MFDC article on how to stain wood
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Staining  Your Wood
Basic wood types:

  * Softwoods-  Pine, Fir and Cedar. (etc.)

  * Hardwoods- Oak, Beech, Ash, Elm, Birch and Walnut.(etc.)
  * The differences between them and how that will effect your overall project:
    This is sometimes confusing because you have;
    - Box wood and Aspen: A very soft Hardwood.
    - Douglas Fir: A very hard Softwood.

Don't be concerned with the names "Hardwood or Softwood" we are looking at the characteristics of the wood itself.

If the wood has uneven wood grain, or blotchy patterns to it, chances are it is a softwood. When you stain it, it will stain unevenly. You may want this, to let the stain enhance the natural beauty of the wood.  If you do not want this, place a pre-stain wood conditioner on your wood. It seeps into the wood fibers so that the wood will stain evenly. (With this product, I am not sure how dark of a stain, the wood can ultimately be, when finished.) Check with the manufacturer.

If the wood has a consistent flow or pattern to the grain, it's probably a hardwood. Use whatever stain you wish to enhance the wood grain. 

I found out that hardwood such as Oak, may take a few more coatings of stain than softwood,(Pine,Poplar etc.) but the results are still very pleasing.

When I am looking for wood, I look for a piece that is unique, within itself.
It does not matter if it is "soft" or "hard".
Preparing wood for staining:

With the selected piece(s) at hand, check to make sure the wood is free of dirt, grease etc.

Drawing on a mental image of what you want to create, you have to decide what type of sand paper you should use. The lower the # grit, the rougher the wood will be, the more stain will absorb into the wood and the darker your project piece will be. (And that's on the first application)

The opposite is true as well.  The higher the # grit, the smoother the wood will be, the less will absorb into the wood and the results are a lighter stained project piece.

I usually (for flat surfaced pieces) use a lower grit sand paper (60 or 80) to remove any blemishes and scuff's. Next I will use a higher grit# (100 or 120). I try to keep in mind what depth of stain I am looking for in my finished project piece. If I want a finished (med.) depth of stain, I will stop with the 100 or 120 grit. If I want it lighter, I will go with a higher grit number.

You can go with a high grit number (200 or more) and add multiple coats of stain. This is fine. You should experiment on a scrap piece of wood to see what is right for you.

When sanding is complete, wipe down wood with damp cloth. Making sure wood is free from any debris.
Staining your wood:

Put your rubber gloves on. Make sure stain is stirred well.
Using a sponge, brush, rag or clean cloth, apply stain to wood generously.
Make sure you work in one continuous movement across your wood, going with the grain.  Make sure the entire piece is brushed well and evenly.

You can wait 5 to 15 minutes for stain to absorb.The longer you wait, the darker it will be. If you are not sure how fast your wood will take the stain, use a clean cloth and wipe on, wipe off. (That quick). This will give you a good idea. It's easier to add more stain, than to have to take it off.

Let's say you wait 5 minutes and you are not satisfied with the results. The manufacturer recommends you wait 4 to 6 hours before reapplying. You can, or you can just add it right away and only let it sit for the remaining 10 minutes.(Remember total time of 15 Minutes) Do not let it sit longer than 15 minutes in low to medium humidity. It will start to gum-Up  and it makes your project look like a 6 year old did it. (nothing against 6 yr.olds.)  If you are working in high humidity areas, you may want to reduce the time to 5 or 8 minutes max.

When you are satisfied with the stain color, place the piece(s) on something flat.(work bench, garage floor) and let dry for 6 to 8 hours.


You can use this for protection and beauty. It comes in Satin,Semi-gloss and High or Clear gloss.

Make sure that your wood is free of any debris. If you are using a spray can, stay 8-12 inches from piece being sprayed. With long even passes, apply the Poly.(Don't overspray, you will get runs.) Make about two passes and go on to the next piece. After a couple hours, reapply if you wish.

If your using the liquid. Wearing your gloves, brush it on with the grain. If you put to much on, you must continue to brush it out. You will have to babysit the wood, making sure that it doesn't hold bubbles or run. Once it looks like it is setting up, leave it alone for another 4 hours. Then reapply if you wish.

Please refer to the Manufacturers instructions and times.  Mine are for reference purposes only.
Oil based stains:
Provides long lasting wood tone color. It penetrates deep into the pores to seal and protect the wood. (It brings out the natural beauty of the wood )

Water based stains:
Provides an even stain color. (It will not absorb unevenly like an oil based stain.)

Adds natural colors to a wide range of wood and non-wood products.
(It is difficult to get out of grooves in  wood.)

Pastels:  Oil based wood stain which provides a soft pastel color while highlighting the grain of the wood.  (This is a fine product if you wish to accent your decor.)

**** The above, In"()" is author's opinion only, try what ever you wish. I only use Minwax products, because I feel they are the best.****
  Dye's v.s. Stains:  
Pigment stains will fill the grains and leave the wood surface with less colorant, whereas dyes will stain the grain and the areas between the grain approximately the same color.

Fillers can be nice to use when you are filling nail holes or brad holes. However, Using a wood filler usually won't stain the same color as the wood. I try to avoid fillers. I have heard that you can buy some powder form of the filler and add the color of stain that you will be using. Perhaps this will make the overall "filled holes" less noticeable.
One thing you might try is using some matching colored putty. Fill the holes, let dry. Putty won't get real hard, but let dry for a day. (All this is to be done after staining, and before Polyurethane.)
Use some Poly. in a can (spray), and lightly go over you project. Let dry.
Repeat spraying at least one more time. Let dry.  If you apply to much Poly. the first time, it will break the putty down. If this happens,leave it alone. Do not try to wipe it off. You will smear the Poly. that you have applied. It's easier to chip it off when it's dry, and try again.

(Manufacturer recommends applying the Colored Putty after you Polyurethane your piece and it has dried)

Your choice of wood. Stain, gloves, Polyurethane, brushes, sponges, clean white shop towels, and Putty. (If needed)

Do's & Do Not's and Tips:

All of the above are listed throughout the instructions. Please follow the Manufacturer's suggestions. However, if they don't work for you, try mine. If you have questions email me.

Thanks for reading.
Richard (MFDC)
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