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How To Stain Wood

by The Mind Blown

Staining wood is a great way to enhance the look of your furniture and wood pieces. Whether you are restoring an old piece or creating something new, staining can help give your project that extra oomph for a beautiful finished product. In this article, we will be focusing on how to stain wood with a liquid-based grain filler stain.

This method is easy to apply and offers a lot of control over the final color. It works best on bare or stripped pieces of unfinished wood because it lets you see where you have applied the filler. Plus, if any excess drips out the sides, it doesn’t matter as much as when using solid stains since those tend to be darker colors from their start.

How to Pick the Wood Stain?

Using the right stain for your wood is important. You can choose from an array of colors when staining, but the most common are “rosewood” (slightly red tint), “oak” (yellow/brown tint), and “natural” (clear). This article focuses on how to stain wood in the rosewood color with a liquid-based grain filler stain.

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Wood Dye - Aniline Dye 5 Color Kit - Wood Stain Kit
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Wood Dye - Aniline Dye 5 Color Kit - Wood Stain Kit
  • Wood dye from Keda Dyes can make 5 quarts of liquid dye stain, in 5 exotic wood dye colors per kit.
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Varathane 269394 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain, Quart, Weathered Gray
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Varathane 269394 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain, Quart, Weathered Gray
  • Ideal for use on all interior wood projects: furniture, cabinets, doors, trim and paneling
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Minwax PolyShades Wood Stain + Polyurethane Finish – Quart, Honey, Satin
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Minwax PolyShades Wood Stain + Polyurethane Finish – Quart, Honey, Satin
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DEFY Extreme 1 Gallon Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain, Butternut
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DEFY Extreme 1 Gallon Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain, Butternut
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How To Stain Wood: Tools You Will Need For This Project

  • -Drill or screwdriver
  • -Sandpaper
  • -Stain brush or cloth or foam roller
  • -Rags  or old t-shirts
  • -Mineral spirits

How to Stain Wood

Step 1: Sanding

If you are refinishing old furniture, start by sanding down all surfaces until they are smooth to the touch. Larger surfaces can be done with a power sander, but for smaller detailed work or furniture that is less than 2 feet wide, you will want to use a sanding sponge. A sanding sponge works on small spaces more easily and also gives you better control of where your stain will go.

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Step 2: Wipe Down

After sanding, wipe down all of the wood surfaces with a damp rag, then dry it off. You may need to let it sit for a minute before wiping so that sawdust doesn’t fly around as you work. Doing this after each coat of stain will help clean the wood and get rid of any dust or residue from earlier steps of applying the stain.

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Step 3: Prepping  the Stain

Once all of the pieces have been sanded and wiped down, it is time to start prepping them for staining. To do this, you will need a rag of cloth and mineral spirits. Dip your rag in the mineral spirits, then wring out the excess. You want your rag damp but not dripping wet. Doing this helps open up the wood pores so that they can absorb more stain later on in the process.

After soaking one rag/cloth in spirits, go ahead and wipe down each piece thoroughly with it, going forward and backward with strokes parallel to the grain of your wood. This helps ensure that there isn’t any dirt or dust left on your pieces before you apply the stain, which will affect how smoothly it goes.

Then, soak another cloth/rag in spirits and go over the pieces again to remove any last bits of dirt. The whole process can take two or three total rags, depending on how much dust is present.

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Step 4: Applying

You are now ready to start staining! There are multiple ways you can do this, but the method I used was getting a small amount of stain on my brush/cloth/foam roller then applying it to very small areas at a time.

Start by dipping your stain applicator into the wood filler so that it is evenly coated with the stain. Then lightly blot off any excess liquid before applying it to your project piece (blot off = gently press your applicator against your rag/towel until most of the extra liquid is absorbed). After applying, wipe off any excess stain with a clean, dry rag or paper towel.

There are brushes available for this purpose, but I find that they can leave brush strokes in your final product, so it is best to stick with what you have on hand. Foam rollers also work well if you want even application without too many brush strokes.

When using cloths/rags for stain application, make sure that they do not have lint on them, or they will leave white specs in your finished product! It is best to use old t-shirts for staining since they don’t tend to have any lint when freshly washed and dried. If possible, lay your stained piece outside in a shady spot and let it dry fully before moving on to the next step.

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Step 5: Protecting

After letting your wood dry for a few hours (3-4), you will want to protect it from moisture and dirt until you can put on a clear protective finish. Many products work great for this step, but I am using polyacrylic because I already had some on hand. Polyacrylic is fairly easy to apply with paint or stain brushes if you want to use them.

Still, alternatively, you can get away with using rags/cloths/foam rollers like with the stain application. The key is having an even distribution of the polyacrylic over all surfaces you want to be protected. Ensure that what you are using is “satin” or “matte” polyacrylic rather than the glossy kind, as the matte type won’t look bad on furniture while the other will.

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Step 6: Enjoy

Your wood pieces are officially stained and ready to use! Most stains come in different colors, so try mixing them together to get multiple shades of color (for example, if you mix red/black, you can get a darker shade of brown). If you’re looking for some additional information, then check out this link. It gives more detailed instructions for wooden staining boxes, which I also tried with my project piece.

