How to Stain Wood

| Last modified on February 17th, 2022

Staining Wood – All that you Need to Know

Wood isn’t the same as plastic. In order to get the most out of it and add longevity, you’ll have to treat your wood fixtures as they age. If you simply left the wood alone without doing anything whether it be located indoors or outdoors, you would quickly see it deteriorate. However, there’s an easy way to prevent this from happening.

A wood stain resembles paint (at least the cans do) but is completely different when applied to wood. It’s transparent yet darkens the wood, providing a film of protection from harmful light and UV rays. And depending on the sort of stain that you treat it with, the result could be completely dry on the same day. Below are the steps you need to take when staining wood, along with a listing of things required for you to get started beforehand. The final section covers more wood-specific instructions for staining.

Items you Need to Get Started

Here are the most important items needed to begin staining. It’s not expected for you to get them all, so long as you have to bare essentials.

  • Safety Gear – This could be the most important thing that you buy. Treat every wood stain as if it were toxic, even if the can doesn’t say so. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy a hazmat suit but plastic gloves and face protection are recommended. If you’re going to stain a wooden ceiling, purchase something to protect your eyes from potential drips.
  • A High-Quality Wood Stain – Wood stains are generally sold in two categories. There are oil-based stains and water-based stains. Stains that contain water are best for situations where the stain must dry quickly. But this could also be a turn-off for some people, particularly those that have little experience with staining. Oil-based stains are the opposite, taking longer to dry but producing a stronger smell. You’ll have to ensure that the location being treated is properly ventilated if choosing the latter.
  • Wood Cleaning Supplies – Wood cleaning supplies can encompass anything that you would use to clear up any debris prior to staining. For some, a simple sweep with a broom might be enough. But if the wood is very dirty, try cleaning it with soap and water before you get started. And if you don’t want to use this, try vinegar instead.
  • Masking Tape – Also known as painter’s tape, place it on the edges and corners, ensuring that the tip ends where the wood that you’re staining begins. This is to prevent you from getting stains on objects that you don’t want to cover. Masking tape is distinguished by it’s usually blue or green-colored tape roll.
  • Paint Scraper – This is best for people that plan to remove paint from the wood before staining. If it isn’t something you plan on doing, it’s best to skip this item.
  • Wood Filler – You likely won’t need to fill in most of the wood that you stain, but a wood filler could be useful in sealing off large crevices that you would have a problem staining. If used the right way, you can make it blend in perfectly with the wood. You could even make your own filler using wood glue.
  • Wood Putty – Putty works about the same as wood filler but best for indoor use, since it’s most often must be mixed with water. You would have to wait until the putty is completely dry before putting down your stain.
  • Paintbrush – Having a trusty paintbrush around is a must. However, wood stain doesn’t always need to be put on with this. Try to get a good-quality brush that won’t show any streaks when it dries. As you might already know, brushes are notorious for streaking. But as long as you use the brush with other application methods, you shouldn’t have any issues.
  • Foam Brush – Foam brushes can fix any of the streaks that paintbrushes create. Remember, if you’re going to use a brush, have a foam brush or pad at the ready. You never know when you might have to smoothen out something quickly. This is best for people that haven’t stained wood before, to avoid making a mistake that would be hard to fix after the stain dries.
  • Paint Roller – A paint roller is the best way to stain wood that covers lots of square feet. Everything from walls, fences, wooden decks, and outdoor panels could be stained with this tool. You obviously wouldn’t need it for staining furniture or other small items. Yet if the wood that you’re treating is hard to reach and spans several feet in all directions, a roller is strongly recommended for purchase.
  • Fabric Cloth – Fabric cloths are good for cleaning up the extra stain that you don’t need. A quick wipe down can fix any mistakes that you make. This will also let you choose the level of darkening that you want. But remember that the color will appear richer if you let it stay on the wood longer.
  • Sandpaper – Sandpaper, no matter if it’s placed on a power tool or used by hand, is very important. You should always sand anything that you plan on staining later. It doesn’t have to be done with too much pressure; just a gentle sanding that touches the topmost layer of the wood. If you’re staining a floor or other big surface area, consider something that’ll automate this for you.

Staining Wood – Step-by-Step Guidelines

Use this guide to help you understand the steps that must be taken to stain successfully. If you would like to incorporate your own methods into these steps, it’s encouraged that you do, so long as you understand how to results will come out.

