While the basic principles of staining wood are fairly simple, there are a few common wood staining mistakes that beginners run into. Depending on the error, these mistakes can be costly, time consuming and just plain annoying. I want to review the most common wood staining mistakes made by beginner’s when attempting to stain and finish a project.
Not Sanding Enough
Sanding is one of the most important steps when staining wood. The purpose of sanding is to remove any imperfections and to open up the pores in the wood to allow the stain to penetrate. Typically you’ll start with a low grit, maybe around 60 or 80 and then you’ll move up to a softer grit.
How do you know when to move up? I like to take a pencil and draw a curvy line across the entire surface. Once I’ve sanded enough that the pencil mark is no longer visible, I know that I can move up to the next grit.
Wood Stains Do Not Protect Wood
One of the biggest misconceptions about wood stains is that they protect wood. Stains do not protect wood, stains color wood. Unless you use something that has a top coat finish built in such as Minwax Polyshades, General Finishes Gel Stain or a Danish oil, you’ll want to apply a top coat to protect the wood from scratches, UV damage, spills, etc.
Stain Sample Colors Are Not Accurate
First, ask yourself if you really want to change the color of the wood. A lot of woodworkers will select their wood based on what the natural color looks like. Applying a clear top coat makes the natural color come to life.
Staining wood is purely based on your own personal preference. If you decide to stain and change the color of the wood, you’ll see a lot of different color samples at the hardware store. These sample colors are not very accurate. Stain colors look different on different types of wood. My suggestion is to take a piece of the wood you’re working with to the hardware store. A lot of stores will have sample cans that you can apply to see what the color will look like.
If you use a rag to stain your wood, it must be disposed of properly. Most wood stains are exothermic (meaning it generates its own heat) and when the stain dries on the rag it can become a fire hazard. It is recommended that you place used rags in a metal container with a lid or even in a plastic bucket that is partially filled with water.
Apply a Wood Conditioner
If you want a uniform color, you’ll need to apply a wood conditioner prior to applying your stain and before the wood conditioner dries. Wood conditioner typically dries within 2 hours. Wood conditioners prevent streaks and blotches by evening out the absorption of oil-based stains. While wood conditioner can be used on any type of wood, it’s imperative to use it on soft porous woods like pine, alder, birch, and maple.
Wipe off Excess Stain
When applying stain, to get the best results you should apply a wet coat and wipe off any excess stain. If you don’t wipe off the excess stain, not only will the stain become tacky, but it will also look blotchy. Additionally some stains dry faster than others. Oil based stain dry very slowly, where water based stains dry very quickly because it dries as the water evaporates. If you’re using a gel stain, you’ll still want to wipe off the excess stain, but there are a few different ways you can do it. You’ll want to check out this article I wrote on refinishing my kitchen cabinets.
You Can’t Undo Stain
Stain is not paint. Stain penetrates deep into the wood where paint sits on the surface. You can sand off paint if you’re not happy with it, but stain penetrates so deep into the pores that it’s nearly impossible to “remove the color”. This is why it’s important to do test spots of different colors before staining the entire piece.