How To Stain Wood?
Why would you want to stain wood? You might be bored of the colour. The surface might be damaged, in serious need of a facelift. Perhaps you’re changing your décor and your wood floors and furniture need to change to match. Maybe your decking needs refinishing. Whatever your motivation, using a wood stain rich in pigments on bare or stripped-down wood changes the colour and also highlights the lovely grain.
About staining wood – Know what type of wood you’re dealing with
Before you go anywhere near an interior wood stain or decking stain, you need to know what type of wood you’re dealing with. Is it softwood or hardwood? They behave differently, and the application process and end results are different.
How do you tell them apart? Soft woods include pines, firs and cedars. Hard woods include oak, walnut and birch. In between you have a few oddities. Box, for example, is a surprisingly soft hardwood and fir is a very hard soft wood.
- Soft woods tend to have an uneven grain, often with patterns or blotches, and in some cases can stain unevenly. You might want the grain to stand out from the background and dye darker, since it’s a great way to enhance the wood’s beauty. If not, you could try a special pre-stain conditioner which sinks into the wood fibres to give an even base. Wood conditioners are bigger in the US and have mixed reviews. Manns Pine wood stain is specially formulated for pine and other soft grain woods, Manns also make a range of stains for hard woods
- Hard woods tend to have a neat, even, finer grain. You can use any stain you like on hardwoods, but you may need multiple coats to achieve the same effect as you get on softwoods
Top wood stains tips
Every piece of wood is different. Every tree is unique, even within the same species. So our first tip is this: Always do a test area first, trialling your interior or exterior wood stain product on a small, hidden area to make sure things aren’t going to go pear-shaped and you end up with the colour you want.
How to stain wood in 8 simple steps
- First, remove any dust, stickiness, polish, wax, paint, grease or dirt
- Next, sand the old surface to provide a clean, fresh key for your wood staining product. You might need to resort to coarse paper then work your way up to finer (120 – 150 Grit) sandpaper to finish, or dive straight in with a light paper when there’s less preparation to do. This is a vital stage because wood stains won’t give an even result if the surface is mucky. If you leave the surface too rough, it will absorb more stain and give a darker finish and the smoother the finish, the lighter the colour. Experiment on scrap wood or a small area on the real thing first
- Wipe down your beautifully sanded surface with a damp cloth to remove any debris
- Put on your rubber gloves and stir the wood stain
- Follow the instructions to the letter, applying the stain with either a sponge, brush or cloth
- Use smooth, continuous movements, following the grain rather than working against it and applying the wood colour evenly
- Leave it to dry according to the instructions. As a general rule the longer you leave it, the darker the tone. You can always wipe small areas off and back on to check progress. Bear in mind it’s much easier to apply more stain than try to remove it when you’ve gone too far
- When you’ve achieved the right depth of colour leave it to dry, again as per the instructions
Exterior and interior wood stain – Oil versus water based
Wood staining products penetrate the wood rather than sitting on top of it.
Oil-based wood stains last for ages, penetrating deep into the wood, sealing and protecting it and enhancing its beauty. They dry more slowly so you have more time to work with them. If you’re staining large areas like floors, cabinets and doors, oil-based stains are best because you are less likely to get dried-on marks when some areas dry faster than others. They don’t raise the wood’s grain either, so you don’t need to do extra sanding. It’s best to apply them with a natural bristle brush. Pastels are also oil-based, giving you a lovely pastel colour while highlighting the grain.
Water-based wood stains deliver an even colour and won’t absorb unevenly like oil based wood stains can. They smell less and dry faster, usually within a couple of hours. You can clean up with ordinary soap and water instead of solvents and you get a much wider choice of bright colours. It’s best to apply water-based products with a synthetic brush.
Solvent-based wood stains such as Morrells Light Fast Solvent Stains are commonly used by professionals because they are fast drying, easy to apply and ‘Light Fast‘ meaning that they are fade resistant – Perfect for areas that are exposed to direct sunlight.
What else is there? You can also buy varnish-based wood stains like Sadolin Extra Durable Wood Stain. These are pigmented (coloured) varnishes that are ideal for softwood and hardwood projects including doors and windows, for extra-long lasting protection.
Coloured wood stain
The beauty of coloured wood stain is the sheer variety of shades and tones. Everything from clean, crisp white wood stain for contemporary living and working spaces to subtle grey wood stain, dramatic black wood stain… a multitude of beautiful wood stain colours.
We stock a vast range of coloured wood stain, including the glorious Osmo Country Colour: opaque, satin-matt and available in a host of beautiful shades including blues, greens, greys, reds, oranges and more. Also see our range of Ronseal wood stains.
Wood stain dos and don’ts
How do you remove coloured wood stains? This very much depends on the type of wood being stained and the stain used. If it’s purely a water based stain then Wood stain remover is your first stop.
Spirit Based Wood Stains can usually be removed by scrubbing with cellulose thinners, methylated spirit or white spirit depending on the type of stain. It can be tricky to fully remove a stain and it may be neccessary to sand the wood back if the removal process doesn’t fully work. Many shop bought wood stains contain a stain and sealer (type of varnish) as an ‘all in one’ product. The only way to remove these is by sanding the wood back.
Stainable Wood fillers are available but many ‘off the shelf’ fillers will not accept a stain. Fillers that have been specifically designed to be stainable can often be overcoated with wood oils and varnishes. Although these fillers will take a stain, the final colour may still differ from the surrounding wood so it’s important to do test areas and comparisons before starting the main project.
- Always use the best quality products you can afford
- Never leave hinges, handles, knobs or pulls on, since wood finishing products can change the colour of the metal
- Don’t let unabsorbed stain sit on the wood for any length of time. It’ll only peel off and won’t give you a darker finish
- Never apply a finish before the stain is completely dry. The solvents will damage the stain’s finish
Wood staining video
Here’s a handy YouTube video about how to stain wood:
We provide Britain’s biggest choice of water, solvent and oil-based wood stains for tinting more or less any wooden, cork or stone surface you can think of – inside and out!
A guest post by Kate Goldstone