How to Stain Wood Furniture Like a Pro
Wood furniture pieces that have seen better days can be revived after you sand and stain them. Staining a wood furniture piece can bring back its original look. Or, you can entirely change the appearance of wood chairs, chests, nightstands, or tables by applying a good wood stain of a different color and tone.
Before You Begin
Successful furniture staining is all about careful prep work. The piece must completely be sanded down to bare wood to accept the stain. Any remaining paint, stain, or coating will affect the appearance of the furniture when you stain it.
Test the stain on an inconspicuous section of the wood before staining the entire piece.
Work in well-ventilated areas when using stains or coatings. Be sure to wear breathing protection. Stain is difficult to remove from skin, so wear latex or latex-substitute gloves when working with stain. Always wear eye protection. Ingestion can cause burning or pain in the eyes, nose and throat.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Oscillating sander
- Foam sanding block
- Microfiber staining pads
- Shop vacuum
- Microfiber cloth
- Tack cloth
- Cloth dropcloth or contractor masking paper
- Empty 1-quart paint pail
- Eye and breathing protection
- Latex gloves
- Clear coating
Prepare Work Area and Furniture for Sanding
Choose a ventilated, protected area, such as outside under a patio cover, in a garage with the door open, or in a well-ventilated shop. Avoid windy areas, since wind can deposit dust and other debris on your work. Place plastic sheeting under the wood furniture before sanding it down. Remove everything from the furniture that will not be sanded, including hinges, knobs, and decorative pieces. Place these items in plastic bags and set them aside.
Carefully sand down the wood furniture. Begin sanding by hand with a sanding block or foam sanding sponge to level down lumpy paint or lacquer. Move to the power sander with fine-grit sandpaper such as #220 for the flat surfaces. Chair spindles can be sanded down by wrapping the sandpaper around the surface and sliding it up and down by hand.
With the shop vacuum brush attachment and the tack cloth, thoroughly clean the furniture to remove all dust. Test for cleanliness by wiping it down with a clean, white microfiber cloth.
Do not press firmly on the tack cloth. Doing so can embed wax into the wood, necessitating further sanding.
Prepare Area for Staining
Remove the furniture from the area. Remove the sheet plastic carefully to avoid spreading dust. Replace the plastic sheet with a cloth dropcloth or with contractor masking paper. Elevate the piece on scrap pieces of two-by-four for better access to the bottom of the piece.
Wearing latex gloves, open the can with a paint can opening tool or a screwdriver. With a paint stirring stick or a popsicle-style wood stick, slowly stir the stain to mix it up. Do not shake the can. Pour the stain into the empty 1-quart paint pail.
Use the microfiber staining pad or brush to stain the wood furniture. To do so, dip part of the pad in the stain and squeeze out the excess. Then, wipe the stain across the wood furniture. Start with the most visible areas, ending with less visible areas.
Wipe Excess Stain
As you are staining, occasionally go back and wipe off excess stain with a fresh microfiber cloth. Wiping off the excess stain creates a more consistent color and prevents blotchy areas. Don't progress too far on the piece before coming back to wipe off excess, since excess stain will eventually soak into the piece and create dark spots. Working in the direction of the wood grain will provide the best visual results.
Let Stain Dry
Wood stain dries to the touch fairly quickly and you can move the piece within a couple of hours, if needed. Let the piece dry in a warm, dust-free area.
Apply Protective Coating
After the wood furniture is fully dry, apply a clear protective coating. Applying water- or oil-based polyurethane spray is a good way to protect the piece, while letting the beauty of the stain show through.
Spray only in an area free of drafts. Drafts create overspray. Overspray is not visible, but it does result in a rough surface that can be fixed only by a final sanding with fine-grit #320 or #220 sandpaper.
When to Call a Professional
It's often best to have a professional furniture restorer stain wood furniture with delicate or intricate texturing and designs, as these areas can be difficult to sand. For antique pieces of value, it's worthwhile to have a professional take on the project rather than attempting to do it by yourself.
Wood Stains. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.