4 Steps to a Flawless Stain

A few weeks ago, I stained our master bedroom headboard. I hadn’t done a staining project for quite some time, so I basically had to relearn how best to apply a stain.

My dad always taught me that the finish is what sets a project apart aesthetically. So if you’re going to stain or paint, take your time and make sure you understand what you’re doing. If you’re hesitant, do a few tests of scrape pieces of wood. Each wood species accepts finish, especially stain, differently. My advice: tread lightly when staining. You don’t want to spend 20 hours on a project only to hate it because of the finish!

If you’ve never stained before, beware: it can be tricky. Luckily, I’ve discovered 4 easy steps to dominating any staining project you try and tackle!

  1. Make sure you sand, sand, sand your project! Start with a medium grit sandpaper such as 80 grit or 100 grit and work your way up to a medium fine grit, such as 150 grit or 220 grit. Typically when I’m staining, I’ll start with 120 grit and finish with 220 grit. The key to sanding is to always remember: the devil’s in the details. Sanding opens up the pores of the wood so that it’ll accept the stain more easily. (Notice I said easily, not evenly – more on that in step three).
  2. After you’ve finished sanding with a medium fine/fine grit sandpaper, brush off all the sand particles. If it’s a larger project, such as a headboard, I take a vacuum with a soft bristle brush and vacuum up the fine particles. After vacuuming, I’ll take a tack cloth and wipe it off a second time just to make sure I get everything. Bits of residual wood pieces will definitely show up when you go to stain, so be extra sure you’ve removed every speck from your project.
  3. In order for your wood to accept the stain evenly, I recommend using a pre-stain wood conditioner. Wood conditioners and stains come in two forms – oil based and water based. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re consistent. If you pick an oil based wood conditioner, you have to work with an oil based stain. Don’t mix and match!
  4. Allow the wood conditioner to penetrate the wood for at least 15 minutes. Within 2 hours of application, apply the first coat of stain. I typically use a rag to apply stain. It leaves less pooling on the wood which means less work because you don’t have to go back and wipe off excess. The only downside to using a rag: your hands will get covered in stain. Make sure you remove jewelry before this step! Also, if you’re using an oil based stain, you’ll need mineral spirits to remove the stain from your hands 🙂

Hopefully these tips help you in your staining and finishing endeavors! If you think I missed a crucial step or you have some words of advice, leave it in the comments!

What was the last project you stained and how did it turn out? 


2 thoughts on “4 Steps to a Flawless Stain

    • Very true! I find that gloves get in the way though, so I just remove all jewelry and double check to make sure I have a ton of mineral spirits on hand 🙂

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