What’s the Best Way to Stain Wood?

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Best Way to Stain Wood

We all know the struggle of trying to achieve that one perfect stain color for our wood furniture.

Finding a good wood stain can be difficult because there are so many different colors and brands on the market. It’s hard to know which one will work best with your project.

Staining wood is one of the most common home improvement projects. Whether you are painting or staining, it’s essential to use the right tools and materials for the best results.

The answer is simple! With this article, you’ll learn how to get that perfect look on any wood project with just three easy steps. You’ll also learn about the tools needed, supplies needed, and what type of stains work best for each type of wood surface. This will help you make an informed decision when shopping around at your local hardware store or online retailers like Amazon or Home Depot!

We’ll cover what type of stain or finish should work best depending on what type of piece you are working with (e.g., natural vs. painted), which tools and supplies you need before starting, and finally, the steps needed for achieving a beautiful stained finish!

Let’s get started!

Video: How to Stain Wood Like a Pro!

Why it’s essential to choose a stain wisely.

A good quality stain can make a world of difference in the way your finished piece looks. There are several factors to consider before applying any finish.

When you choose the right type of stain, for example, latex over oil-based, you can achieve an even coating in fewer coats. This will save time and money! 

Different types of wood require different types of stains to protect the surface best. For example, oil-based stains are more durable for outdoor pieces, while water-based stains are better on interior surfaces.

Choosing the wrong strain can sometimes result in peeling or chipping. It is always advisable to test on a small area first before thoroughly applying to a large surface.

Tools and supplies needed before staining wood


A brush is one of the main tools needed to apply a stain. A good quality brush will help you apply evenly and quickly coat the surface with the appropriate type of stain. It is essential to use a sturdy brush to handle all types of surfaces and materials, such as natural and painted woods, metal, glass, and ceramic products.


Cloth Towels (microfiber cloth)

A microfiber cloth is essential because it will prevent any excess stain from sliding onto unintended areas. If you are using latex-based stains, a microfiber cloth will help maintain the desired sheen on your piece. You can also use a clean cloth for polishing after the stain has been applied.

Cleaning fluid

Frequent cleaning of your brush will help keep it in good shape. The easiest way to do this is with mineral spirits, also known as white gas or paint thinner. 

Mineral Spirits are perfect for cleaning brushes because they evaporate quickly, so you don’t have to worry about them drying out the bristles on your brush and ruining it after repeated use. If you clean your brush thoroughly after each use, the bristles should last a long time before needing replacement.

Rags or paper towels

Rags are an essential tool for the staining process. With so many different stains, it’s essential to use a rag or paper towel to apply the stain and wipe off any excess that may have come loose. This will help you achieve a beautiful satin finish on your wood project! 

It’s essential to keep in mind that rags can get expensive if they’re being used daily. Hence, it’s always advisable to buy high-quality ones first because they’ll last longer and save money in the long run!

Masking tape/paint masker

Masking tape is one of the essential tools for wood staining. It’s used to protect areas that are not supposed to be stained. For example, masked off areas would include the inside of drawers, cabinets, and handles. Using painter’s tape makes this more accessible because they create a clean line without damaging the surface.

masking tape


Sandpaper is a necessity when you are staining wood. The sandpaper will help remove the old finish from your piece and give it a nice, smooth surface for your stain to adhere to. There are many different types of sandpapers available on the market today, so be sure to choose one that is appropriate for what type of project you’re working on.

You can use 80-grit paper if you have an unfinished piece or 120-grit paper if you’ve already applied a coat of primer and want to get down into the wood grain a little bit more. If any stubborn areas don’t come up with just a few passes, try using steel wool – this will cut through any dried paint or varnish residue with ease!

Safety glasses

Sanding wood for staining can be difficult because it can cause eye, respiratory, and skin damage. Wearing safety glasses is essential to help protect your eyes. Almost all goggles have a seal around them so that the staining chemicals cannot seep through any cracks. 

Rubber gloves

It’s essential to wear gloves when staining wood because of the chemicals in some stains. Some common chemicals found in stains can cause skin irritation, so nitrile gloves will help protect your hands from these harsh chemicals and prevent any potential allergic reactions that may occur on your skin. 

Plastic drop cloth

A drop cloth is a piece of plastic or canvas that you can use to protect your floor from spills. It also makes it easier to clean up after staining because the stain will not get on the ground. Most people don’t use them when staining wood, but they should! A drop cloth is essential because it will prevent any excess finish from sliding onto unintended areas. 


Stains are used to color wood, but they don’t offer any protection against water or wear. To get the proper finish on your project, you need a topcoat. A topcoat is typically an oil-based paint that will seal in the stain and protect it from fading or being worn away by natural elements like rain or sunlight.


