How To Stain Furniture

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Wood stains come in different shades, so it’s important to choose the right color before you start.

The first step is deciding what kind of wood you want your furniture to be and what stain color will make that happen. You can usually find a dark walnut stain or blonde oak on most store shelves, but if those colors don’t work for you then it might be time to get creative. On the other hand, if you are worried about permanent stains or marks on your wooden furniture, you can read more about how to remove dark stains from wood as well.

In this article, we’ll show you how to stain your furniture using a technique that gives you the most control over the outcome. You can use this method on any piece of wood, even ones that have already been finished in some way.  

Let's dive deep into this topic. 

Applying the wood stain

When applying the paint onto any surface, remember that it must be done in even layers over all areas rather than just spots here and there. Once you think you have enough in one area then wait 5 minutes before going back over that area with more – just in case it will end up getting darker than you expected.

Excess stain must be wiped off or brushed away as soon as possible because it can start to darken in color right after applying it. 

How to Stain Orange Wood Furniture
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You don’t want to go back over one area of your piece and find out that the stain has dried in the time you were doing something else so make sure you are constantly checking on its progress before moving on to another section.

If any of the wood gets too wet then wipe it with a clean cloth immediately and try not to let this happen often. It will affect how evenly the finish will dry which means more work for you if some spots turn darker than others due to being fully saturated.

Once you are finished with applying the stain then leave it to dry for at least 4-5 hours. If you don’t wait long enough or try to move on too early, some of the stains will not have dried properly and will result in a blotchy finish that does not look very professional.

If this happens, there is no way to fix it and everything else must be redone but if you follow all these steps correctly then this should never be an issue.

That being said, we recommend waiting overnight just to make sure everything has fully dried so that you won’t run into any problems later down the road when doing touch-ups or finishing touches.

It only takes one coat to cover most pieces completely but this will depend on the color as some may need a second coat to make sure it is dark enough. Allow each coat to dry for at least 4-5 hours then apply another layer and so on until the desired amount of darkness has been achieved.

If you have any leftover stains after doing your piece then you should scrape out the remaining paint from your container and reapply it with new water or simply toss it away (it won’t be good after sitting for too long). 

Also, if anything spills or drips onto your furniture by accident then try to clean it up as soon as possible before letting it sit because this can cause permanent damage that is not easy to fix in most cases.

What is the best wood for staining?

Before you start, the most important thing to think about is what kind of wood you have. Different types of wood stain differently and you don’t want your piece to end up looking like something else.

The type of wood that a piece is made out of has just as much an impact on how it will look when finished with a certain kind of stain as does the color. For instance, if you try to apply a walnut-colored stain on oak, which is lighter in color than walnut, then that darker color shows through, making it look like cherry instead. If you are using reclaimed or salvaged wood from old doors, barn planks, or some other source, then there could be even more variation from one board to another than from type to type.

That being said, there are still a few basic guidelines you can follow to help you choose what kind of wood will work best for your furniture projects.

You’ll find that red oak and white oak are usually pretty light in color with either a reddish or yellowish tint. They stain easily into different shades of brown and look especially nice when stained with darker colors like walnut and dark cherry. (Not all types of oak have grains that swirl though, making it more difficult to get those unique patterns.) 

White birch is much the same way and also works well as plain pine but the grain pattern on these two kinds of wood makes them very popular for achieving those “distressed” or “primitive” furniture styles.

The next step up is pine, birch, and maple, three types of wood that are usually light to medium brown. Pine is by far the lightest but it will still stain nice and dark with darker colors like red mahogany or cherry. If you want to transform yellow pine into a beautiful honey-colored piece then you can use a golden oak stain or an amber tinted one instead.

Birch has more grain patterns than other woods which means a minimum of sanding, but also tends to have lots of knots so there is likely going to be some sanding involved no matter what kind of finish you use on it. Maple is probably the darkest of all the light-colored woods, making it one of the best for a dark walnut stain.

As far as hardwoods go, many kinds work great and if you don’t have any particular preference then these are usually the easiest to use. You might be surprised to learn that cherry and walnut stains look almost the same on pinewood but will change dramatically when applied to cherry or walnut so choose wisely before you start staining anything. You can also still achieve some great results with maple, oak, and birch just by using darker colors of stain.

