This simple instructable will walk you through a general method to prepare, stain, and clear coat wood. There are many ways to do this, and many of these steps can be applied to whatever products or resources you have on hand.
Materials I used in this instructable:
Prestain Wood Conditioner
Polyurethane (spray can)
Rags (cut up an old t-shirt, works great)
Step 1: Sand the Surface to Be Finished
Start with rougher sandpaper (100 grit), cut/rip a piece of sandpaper that will fit around your sanding block
Wrap paper around sanding block (keeping paper flat against block). Make sure you are using a flat side on your sanding block.
Apply moderate pressure, sand wood with paper and block in a back and forth motion WITH grain of the wood (follow along the lines of the wood color)
Sand until no visible scratches in the surface remain. Surface should appear clean and leveled.
Repeat previous sanding steps with finer sandpaper (220 grit)
Step 2: Clean Surface, Remove Dust
Wipe the work piece clean with a clean rag or paper towel to remove sanding dust.
(*If dust is difficult to remove you may first wet your rag with a few ounces of mineral spirits and then wipe work piece. The dust will stick more easily to the wetted rag, and the mineral spirits left on the wood will evaporate quickly.)
Check for surface imperfections (scratches, blemishes, etc), continue to the next step if surface to be stained is acceptable.
**If the surface appearance is unsatisfactory: repeat previous instructions, beginning at the "Sanding" step.
Step 3: Prestain Wood Conditioner
Use a clean, dust-free rag.
Apply the conditioner using wipe motion in direction of wood grain. Apply enough conditioner that the surface to be stained is visibly wet.
Wait 15 min for wood conditioner to absorb into the wood.
Wipe off any excess conditioner from wood surface.
Step 4: Stain
Mix stain liquid thoroughly.
Use a clean, dust-free rag.
Apply stain to the rag (dip rag into container, as shown). Get a controllable amount of stain onto the rag (rag should be wet but not dripping. Re-wet the rag with stain, as needed.)
Apply stain using wipe motion of the wet rag on the work piece. Wipe in the direction of (parallel to) the grain direction.
Put enough stain liquid on the wood to flood (completely coat) the surface.
Watch for consistent color. Use rag to apply more stain to specific areas of the wood surface, as needed.
Wait 15 min (or shorter for lighter final color.)
Use a clean rag to wipe any non-absorbed stain from surface. Wipe rag along direction of the grain.
You may repeat the previous stain sub-steps to fix specific areas that did not color evenly, or to achieve a darker color over the entire surface.
If work piece is dry and color is acceptable then proceed to topcoat application (next step.)
Step 5: Finishing With a Clear Coat / Top Coat
Confirm the stained surface is dry and that color is acceptable before beginning this step.
Move work piece to well-ventilated area.
Shake the spray can of your top coat vigorously (mixing ball inside will begin to shake freely when contents have been shaken enough).
Hold can 8 to 12 inches away from work piece, use overlapping passes to spray finish onto work piece (see picture for what is meant by "overlapping passes.") Apply 2-3 light coats.
Follow manufacturer's instructions for minimum dry time of top coat before handling work piece.
Repeat previous steps if a thicker surface finish is desired. Follow manufacturer guidelines for wait times between applications (as product specifications vary.)
GENERALLY the time between light coats can be as little as 20 minutes, and minimum dry time before handling the work piece is 24hrs.