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How to Stain wood- Some wood Staining Tips

– For best results, use a rag and make sure it does not have lint on it

– Try using different amounts of mineral spirits/paint thinner/wood stain for different effects (more spirit = lighter color)

– Be patient and let your piece dry completely before moving on to the next step

– Don’t forget to protect your finished product with a clear durable finish

– Polycrylic works great as a protective sealer but can be difficult to remove. Make sure you use the matte kind so it won’t look bad on your furniture

– Stain colors vary depending on the brand, dye, and wood used, so mix them together for different colors!

– For dye stains, try using hot/boiling water instead of mineral spirits/paint thinner

– Use tung oil to lightly seal your stain if you want to protect it from moisture without covering up the color or sheen. Just rub a few drops into the piece with some steel wool, then wipe off any excess with a clean cloth after letting it dry for at least 10 minutes. It will leave your wooden project looking shiny and new with a lot of character. The small amount of tung oil used will not be enough to seal the wood, so you still will need a protective finish.

– For unfinished wood, try using a clear or light-colored stain for best results, as darker colors tend to leave blotchy patches on unfinished pieces

– Try using steel wool instead of sandpaper to distress your piece if you want it to look old and worn but don’t want to lose too much of the original paint/stain color. Just use medium grit (grey) and rub closely against any raised parts of the wooden surface you are distressing. Rub gently with circular motions until the desired effect is achieved!

how to stain wood

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Frequently Asked Questions on How to Stain Wood

What type of paint/stain should I use?

Use any finish that is intended for wood. Powder coat, outdoor paint, porch & floor paint, exterior latex paints are just some examples. Stain works well on unfinished or finished surfaces as well. Try mixing colors to achieve different shades!

Can I use a roller rather than a rag to apply the stain?

Yes, but your coverage may not be as even, so you will have to work quickly if using this method because the stain dries very fast. Also, remember that by using a roller, you are leaving behind fiber strands which can create an unwanted texture after it has dried, so do not roll up and down with too much pressure unless you prefer that look.

How long does it take for the stain to dry?

As soon as you apply it to your surface, it’s already starting to dry, so be very quick with your work time. I would recommend using a cheap brush/rag because they usually have throwaway prices and are meant for one use. If you really want to work slowly, then try using water instead of mineral spirits/paint thinner.

Water takes longer to dry, so you will have more working time, but this method does not always give great results, at least in my experience. What is cool about paint thinner is that depending on the concentration of the solution, it can help speed up or slow down the drying time, which allows you more freedom during application.

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How do I remove the excess stain from the side of the can?

There is a little indent on the inside rim of the lid. It makes it so you don’t have to use your finger to scrape off any excess, and you can just pinch and pull up for less mess!

What should I do if my stain dries too dark?

Mix in mineral spirits/paint thinner until the desired color is achieved. You may need to apply another coat, especially if your surface has deep grooves that tend to hold more of the solution. If you used water, then try adding some turpentine/white spirit, which will help thin out the existing color without diluting it too much.

Can I just use turpentine instead of paint thinner?

Yes, but sure it’s high-quality turpentine. You can use it but be prepared to take a bath after you’re done because the fumes from this solution are very strong. If you want to avoid the toxic smell and potential stains, then just use mineral spirits/paint thinner instead.

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How long will this stain last?

I usually only do small DIY projects, so I don’t have much experience with this product in regards to how long it lasts, but I know that if you apply three coats over time, then your project should last for awhile

Are there any other ways to distress furniture besides using steel wool?

Yes! Give sandpaper a try by using different grits. This method takes longer than using steel wool but gives identical results minus the rustic feeling, of course. Sandpaper can be found at your local hardware store. Also, you could go the extra mile by using sand to get a more rustic look if desired.

What is the best way to remove paint from wood?

For most painting projects, you will want to remove all traces of original paint, especially when distressing with steel wool techniques because it tends to create dark spots and uneven surfaces otherwise.

Softer finishes such as interior/exterior latex-based paints generally do not require prep work before applying new coats or distressing with steel wool. However, oil-based paints tend to require a much more laborious process because this type of paint does not adhere well to previously painted surfaces.

how to stain wood

So how do you remove oil-based paint?

Try using paint thinner, lacquer thinner, mineral spirits/paint thinner. There are many different types, so make sure you get one that is safe for use with latex-based paints ( interior). Be prepared to follow the label on your specific brand because some require dilution with water.

In contrast, others can be used straight up without any need for water. If it says anything about adding water, I recommend you dilute first before applying. Otherwise, it could end up causing damage to your surface by leaving behind residue and etching into the wood ( possibly even discoloring it ).

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What should I do if I spilled stain/paint thinner on the carpet?

Blot up excess with paper towels or clean rags and then dilute with water. The longer you let it sit, the harder it will be to remove, so act fast! Once you have blotted up all of the solutions, use pre-spotter over areas in need, especially when dealing with paint.

Oil stains, in particular, can leave behind residue that sets into carpet fibers. If stain is too set into the fibers, then call your local carpet cleaning company because this type of problem requires professional equipment to pull out. Also, take preventative measures by putting down plastic sheeting underneath your project area if you are using these products often, just like what you would do for any type of renovation.


Staining wood is a wonderful way to update any surface, whether it’s your front door, garden bench, or metal patio furniture. The best part is that this technique requires very little money and time, so give it a try and see for yourself!

Now go get dirty. Oh, wait, maybe you should grab a mask or some gloves first.

Last update on 2022-06-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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