Interior Wood Finishing Basics
Popular Woods Staining Guide
These hardwoods are popular in the unfinished furniture industry. However, they absorb stain unevenly. Wood conditioner is recommended.
These hardwoods have strong grain patterns and large, open pores that absorb stain readily. Very attractive in nearly any color of stain
Often substituted for maple in furniture and kitchen cabinets because it is inexpensive. Does not absorb stain evenly. Wood conditioner is recommended.
Has a subtle grain pattern and small pores which do not absorb as much stain, making it difficult to make any significant changes to its color. Most woodworkers prefer to keep this wood natural in color.
Typically additional staining is not necessary. Always use an oil-based stain to ensure compatibility with the natural oils in these woods.
Is extremely dense, tight-pored wood that does not absorb stain well, even after the application of pre-stain conditioner. Not recommended to stain.
A popular hardwood with a strong grain pattern and large, open pores that absorb stain readily. Very attractive in nearly any color of stain.
These species absorb stain unevenly, especially around knots and blemishes. Always use a pre-stain wood conditioner to lessen the appearance of blotches.
Has a grain pattern similar to cherry, but lacks the same reddish hue. When stained with colors containing red dyes and pigments poplar can be made to look like cherry but is less expensive.
Sanding is one of the most important steps in wood finishing. A thorough sanding is often what separates acceptable results from beautiful results.
Sand in the direction of the grain for a smooth, uniform finish and remove all sanding dust using a vacuum, tack cloth, dry paint brush or cloth.
End-grains (areas where the wood has been cut against the grain), such as the front side of a table, tend to soak up more stain than surfaces cut with the grain. With additional sanding to end-grain areas, you can better control the absorption of stain.
Rough sandpaper below 100-grit is only used to quickly remove wood or layers of old finish. Medium sandpaper 100-grit and 120-grit is ideal for removing shallow scratches, dents and rough edges that could cause splinters. Either of these two grits can be used for a first sanding of most projects. A final sanding with fine sandpaper 220-grit will remove any scratches left by the medium sandpaper and will eliminate any remaining loose fibers in the wood.
Choosing a Stain Color
When deciding on which stain color to use, don’t forget that each of the unique wood species will absorb the stains differently. The type of wood species you select will affect the way the stain may appear after it has been applied on the wood. As a best practice, it is always a good idea to first test the stain color on a hidden section of the wood you are using. This way, you will be able to see the way the stain affects your chosen wood before fully committing to applying the stain to the rest of the wood. The final color result you will achieve is determined by the color of the stain selected, the species of wood selected, how porous the wood species is, and how long the stain is left on the wood.
So the stain doesn't leave blotches on the wood, always apply a thin coat of wood conditioner first, using an inexpensive brush. Give the conditioner about 15 minutes to dry before applying the stain – but don’t sand it; there’s no need.
Apply stain with a brush or a rag, depending on preference. All that matters is applying a nice, even, liberal coat over the wood.
Be sure to wipe off all the excess stain going in the direction of the grain of the wood. That will guarantee that the stain gets into the wood, instead of laying on top – and it really shows off the grain of the wood to advantage. Grab another clean dry cloth often to prevent swirl marks from wiping with stain-saturated cloth.
Stain only provides color, not a finish. Always apply a finish on top of stained wood.
- Never store rags in a pile. Used rags should be spread out in a safe flat area to dry. If you lay them out on your garage floor or driveway, weight them down so the wind does not blow them away. Once they are dry, check with your city or municipality for disposal instructions. Do not store near other flammable material.
- Store the rags in an airtight, non-combustible metal container. If you plan to use your rags later, this step is critical. The metal container should be filled with a solution of water and an oil breakdown detergent.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Since manufacturers use different oils in their products, it is important to follow their warnings and disposal instructions. They may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Whether you choose to stain your wood or not, you must apply a clear protective finish. It will add richness and depth while protecting the wood from nicks, scrapes, splits and everyday wear.
Choose the right brush. Use natural brushes for oil-based finishes and synthetic-bristle brushes for water-based and water-based oil finishes. Always brush with the grain. It's the best way to work the finish into the wood pores and ensure an even appearance.
Smooth a dry coating with fine sandpaper between finish coat.
Apply thin coats. Thick ones take longer to dry and are more likely to drip or wrinkle. Do not overwork the finish. Simply apply a thin coat and move on to the next area to prevent brush marks.