barb blairbefore & after basicsbefore and after

before and after basics: staining tips

by Barb

hello friends! welcome to thursday and another edition of before and after basics where we are going to discuss staining furniture! the process of staining furniture is not a difficult process per se, but just like the other topics we’ve discussed, you need  time, patience, and a little sweat equity in order to reap great rewards in the end! are you ready to get started? let’s go! –barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

you will need:

*sandpaper or a foam sanding block

*foam brushes/ or natural bristle brushes {preferred by me!}

*lots of lint-free rags

*a canvas or plastic drop cloth or tarp


*a small paint tray or flat pan

*finishing layer such as polyurethane or wax

*a can of stain in the color of your choice

*stir sticks


how to:

1. one of the first things you will want to nail down is your choice of stain and color {i prefer minwax stains}. stains come in so many colors, so feel free to expand beyond the natural wood tones! make sure that you do not choose a stain and varnish in one, as these have to be brushed on and cannot be wiped off like a regular stain can be. i totally tend to be a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of girl when it comes to color and texture, but if you are a little more on the cautious side you may want to test the stain you have chosen on a scrap piece of wood to ensure that you like the color and finish it will give you.

2. choose your applicator. you can use foam brushes or a staining pad but i really prefer a natural bristle brush. apply a pre stain sealer if needed for a smooth even finish. { ask the sales rep where you purchase your stain if they feel like this is a necessary step for your particular project, each project is different}

3. select your finishing coat. you can select a high-gloss, satin, eggshell, or matte finish depending on what you like { i am a matte girl all the way!}. remember that a high-gloss finish will accentuate any imperfections in the wood surface.  don’t panic when you see the finish in the can and it looks milky… i promise it will dry clear.  when you get to the finishing step, i would suggest at least 2-3 coats of a water based poly…sanding lightly between each coat and then a final coat of wax to seal the deal!

4. sand your piece entirely! you can use an orbital sander for the flat parts but you will want to use a sanding pad and/ or steel wool for detail areas such as spindles and decorative trim.

5.  vacuum and wipe down entire piece with a damp, lint free rag to remove all sanding dust.

6. place the drop cloth or tarp underneath your piece, and you can also add a layer of newspaper on top to catch all of the stain drips that you may have. stir your stain. make sure that you stir rather than shake as the shaking will cause bubbles in the stain that will transfer onto your piece.

7. apply the stain in smooth light strokes. it is better to do 2-3 light coats rather than one thick coat. make sure that you do one section at a time. i personally like to start with the most noticeable sections first. for example a table top, desk top, or sides of a piece, etc. then, make sure you have plenty of lint free rags on hand, and wipe off the excess stain after applying. if you don’t wipe off the excess your finish will become sticky and uneven. remember that the longer you leave your stain on, the stronger the color will be.

8. allow the stain to dry completely. i have found that it takes about 48 hrs in the humidity that i live in, but if you are in a drier climate it may only take 24 hrs. also, make sure your piece can dry in a traffic and dust free area as it will be sticky and collect whatever floats its way! i have a funny story here: one time i had just finished applying stain to a beautiful black painted piece, and i wanted to help the drying time, so i turned a fan on and pointed it right at the piece….. totally a bad move! everything, and i mean everything that was on the floor and floating around in the air blew all over the piece and it was a fuzzy, linty mess! i had to let it dry completely , sand it down and re apply the stain. so, lesson learned….no fans! :)

9. after your piece is completely dry and to your level of satisfaction use either your water based poly or wax { i prefer the wax} to finish your piece. make sure to follow the directions on the can for application. i like to apply the wax with a lint free cloth and then when it is dry, i buff it out with a pair of tights or hose . it gives a gorgeous finish….i promise!

there you have it friends!

* i did not have process images for the black desk piece of mine, so the two process images are courtesy of the fabulous centsational girl

Suggested For You


  • I’m getting ready to move into my new house and I have several pieces of furniture that really need a facelift (and a new color to match my decor). I haven’t ever stained anything before, so I’ve been on the hunt for some good tips, tricks, and instructions on how to go about this. I’m sure I’ll still make some mistakes that I’ll need to learn from, but these are great tips!

  • This may have already been answered in the comments or in another thread – sorry if it’s a duplicate. What kind of wax do you recommend for the topcoat? My husband and I used General Finishes Gel Stain to refinish a dresser/bookcase/toybox/crib for our nursery and now just need a top coat – wondering what might be the best option. Any info/tips you can give me would be great! Thank you in advance.

  • I am working on a dresser right now. I have already sanded the piece. It had few chips and cracks on top and on drawers. So i used wood filler and sanded it to get a smoth look. Now i am not sure if i can still use stain or i should go with paint to cover the wood fillers.
    I look forward to hear your suggestions.

    • If it’s a wood color you should be able to stain over it
      Without it being noticeable. The filler you used should say if it’s able to be stained.

  • Hi,
    I am refinishing an old deakon’s bench and after sanding, using an antique varnish remover, conditioning and then staining, I am noticing that in some places the wood looks dull and in other places that colour is vibrant. What am I doing wrong. Will applying the final satin clear coat correct this or will I have to start over? Thank you :)

  • I am staining a table top and have two coats on it but it is looking very streaky. What am I doing wrong. I have not sanded between coats.

  • Thanks for these tips for staining wood. I have a few pieces of wood furniture that I would like to restore by staining them. It helps that you pointed out how long I should allow it to dry after applying the stain if I live in a humid environment. I live in a town that has really high humidity all year round, so I’ll keep in mind that it will take about forty eight hours for it to dry. Knowing that will help me feel more patient and get a better result out of my wood furniture.

    • Kelly

      No, you don’t have to seal it. But if you’d like it to stay protected and be handed down as a family piece, sealing is a great idea and worth the time.


  • I sanded and re-stained the underside of a drop leaf mahogany table. To keep the mahogany from bleeding through to my final finish coat, I applied a sealer. It has been three days since I did the seal. The table still is not dry. What do you think is the problem?

  • Great tips, I do have a question, how long should one wait to use a piece of furniture after it has been stained?

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