Step 1: Getting Prepared

How to Stain Wood - step 1

Like any project, you’ll need to ensure that you’re prepared with this before you begin staining. If there’s anything missing that you might need later, such as a scraper, grab it before you start. If you’re working indoors, be sure to open any nearby windows that are close to your workstation. For outdoors, check the weather and make sure that’s no precipitation in the forecast for the day. Try to start at a time when the air isn’t too humid.

Step 2: Cleaning the Wood

Wood staining - step 2

Get your wood clean. If you’re working on a floor, sweep and remove any stains. If you notice mold anywhere, try and clean it up with soap and water (or vinegar). When that’s done, you must give the floor tie to dry before doing anything else. Of course, this might take a bit of your time so try and predict when you’ll be able to start, more so if you’re on a tight schedule. However, some individuals might be able to skip this step.

Step 3: Sand the Wood

Wood Staining - step 3

After you’re done cleaning, it’s time to sand the floor. You should give it a once-over; nothing that requires you to rub too hard against the wood. But remember, this will require additional cleanup. Simply take your broom and clean the sawdust away.

Step 4: Begin Staining

Wood staining - step 4

Now it’s time for you to stain. Get all the brushes that you’re going to use and place them in a painting tray if you have one. When using the brush, try to add a bit of pressure (but not too much) to your strokes. You want the stain to absorb into the wood well, of which this will assist.

Step 5: Clean up Excess Stain

How to Stain Wood - step 5

As the stain begins to settle, you must now wipe off anything that spilled. Furthermore, check to see if there are areas that have streaks. Wipe those down too. If you don’t want the wood to be at its darkest. You’ll have to pass the cloth over the entire area you covered. When doing this part, you should work quickly, especially if a water-based stain was applied.

Step 6: Consider using a Wood Finish

How to Stain Wood - step 6

It’s important for you to remember that a wood stain doesn’t provide any protection from water. If you want this, consider getting a transparent sealer or finish, preferably one that has polyurethane listed in the ingredients. Some wood stains could be sold with this feature listed, just check to see what’s in the can before you purchase.

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Step 7: Wait for it to Dry

How to Stain Wood - step 7

After you’re done wiping down the stain, wait for the rest to settle and dry. This could take either a short or long time, depending on the type of stain you’re using. If indoors, keep those windows open for as long as you can. Try not to get anything on the wood in this process. This means you should keep pets and small children away until you’re positive that everything is dry.

Additional Guidelines

There are some additional tips for you to check out. Anyone that is staining in a particular way that could possibly deviate from the instruction already listed might find a solution here.

How to Stain Different Types of Wood

How to Stain Pine Wood

With pine wood, try working with an epoxy (wood putty) before covering it with stain. You can choose to sand once the filler has dried. After that, paint but be careful to not go against the grain. That means you should paint in the direction of the wood surface that doing feel rough.

How to Stain Oak

Staining Oak is best with one that’s oil-based. You don’t have to do it this way but the lack of water ensures that nothing will negatively affect the quality of the wood. Oakwood is oftentimes used on furniture or other high-quality furnishings, so be careful with how you work.

How to Stain Unfinished Wood

Unfinished wood, as its name implies, is any wood that hasn’t been treated with a finish yet. You can stain it in a way that was described previously but do cover the stain with a thin layer of finish before everything finishes drying.

How to Stain Pressure Treated Wood

Treated wood is best when covered with oil-based stains. Treated wood already contains chemicals inside that can protect it from UV damage. If you can find a stain that’s slightly transparent in color, try it out in this situation.

How to Stain Maple

With maple, you’ll probably need a power tool to sand, making sure that you get down enough for the stain to later penetrate its dense top layer. But try not to overdo things, as you could end up needing to go over spots with a sealer.

How to Stain Birch Wood

Birch can sometimes be difficult for people to stain, especially first-timers. That’s due to the way that the stain settles on the top layer. More than likely, it won’t settle evenly, which means that you’ll have to go over the stain with a foam brush or cloth to make it settle. Additionally, you should avoid using stains that are too dark, since the uneven areas would be more conspicuous after drying.

How to Stain Pallet Wood

Staining pallet wood, like most other types, is all about how well you sand from the beginning. Try and stain with the grain, as this will let the stain work deeper into the wood when you’re done. Use a conditioner if you want the stain to absorb evenly, helpful when covering large areas. But if the pallet wood is small, this shouldn’t be a requirement.

How to Stain Already Stained Wood

Staining wood that’s already stain isn’t that difficult. Remember, most of the stain will be lifted from it after you’re done with sanding. If you have problems getting portions of the old stain out, use a darker-colored stain to cover it. Water-based brands are the best for this.

