or even two before touching the piece you are finishing? There will be enough time to admire your hard work once your piece is together and where everyone can see the great job you did on it!