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How To Paint & Stain

How To Stain

Indoor Staining

1. Repair As Needed with Wood Putty

The steps to staining wood begin with examining what you plan to stain. If the wood has damage on the surface, use wood putty or filler to fill in any holes or divots.

Sand and clean the surface of the wood. Then, apply wood filler using a putty knife. Once filler is dry, sand the area until the surface is level and smooth. Then apply stain or other finish as desired.

2. Sand Thoroughly

When preparing wood for stain, you’ll need to sand its surface. Use a sanding sponge or orbital sander. Sandpaper with a lower grit number will make wood rougher, allowing more stain to absorb and creating a darker color.

Start with 120-grit sandpaper for pieces that already have a finish. With unfinished wood, start with 80-grit sandpaper and then treat it as if you're refinishing it.

When you have removed imperfections and sanded the entire surface, wipe off the dust and loose sandpaper grit.

Sand with 180-grit until you've removed all the marks left by the 120-grit and the surface appears level and then brush clean.

3. Wet the Wood

Wipe down the wood to raise the grain. If you don't raise the grain at this point in the process, the stain will raise it later. However, re-sanding to get the wood smooth again removes much of the stain.

Let the wood dry, then sand with 180 to 220-grit paper. Remove dust with a clean cloth.

4. Apply Conditioner or Filler as Needed

Some softwoods, like pine, and some hardwoods, such as cherry, turn blotchy when stained. In this case, consider applying a pre-stain wood conditioner, which seeps into the wood fibers to seal the material and prevent the uneven absorption that causes blotching.

If you use a gel stain, you can apply it without needing a conditioner.

Some woods such as mahogany and oak have an open-grain structure that needs filling to provide a smooth finish. Grain filler is a pigmented paste that comes in a variety of colors. Choose one to match the wood or stain color and apply with paint brushes or rags to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Remove excess with a scraper and lightly sand after drying.

stain_wood 5. Stain the Wood

Thoroughly stir the wood stain before applying.

Use a rag or cloth instead of a sponge, which may absorb the stain. When applying, the cloth should be wet but not dripping. Test on a piece of scrap wood.

You can apply stain across the grain of the wood or with the grain of the wood. The way you apply the stain onto the wood is less important than applying plenty of it. Follow Cloverdale Paint’s directions for the staining application instructions.

It's better to apply thinner coats and add more as needed, rather than apply too much and have a darker color than you want.

6. Remove Excess Stain

Remove the excess stain with paint rags by wiping with the grain. If the stain has dried too much, it will be difficult to remove. Loosen it by applying more stain and rubbing vigorously. If it dries hard, paint thinner will loosen it.

7. Apply Sealant as Needed

Applying a topcoat sealer is not required, but a finish protects the stained wood from scratches and keeps it from fading over time.

If applying a polyurethane wood finish with a brush, apply one to two coats.

If using a spray can, hold 8 to 12 inches from the surface and apply two or three light coats.

Outdoor Staining

Time It Right

Stain wood when it hasn’t rained for three days and when the forecast calls for at least two days of dry weather (or two and a half days if you need to apply two coats of stain) with temperatures between 50° F and 90° F and low to average humidity. This allows the stain to soak in and dry properly. But be mindful of light, too. Our experts note that direct sunlight can cause the stain to dry too quickly before the wood can absorb it. If you’re working on a project that gets direct light, pick a time of day (usually early morning to midmorning or late afternoon) that will give the stain several hours to permeate and dry before the sun hits it.

Remove Wood Stain

If you’re working on a previously stained deck, fence, or piece of outdoor furniture, you need to remove the old stain to ensure a uniform appearance and proper permeation of the new stain. Start by using a stiff-bristled nylon brush and deck cleaner—sold at home centers and hardware stores—to remove any flaking or peeling stain. For the remaining stain, coat your deck, fence, or furniture with wood stain remover (also called wood stain stripper) and allow it to work for the time specified on the packaging, typically about 20 to 30 minutes. Then use the nylon brush and water to clean away the stripped stain, revealing the bare wood below. Repeat the application for any spots that don’t come clean. Allow a day for the wood to dry out before sanding and prepping.

Choose the Right Tools

The best brushes and rollers allow for smooth, even layers. So, make sure you have:

A synthetic-bristled brush: These brushes work best with water-based stains (the only type we test because they’re easier and safer to use than oil-based stains). Synthetics maintain their integrity, whereas natural bristles can become limp as they absorb the water in the finish.

A short-nap roller: A ¼-inch or shorter nap allows each stain layer to adhere to the wood and prevents pooling. Rollers with a longer nap will apply too much stain at once, making it hard to get even coverage.

Prep the Wood

These extra steps, taken before you even open a can of stain, will help make your stain go on more easily.

Sand the wood: Smoothing out any blemishes, splinters, or splits goes a long way to ensure an even application.

Start with coarse sandpaper to remove damaged spots, then progress up to finer grits to create a smoother surface prior to staining. Remember to sweep or wipe down the wood surfaces once you’re done. Use a putty knife to clean between deck boards.

Make sure the surfaces are clean: If you have an old, unstained deck, or one from which the stain has worn off, use deck cleaner, a scrub brush, and pressure clean it at least a day before you plan to apply the stain. Let the wood dry for as long as directed by the instructions on your can of wood stain. For newly built wood structures, which don’t need a cleaning, simply wait six to eight weeks after installation for the wood to fully dry before applying stain.

Set Yourself Up

Read the instructions on the can carefully: This will tell you how much coverage you can expect from a single can—and whether you’ll need more at the ready. It will also tell you how much drying time the product needs.

Protect yourself: “Use a combination of chemical-resistant gloves, aprons, and even a face shield to prevent stain from getting on your skin.

Apply the Wood Stain Evenly

An even application of stain across all surfaces will prevent water and UV rays from permeating the wood. To achieve this, apply a thin coat with a brush or roller. Don’t stop in the middle of a board or let puddles form because the excess stain will dry on top of the wood and flake off. Stir the stain as you go to keep it well-blended.

Decide between a roller and a brush: Rollers are best for large, flat surfaces, like a flat deck railing or fence panel. Brushes can help you get into tighter spots, like between deck boards or individual pickets on a fence, but they also make it easier for the stain to pool in one spot.

Or try back brushing: An ideal balance can be a process called back brushing. That means using both your brush and roller: Start in tough-to-reach spots with a brush, working quickly to ensure even coverage. Then roll back over the entire surface with a roller. In addition to helping, you avoid pooling, the roller will ensure complete coverage and prevent brush marks.

How Long Does Wood Stain Take to Dry?

It can take 1 to 48 hours. That range may seem huge, but typically, fast-drying clear sealants can take as little as an hour, while some solid stains, which have lots of color pigment, take a day or longer to dry. The Cloverdale Paint packaging will typically have three pieces of information.

Time to dry: This is how long stain takes to dry, after which you can walk on the surface of a deck or sit on a newly stained chair. But note that newly stained surfaces are still vulnerable to damage until the stain is fully cured.

Time to recoat: If you’re applying multiple coats of sealer or stain, this is how long you need to wait between applications.

Time to cure: Even once a stain dries, it may need up to several days or even weeks to fully cure before it provides maximum protection. This is how long you should wait before throwing a party on your recently stained deck, or before dragging grills, firepits, or heavy furniture across the surface.