How to Stain Cedar Wood

There are two types of sandpaper that you’ll need for cedarwood. The fist is a medium grit paper that’s gauged between 60 to 100. Sand down the wood and work it over with a fine-grit that’s at least numbered at 120. Get a good pre-stain and cover the cedarwood, then pass a paintbrush with a good bristle over.

How to Stain Different Wood Surfaces and Objects

When staining small wooden objects, you should stick to stains that won’t drastically alter the color. Of course, this might be what you’re shooting for, which you should do if that’s the case. A small bristle brush or sponge would suffice in covering the wood.

How to Stain Wood Furniture

Wooden furniture should be treated carefully, especially if you’re dealing with an antique. When it comes to stains for this, the lighter the better. Oil-based varieties would work well, especially since you might not need to sand.

How to Stain Wood Floors

Wooden floors are going to need a thorough sanding before you start. Try getting a power tool to do it this way. Sweep up the sawdust and apply pre-stain, taking care to go with the grain. If you use a paint roller to stain your floor, try getting masking tape to make sure nothing touches the walls.

How to Stain Wood Deck

Wooden decks are a lot like staining either treated or untreated woods. But no matter what, check to weather to see if there’s any precipitation occurring on the day that you stain. In that timeframe, your deck should be cleaned completely, preferably with soap and water. Pressuring washing works before. And finally, lightly sand and stain per the instructions shown above.

How to Stain a Wood Door

If your wooden door has bumps, ridges, and curve throughout, try to go easy on the sandpaper as you work. If not, you could accidentally take off too much or create crevices that need tending to with a filler. Stains that are water-based would work well, particularly if the door as already been stained in the past.

How to Stain Wood Cabinets

Take your time when sanding your cabinets, and remove the knobs if you can. Unscrew the hinges so they won’t become damaged by touching the stain. If you want an oil-based stain, be sure not to use too much.

How to Stain a Wood Fence

Wooden fences are relatively easy to stain, just as long as you’re paying attention to your surroundings when you do so. For example, pollen and debris could ruin it if too much touches the stain in the drying process. To avoid this, consider staining on a seasonal basis that isn’t during the middle of spring. You don’t want pollen to get into the stain before it settles.

How to Stain Wood Table

Wooden tables are difficult to stain for some, as they can easily show streaks if one isn’t careful. Check to see if you’re able to sand it down; this should minimize the work you would do to smoothen out any uneven stain. Sponges are good for this. In fact, it might be best for you to avoid a bristle brush.

How to Stain Wood Stairs

Wooden starts are also difficult to stain. If your stairs have ridges near the edge, be sure that you sand in those areas well, but not enough to the point of making the wood uneven. Put masking tape down so nothing trails on the walls during staining, and consider using a pre-stain to get the second coat deeper into the wood.

How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry

Drying time can vary, be the average is anywhere from 10 to 24 hours. Wood stains that contain water dry faster than oil stains, as most of the water evaporates when settled. If you’re staining in a dry location that doesn’t have much humidity, this time could be reduced significantly. But in areas that aren’t properly ventilated or outdoors, expect to wait a day for the stain to completely absorb.

How to Get Wood Stain Off Hands

If you’re not wearing gloves during staining, then you’re likely to get it on your hands. Wood stain can be a skin irritant, so wash them as soon as you can. The best way is to take a bit of salt of cooking oil (new) and mix it into a cup, pouring it over your hands and rubbing around the skin until the stain begins to peel off. After that, use soap and warm water to complete.

How to Match Wood Stain

Get a cleaning cloth (that’s completely clean) and wipe over the stain every five or ten minutes. If you keep it up, you’ll eventually reach a point where the stain resembles the natural color of the wood before you begin sanding.

How to Fix Blotchy Wood Stain

Blotches are best cleaned with a sponge or cloth. You don’t have to run in the excess stain, just make your stroke go with the grain, stopping when you reach the edges of the wood.

Advanced Wood Staining Techniques

You may have seen wood staining techniques that involved working on a specific portion of the wood. Do do this, try practicing with a cloth. However, be careful not to take off too much stain. You’ll have only a limited to work in this manner. As such, practice on a wooden surface that you don’t mind making errors on before proceeding to larger pieces.


Did you follow all of the steps listed in this guide? You’re guaranteed to get outstanding results if you do. Wood staining doesn’t have to be difficult. For some people, it’s a satisfying job that breathes new air into the old floor and furniture. And once the surface has dried, remember to maintain proper upkeep so that your stain will last as long as possible!

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