Staining wood is a messy process. It’s essential to wear safety glasses, rubber gloves, and a mask to protect your skin from harsh chemicals in some stains. Wearing this gear will help you avoid any allergic reactions or irritation that may occur on your skin due to the chemicals found in some stains.


Pre-stain wood conditioner

It’s essential to use a pre-stain wood conditioner before staining wood because it will help the stain adhere better, giving you a clean, uniform finish. This is especially important if your wood is new or has an uneven finish. When using a pre-stain wood conditioner, the stain will penetrate the wood more evenly, meaning less staining time and product is required.

Different types of wood stains

Oil-based Wood Stain

Oil-based stains are an excellent choice for most projects because they offer many color options and excellent protection against the elements. They work well on both interior and exterior projects. Oil-based stain is easy to apply, and it doesn’t take much time to dry or cure.

Water-based wood stain

Water-based stains are suitable for staining furniture or cabinets. It’s important to note that water-based stains don’t offer any protection against the elements, so it’s recommended you topcoat with an appropriate product if using this kind of stain.

stainable wood filler

Varnish Stain

A varnish stain is a form of paint that you can apply on top of a finished project. You should apply two coats of varnish stain, wiping the first coat off after it dries.

Clear wood stain

Transparent wood stain is an excellent choice for dark woods or those that have been previously stained. A quality clear stain will allow the natural beauty of the wood to show through, adding light accents without hiding any of its natural characters.

Epoxy Stain

Epoxy stain is a fantastic option for surfaces that get a lot of wear, like a hardwood floor. Unlike other stains, an epoxy stain doesn’t need to be top-coated because it protects itself. It also dries very quickly and easily covers up imperfections in the wood.

Polyurethane Stain

Polyurethane varnish is used as a topcoat for all types of projects. You can apply it to an already stained project or on bare wood that you didn’t previously stain. Since polyurethane is water-resistant and UV resistant, it holds up exceptionally well outdoors. Just be aware you cannot use it with some oil-based stains.

Gel stain

Gel stain is a type of stain that has more pigment than other stains. It’s suitable for staining large surfaces, but it does take longer for the product to dry. It would help if you didn’t use gel stains with a paint sprayer as they are too thick.

How to Stain Wood in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Sand

Stained wood will never look good if there are scratches or marks on the surface. It’s essential to start with a smooth surface, so before applying any stain to your project, you should take some time to sand away these imperfections.

Once your surface is smooth, take a fine-grit sanding block and sand the entire area. Remember, this process doesn’t have to be perfect. Just make sure you get rid of any surface scratches and smooth out splinters. Applying a pre-stain conditioning agent may help.


Step 2: Mask areas not to be stained

Once your project is sanded, it’s important to mask off sections that shouldn’t be stained. This can include doors, hardware, or other details that you may not want to be stained. It can also include areas that may get ruined by the staining process, like the inside of cabinets. Once applied, wood stains are tough to remove from certain surfaces. Make sure you take the proper precautions before beginning your project because once you start staining, there’s no going back!

Step 3: Wipe using a microfiber towel

Using a lint-free cloth, wipe the wood down with a tack cloth. This will remove any dust and dirt from the surface of your project before applying a stain. Remember, you want a clean and clear surface before applying any stain to your project. Also, make sure the cloth is lint-free because it will pick up fibers that can become trapped in the wood.

Step 4: Apply Stain

When putting on your first coat, it’s best to do a thin coat because you can always add more later. Allow the stain to dry until it is no longer sticky, usually about 15 minutes. In some cases, when your final color doesn’t match quite right, you can put on a second coat to get a deeper color.

You can apply the wood stain using a clean rag, paint brush, or sprayer in many cases. If you are spraying the stain on your project, make sure you hold the can between 6-12 inches away from your project and follow label directions carefully. A light coat is always best to start with because once it dries, you can look at it and determine if more coats are needed.

Step 5: Lightly sand once dried

Once your stain is completely dry, take some fine-grit sandpaper and lightly sand over your stained wood to “feather” the stain out. Be careful not to dig deep into the surface of your project because you’ll start to remove some of the stains. Remember, since water-based stains don’t offer any protection against the elements if you choose this type of wood stain, be sure to topcoat with an appropriate product.


Wood stain is a great way to add color and protection to any project. It’s essential to know the different types of wood stains available and how to apply them properly. If you are unsure how to stain wood, it’s best to practice using scrap wood first, as it is tough to wipe off your finished wood piece. You can easily ruin a project!

But, if you follow these five easy steps, your stained project will turn out looking professional, and you’ll be finished before you know it! As always, follow all manufacturer’s instructions carefully to ensure the best results.

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