How To Stain Wood Like a Pro

A few weeks ago at the SNAP! Conference, I was able to take a wood staining class from Bruce, the spokesman for Minwax stain. That guy knows his stuff, and I learned a lot about how to stain wood! I’ve been trying to write up this post for two weeks now, but I’ve had no less than 83 interruptions, (give or take a few).

For this project, I stained over a piece of furniture that was previously stained, but these tips will work with raw wood as well. In fact, it is even easier to stain raw wood!

Note: You can re-stain a piece of wood darker, but not lighter. In this case I am re-staining an orangey oak storage box to a darker cherry walnut color.
DIY Tips for Staining Wood Like a Pro

Supplies: (contains affiliate links)
Wood Filler
Palm or Orbital Sander
Tack cloth
Wood Conditioner
Wood stain
Lemon Oil
Wet Sandpaper
Bristle Brush
Note– You want to use either water or oil base for all three of your products. So if you are using an oil base stain, also use an oil based wood conditioner and oil base polyurethane and vice versa.
Oil base is better for large surfaces, because it dries slower, giving you a more even finish. But water base comes in more colors, so that’s a fun advantage. Pick your stain first, then choose the other two products to match it. Make sense?

First up you want to clean off your surface really well to remove any grease (or food if it’s a tabletop).
how-to-stain-wood-furnitureNext you want to fill any holes or deep scratches in the wood. You want to use a stainable wood filler. I used Minwax. Wood fillers shrink a bit when they dry, so make sure you use plenty and mound it up a little on top. I just use my finger to spread it.
staining-woodAfter the wood filler is totally dry, it’s time to sand. Start with medium grit sandpaper, then work your way down to fine grit. I use an electric palm sander. I think it is a must for sanding any large surface! It takes forever to get the same results by hand. Make sure you always sand in the direction of the grain, not across it!
staining-wood-furnitureSanding makes a lot of dust. A lot. As I’m going along, I like to suck up the excess dust with the brush attachment on my vacuum.
wood-stain-tipsFor a perfect finish, you must remove every last trace of dust. In a pinch, I’ve used baby wipes or a slightly damp rag, but for the very best results, you gotta wipe the wood with tack cloth. It is a dust magnet!
minwax-wood-stainTo help your wood accept wood stain more evenly, you want to use wood conditioner. I applied mine with a soft cloth, but you can also use a brush. I could tell right away that it evened out the wood. See?
wood-conditionerAfter the wood conditioner has soaked in for about 15 minutes, it’s time to apply the stain. I used Minwax Wood Finish in Red Mahogany. Sometimes I use a brush when applying wood stain, but I tend to flick stain everywhere. That’s fine when I’m working with a piece of furniture outside, but since this is a built in, I used a soft cloth just to be safe. I applied three coats of stain.
Tip: For the best, most even results, let each coat dry completely, then sand with 220 grit sandpaper. Wipe off any dust, then re-coat.
Here’s mine after three coats. It actually looks much darker in real life.
wood-stain-tipsThis next step is optional. It is a tip is straight from Bruce. I had never heard of it before. But let me tell you, it will make your wood surface smooth. Like smooth as a baby bum smooth.
You take some lemon oil and. . .waterproof sandpaper. Super fine. I used 400 grit. Did you know such a thing existed? I didn’t.
wood-stain Anyway, apply the lemon oil to the sandpaper liberally. Then use it to lightly sand the wood. When you are finished wiped off any extra oil with a soft cloth. Your surface will now be silky smooth. I couldn’t stop rubbing it. :)
Now it’s time to apply your protective coat. I used Minwax Polyurethane in a satin finish. For polyurethane, you don’t want to use a rag, it will leave lint. A foam brush will leave air bubbles. You need to use a bristle brush. Make sure you brush with the grain, not across it. This little storage box gets a lot of use, so I did three coats, letting it dry completely between each one.
Here it is all finished:
staining-wood-darkerDo you have any wood furniture in your house that could use a makeover? Don’t be afraid to re-stain it!

Disclaimer mumbo jumbo: I was not compensated in any way for this post. Minwax didn’t send me free products (although I would sure love that!). I just love Minwax products. They are awesome. For reals.
My post does contain affiliate links, which means that if you end up buying a product after clicking the link, I will earn a small percentage. You will earn my appreciation. :)

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  1. …best tips on refinishing and staining I’ve found!! Thank you!! I either found an encyclopedia on refinishing or major information was skipped… again thanks… now I can proceed with confidence!! :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for all your tips – this is exactly what I was looking for to restain my kitchen table – and my two chests, if it ever stops raining!!! TFS – BTW – it looks great!

  3. Came across your blog from Pinterest and love it. Started with zucchini bread and now I even know how to stain my table! Thanks for the great info! I just started a garden blog at http://www.theradish ….and you’re an inspiration..Thanks! Great Job!

    • Thanks Donna! I checked out your website, and I love your little succulent garden ideas! I love the one with the tiny pond in it. So cute!

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