top of page

How to Stain Wood Furniture

How to Stain Wood Furniture Image

I love to stain furniture! I am definitely not abandoning my love for painted pieces but it’s important to have a good mix throughout your home.

Whether you are adding subtle color to your wood furniture, refreshing the original look, or choosing a completely new color palette, stained furniture adds a natural element to your space. And, as we discussed in the last post, get ready to see more natural elements and traditional/antique wood pieces in homes.

How to Stain Wood Furniture

You might choose to stain a piece of furniture that has beautiful wood grains. When I am gathering a plan for a piece I always consider what wood I am working with and if it’s worth showcasing. And if I am lacking the element of wood in the space that the piece will be used.

What you’ll need:

  • Stripper

  • Plastic scraper

  • Orbital Sander

  • Sand paper

  • Dusting cloths

  • Pre Conditioner

  • Stain

  • Shop towels

  • Top Coat

What you’ll do:

1. Strip the wood. Apply stripper with a chip brush will work. Allow it to set for the recommended time and then scrape with plastic scraper.

2. Clean. I like using Klean Strip After Wash. This prepares the surface for refinishing by removing any residue from the stripping process.

Ready For Sanding Image

Completely clean and ready for sanding.

3. Sand with an orbital sander. Start with 80-grit sandpaper, then 100-grit, then 120. Clean the surface with dusting cloths in between sandings to reduce swirl marks.

4. Hand-sand with 150-grit sandpaper to remove any marks made by your orbital sander.

5. Clean with dusting cloth.

6. Apply pre-stain conditioner to reduce streaking and blotching, and ensure uniform absorption of stain and even coverage. Remember, pre-stain conditioner is not recommended for Dye Stains. Always read and follow your prep instructions on your stain.

Pre Stain Conditioner Applied

Pre stain conditioner applied. Look how gorgeous the wood is conditioned.

7. Wipe off excess conditioner after allowing the conditioner to absorb for 15 minutes. Note: Water based conditioners are not wiped back allow conditioner to dry per instructions.

8. Apply stain with a foam applicator. Inexpensive foam applicators are great for oil-based stains. No loose bristles to worry about, and you can dispose when finished (since clean up can be messy.) They also work great for water-based stains and can be reused after washing.

9. Wipe back excess stain with shop towel.

10. Allow to dry per instructions. All stains are different but it is important to follow company recommended dry times.

One Coat of General FInishes Nutmeg Gel Stain Applied

One coat of General Finishes Nutmeg Gel Stained completely dried. Isn't it a beautiful color!

11. Re-apply if applicable. Adding additional coats of stain will darken the color. Re-apply to achieve desired color.

12. Seal with chosen top coat. Unless you are using a stain with built-in finish (i.e. Cece Caldwell’s Stain and Finish or Fusion Stain and Finishing Oil), you will need to seal your stain to protect it. The top coat also enhances the color and grain.

Choosing the right seal can be overwhelming with the numerous options on the market. Intended use and sheen will be important factors in choosing the right top coat for your project. Waxes and oils provide beautiful soft, matte sheen finishes for low to moderate use surfaces. For high use and/or higher sheens, finishes like satin or gloss (although they too come in lower sheens intended for higher use surfaces), urethanes and polyurethanes provide good choices for finishes. My favorites are General Finishes Arm R Seal and High Performance Top Coat.

I do recommend—especially for beginners—sticking with the same brand throughout the entire staining process. For example, if you are staining with General Finishes Stain use General Finishes brand Pre-Stain and Top Coat. It’s easier to problem solve issues when you are using products that are designed to be compatible.

General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Satin Image

Both the table top and seats were stained in General Finishes Nutmeg Gel Stain, and then sealed using General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Satin.

A few more with and without top coat pictures. Photos on the left are without top coats and right with a top coat. Look at what a difference the top coat makes!

2 Common Issues with Staining Wood Furniture

1. Orbital sand marks

As you sand the piece, you may start to notice circular patterns or swirl marks forming from the orbital sander. It looks like light arches appearing on the wood. Preventing this is easier than fixing it.

To avoid this, make sure you do not press down on your orbital sander. Allow the machine to do the work and just guide it. Clean between grits with a dusting cloth and always end with hand-sanding.

2. Splotches

A lot of beginners also get to the end of a project and notice what look like faint splotch marks on their surface of their wood. These look like some almost-invisible liquid was splattered on your beautiful piece, which is super frustrating after all that sanding.

To prevent this, be sure to use wood conditioner—especially on bare wood (wood that has never been stained). Remember to use oil-based conditioner with oil-based stains, and water-based conditioner when using water-based stains. Oil and water don’t mix.

FAQs about Staining Wood Furniture

Can you use coffee to stain wood? Yes! Vinegar, steel wool, coffee grounds, and a jar is all you need. Plus it’s non-toxic! Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in this technique and I will try to cover it in a future blog post.

Can you mix paint and wood stain? Yes! You can mix water-based stain with water-based paint. In fact, you can create a completely custom color using General Finishes water-based pre-stain and any of their water-based paint colors.

Added a touch of General Finishes Persimmon Milk Paint to their water based Weathered Gray Stain for the perfect warm gray tone.

You can also layer stains, but remember to allow 72 hours of drying time before laying water-based products on top of oil based stains.

Faux weathered wood finish using a mix of gel stains and paints.

Can you stain wood that’s already been stained? Yes. You can stain an existing finish by sanding the wood with 220-grit sandpaper, and using General finishes water-based stain or gel stain to darken or tone a finish.

Antique Clawfoot Buffet Stained in GF Java

Stained this existing finish darker using General Finishes Java Gel Stain.

Can you stain unfinished wood? Yes. You want to be sure to use wood conditioner on unfinished wood.

The chairs were brand new unfinished wood. I conditioned and stained the seats to match the table top using General Finishes Nutmeg Gel Stain.

Stained Wood in 2018

If you are looking to add a natural element to your space, which already seems to be a trend for this year, consider staining for your next redesign project. Pick a piece with a beautiful grain and gather your supplies!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
bottom of page