Tips on Staining Furniture

Before anything else when staining furniture, it is important you thoroughly prepare the surface to be stained before applying any stain. The furniture's wood needs to be clean, smooth and ideally free of any blemishes before you apply the stain. If you were to stain the wood first and then try to smooth the surface or clean it, you will invariably cause patches of color variation in the stained surface.

Preparing the Surface

The wood surface of the furniture to be stained needs to be clean, free of grease and sanded smooth in the direction of the grain. You can start this process using a power sander but finish it off using a fine glass paper by hand, carefully following along the wood grain. An extra hint here is to wet the wood first before sanding, if you’re going to use a water based stain, as water based stains will raise the grain on drying leaving an uneven and rough surface.

The exception to sanding smooth before staining is for working with coarse grained woods such as mahogany, oak and ash - which might need a grain filler to be applied in order to get a smooth surface. The safest way to avoid the grain filler causing uneven patches of color is to stain the wood surface first, then seal the wood with a sanding sealer before applying the grain filler. That way the sealing coat protects the color when sanding the grain filler.

Types of Wood Stain

While you can buy wood stain powders to mix yourself, the modern range of ready prepared liquid wood stains hardly makes it worth the effort any more. The most common type of wood stain you’ll find these days in a DIY store is water based. These type flows very easily meaning that you can get a very even distribution over the wood surface, but they are relatively slow to dry.

Oil stains are, in these environmentally aware days, less commonly available due to disposal issues of old stock. Oil stains have two advantages over water based ones in that they dry more quickly, making it easier to apply other coats or coatings on the same day, also they will not raise the grain of the timber you’re working on.

Finally there are spirit stains, which are rarely used by the DIY/home enthusiast as they dry very quickly, usually too quickly to be worked properly. Acrylic stains are a sort of half-way between water and oil based ones. These raise the grain less than the water based ones, but are more resistant to fading than them. When staining dense hardwoods with acrylic stains dilute them by about 10%.


Whatever the color of the wood stain might be on the tin, or indeed your expectations of it, always test a bit of the stain on a surface of the piece of furniture that won’t normally be seen. Quite simply a mahogany stain applied to pine will look different to one applied to oak. Also, the more coats you apply the deeper color effect you can acquire, so you can experiment to find exactly the color shade you want.

Whilst you can use a paint pad to apply wood stain a good quality brush is to be recommended for staining furniture, so that you can work the stain into all the joints and corners. Wearing the appropriate protective clothing, remember wood stain will also stain you; so do wear protective/disposable gloves for this job; simply spread the stain generously and evenly along the grain, taking care to blend in any drips or runs.

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