Wood finishes come in different varieties as well (polyurethane, water-based polyurethane, lacquer) which we won’t get into too much here but it is important to know that different finishes react differently with wood stains. Water-based polyurethane will usually create less of a gloss and have a more “satin” finish than something like lacquer.

Also, the way the finish was brought out onto the wood can make a difference in how much sanding you might need to do before staining as well. For instance, wiping on poly rather than dipping or spraying could leave some streaks behind that will show up after you stain.

birch wood
Image Credit: Kitchen Infinity Photo

How to prepare your surface before staining

Before you can start staining, your piece must be prepared so that the stain has something to absorb into. Without this step, the staining job will look blotchy and uneven in some places and lighter than others. If you want a smooth finish then the surface of the wood must be as smooth as possible without any major scratches or dents in it.

Any pits, dings, or scratches can be filled with putty so they are evened out and there will be less work for the stain to do when trying to cover all surfaces of it evenly. Once you have sanded enough to remove any imperfections (if necessary) use a tack cloth to wipe away whatever sawdust remains on the wood before moving onto the next step. How to use a tack cloth? We can help you in that!

The last thing you want is your stain to get on the flooring beneath your piece so lay down a drop cloth or something similar before moving anything around that might cause it to spill over.

How much wood stain do you need?

There are many kinds of wood stains, each with its unique color formula but they all work in almost the same way and can be used interchangeably if you don’t have a preference. Here we will explain how each type is used so that you know what to expect when using them.

After mixing the powder with water it should form a thick paste that won’t run or drip very easily. To make sure this is the case, mix it a second time in a separate container to see if it forms the same consistency. If not then your original mixture will likely run or drip and cause uneven spots on your wood surface that only you will be able to see.

It is also possible for stains to end up blotchy or inconsistent but luckily this usually comes down to how much water you add – so feel free to make adjustments as needed.

How to Gel Stain Laminate Furniture
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For furniture, we recommend using anywhere from 10-30% of the recommended amount depending on what kind of look you’re going for (darker colors need more).

This is why purchasing larger quantities at once can save money since there are no set amounts that work with every color. You may even want to add more water to get the desired consistency because this will make it easier to work with and control.

For floors, you can use 20-40% for a dark finish or 10-20% for something lighter in color. The darker you go with your stain, the less frequently you’ll have to apply it so if possible, try not to make your mixture too thick or it could take longer than expected.

How to stain furniture – FAQ

I want to do a walnut finish, but it looks kind of purple in the can. Should I be worried?

Look at the color of your wood when you are shopping and buying your stain. If it is already a dark brown then the paint will likely turn out just as well. Also, if you want a really rich finish that has more than one coat (maybe even two or three) then you are going to need something darker but no matter what kind of wood you have, there will be some sort of purple tint in it because walnut itself is known for having a bit of this color.

Should I be worried if the can says “oil-based” instead of “lacquer-based”?

The lacquer is simply the top of what you are buying, similar to how an oil-based paint and a water-based paint are separated by something like shellac. They both come from the same base product so don’t worry if yours says oil-based, it is the same thing as a lacquer-based stain.

How do I apply stains to my kitchen cabinets that have a lot of detailed molding around them?

Staining kitchen cabinets depends on how much of the door you want to cover, but if it is only a small area just sand down the surface and apply stain without worrying about a specific pattern. If you are staining an entire piece of wood then pay attention to the direction the grain runs before applying stain so that your piece won’t end up looking patchy.

You may want to sand it down a bit so that you don’t have to worry about the grain direction as much. Of course, this is all after determining what stain color blend will work best for your kitchen (we recommend sticking with a one-tone version).

Final thoughts on how to stain furniture

In conclusion, I think you can see from the above articles that there are many ways to get a beautiful, rich and even-aged finish on your furniture. It is up to you which one of them you choose.

I hope that the above tips have helped to give you a better idea of which direction you’re going to go with.

Finally, here’s an article to learn more about the best wood for painted cabinets if you’d like to read more about the topic.

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin Farrugia

Kevin is a household and appliance enthusiast and loves to follow the latest trends in kitchen and house decoration. He also loves to walk the isles of Home Depot and Lowes to review products and materials in person. Before joining Kitchen Infinity, Kevin owned a handyman company.

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