How to Stain Wood Like a Pro – tips and tricks for getting professional results every time you stain wood.
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 restaining an orangey oak storage box to a darker cherry walnut color.
How to Stain Wood Like a Pro
Supplies: (contains affiliate links)
Palm or Orbital Sander
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?
Prep Wood for Staining!
First up you want to clean off your surface really well to remove any grease (or food if it’s a tabletop).
Next 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.
After 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!
Sanding 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.
For 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!
To 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?
Staining the Wood:
After 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.
Pro 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.
This 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.
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:
Now that you know how to stain wood like a pro, what project do you want to tackle next?
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.