6 Wood staining tips and tricks

What Is Wood Stain?

Wood stain is a semi-transparent coating that penetrates the wood to add color while preserving the wood’s natural characteristics, such as color and grain patterns.

A solvent is used to soak pigment into the wood fibers during the staining process, after which the pigment sets and binds to the wood. While stain does provide some UV protection, as it infuses the color into the wood rather than adding a coating of color on top of it, it is mostly employed for ornamental purposes.

Stain is available in many various colors, including non-wood colors, although the most common options are frequently found in shades of wood like Oak, Mahogany, and Teak. This keeps the wood’s original look intact while increasing its inherent attractiveness.

It is advised to apply a protective clear topcoat in conjunction with a wood stain, such as varnish if extra durability is necessary to achieve the best results.

Whether you’ve found an exciting piece of furniture that you want to upcycle or you want to give your wooden furniture a new lease of life, wood staining is a great way of giving a new lease of life to hardwood items. Wood staining is a task that can be completed with minimal DIY skills, however, it pays to do your research before starting as it can get messy if you’re not careful. In this article, we explore 6 wood staining tips and tricks to get your wooden items shining brightly.

1. Which wooden items need staining?

Before getting started, it is important to think about whether the item you are considering staining requires this process. The purpose of wood staining is, ultimately, to improve the look of the wooden surface and allows you to alter the color of the wood to either a different natural shade or an alternative color entirely.

Wood staining is an ideal solution for tired pieces of wooden indoor furniture that you wish to enhance but it will not provide protection if your wooden item is to be exposed outside. If you are wanting to improve the strength and durability of items that will be exposed to the elements you will be better off using a wood sealer for this purpose.

2. Choosing the right stain

Once you’ve decided that staining is the correct course of action, you now need to think about which type of wood stain you need for your project. There are many different categories of stain to choose from (not to mention color!), however, the main consideration is whether you go for an oil stain or water-based stain.

Oil stains are made up of a linseed oil base and take a long time to dry, this is helpful if you are painting a large area and are hoping for a smooth and consistent finish such as when staining wooden floors. Water-based stains are generally easier to apply than oil stains and have the benefit of releasing less of an odor, and are less toxic. They are much quicker to dry than oil stains (drying in about 24 hours) so make sure you consider this in relation to which surface you’re intending to paint.

3. Prepare your surface

As with all quality DIY jobs, preparation is key to ensure a quality finish. Jumping straight in with your wood stain runs the risk of those uneven surfaces being highlighted even more and if there is any dust on the surface then this will create a messy finish.

To ensure a good finish when applying your wood stain it is important to sand your item first. Give the item a thorough once over with your sandpaper in the direction of the grain and smooth out any snags. Once you are satisfied that there is no more sanding to do, give the item a good brush down to ensure all the dust is removed and go over with a tack cloth to remove any lingering dust particles.

4. Apply a pre-stain conditioner

While not essential, applying a pre-stain conditioner beforehand can really enhance the overall appearance of your project. The pre-stain conditioner treatment can be used on any wood but softwoods are particularly fond of this. The benefit of treating the wood in this way before applying the wood stain is that it can enhance the absorption of the stain and reduces the likelihood of blotches appearing on the surface. Definitely worth the effort if you can bring yourself to do it.

5. How to apply wood stain

Once your surface is prepped, you’re ready for the main event. There are a variety of tools you can use to wood stain, but we recommend a staining pad to do the job. Try out a staining pad which is ideal to apply stain to any surface and ensures smooth application without blemishes or drips. Ensure you give the wood stain a good stir before use and then apply evenly using your tool of choice.

6. A smooth finish

For the ultimate wood stain treatment, finishing off with a layer of top-coat will ensure you’re project looks the best it possibly can. It is a good idea for your top-coat to be made of the same material as your wood stain (so if using an oil stain go for an oil-based varnish for your top-coat). However, this isn’t always essential so make sure you check the small print before purchasing.

The best way to apply the top-coat is with a brush, and the type of brush you will need will depend on the varnish. You will need a brush made of natural bristles if using an oil-based varnish and for a water-based varnish a synthetic brush.

Applying wood stain is a simple yet effective way of revamping wooden items inside your house. It can either help the wood to reclaim its original color, or allow you to be experimental with a totally different style. Whatever you decide, make sure you follow our top tips and tricks for using wood stain!

Backdrop of wooden planks with smooth surface

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wood Stain

There are benefits and drawbacks to choosing a wood stain for your solid wood dining table, just as with any other treatment.


  1. Accentuates the natural color and texture of the wood. It is not surprising that wood stains are chosen to assist showcase the texture and color since many people choose solid wood dining tables owing to the inherent beauty of solid wood.
  2. The color options are numerous. You have a variety of options to choose from, whether you want a clear stain to just emphasize the wood’s natural beauty or a colored stain to match other furniture in your home.
  3. It is easy to do yourself. The beauty of staining wood is that anyone, regardless of talent, may do it themselves at home.


  1. It does not offer long-term security. The wood is not protected by stains from water, scratches, or regular wear and tear; however, it can provide some protection against UV radiation, which can cause the wood to fade and discolor over time.
  2. While certain stains can last up to five years when applied to a solid wood table that is often used without a protective coating
  3. It might be challenging to get a wood stain out. It is far more difficult to remove a stain since it enters the wood, as opposed to paint, which lies on the wood’s surface and may be sanded off.  

brown wooden handle brush on brown wooden table

Types of Wood Stains

Oil- or water-based wood stains contain dyes or pigments that seep into the wood to highlight the grain. Varnishes, shellacs, lacquers, natural oils, and water-based finishes are examples of clear wood treatments that shield wood from moisture or sunlight.

Water-Based Stains

Fewer VOCs are often released by water-based stains, which are also easy to remove with soap and water and dry rapidly. But avoid stains that do by consulting the manufacturer or looking at the MSDS because glycol ether solvents can be harmful. To boost durability, use a clear water-based finish over a water-based stain.

Natural Oil-Based Stains

Unlike water-based stains, natural (plant-based) oil-based stains are long-lasting and don’t need a sealer. Nonetheless, they might emit more VOCs. For some jobs, oil-based stains with reduced VOCs could be a useful option.

Oil or Synthetic-Based Stains

Stains made of oil or synthetic materials and bound with acrylic or urethane can produce a lot of VOCs and contain hazardous compounds. These stains are typically used outside since they are more water-resistant than water-based stains.

Varnish Wood Stain

With one exception—varnish wood stains dry hard—they are quite similar to oil-based stains. While there is less time to wash off the excess, often within 15 minutes, compared to oil-based stains that need to be removed before it hardens, they are typically more challenging to apply than other stains.

Gel Wood Stain

Gel wood stains have a jelly-like consistency that stops the stain from dripping or flowing like other stains do. Gel wood stains may be applied much more easily, but they do not penetrate wood as deeply as oil-based stains and can take a very long time to cure.