How to Apply Stain and Surface Finish to Wood

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Introduction: How to Apply Stain and Surface Finish to Wood

**READ THE WARNING LABELS OF ALL PRODUCTS THAT YOU USE** Follow manufacturers' instructions and warnings. Be safe. 


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:

Wood Stain
Prestain Wood Conditioner
Polyurethane (spray can)
Rags (cut up an old t-shirt, works great)
sandpaper
sanding block


 

Step 1: Sand the Surface to Be Finished

The purpose of sanding is to level the surface and remove any scratches/imperfections of the areas to be stained.

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

A clean, dust-free surface allows the stain (and other products) to work effectively. 

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

Prestain wood conditioner will aid in achieving consistent stain color across the wood surface (helps wood absorb stain in consistent amounts )

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

Stain adds color to the wood surface.

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

A topcoat can protect your work piece from moisture, scratching, wear and tear, etc.

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. 

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    2 Comments

    Is it possible to stain wood and then finish it with tung oil and beeswax?

    1 reply

    Absolutely. Though I would suggest checking if you've got "true" tung oil. Many commercially available finishing oils labeled as "tung" are actually a blend of different oils. True oils will take periodic re-oiling (i.e. monthly or yearly, as your case may require). When in doubt: do a test piece start-to-finish with your planned finishing process (and on the same substrate as your actual project).