Picture this — You're in the middle of tackling another big DIY project on your to-do list. You’ve picked out a great colored stain that’s going to perfectly accentuate the grain and natural character or your boards. You carefully brush the stain onto the wood and wait. 


Hours pass and you realize that the wood is not absorbing the stain. The wood feels tacky and wet. “What is going on?” You may ask.


Has this ever happened to you? We’re here to help. We’ve rounded up our tips for applying stain and the most frequent mistakes when staining wood. 


Most Frequent Mistakes When Staining Wood


Applying stain straight to the board


A rookie mistake for applying stain is believing you don’t need to prepare your boards before applying the stain. It's easy to assume that you could just apply the stain to the wood without preparation and return to a board that looks just like the sample at the paint store.


Greatness starts with preparation. When staining a piece of timber, you should start by sanding the wood to eliminate any scratches or gouges on the board. Sanding each board opens up the pores in the wood, allowing the stain to absorb deeper and more evenly into the board or log. 


Start with a rougher, coarse grit by sanding it at 80 grit, and work your way up to 220 grit. When you’ve finished sanding each board, vacuum the dust off.


Note: If you are applying stain to an existing cabin home, your boards will likely still carry the mill glaze, which will stop the stain from absorbing into the wood to its full potential. To remove the mill glaze, heavily power wash the logs. Wearing a mask and glasses, you should use an orbital finish sander smooth out the boards. 


Ignoring the instructions


Not every brand of stain will apply the same as other brands. Make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on the can in case they recommend a particular application process. With cabins, most manufacturers recommend one of two applicators — airless sprayers and pump-up sprayers. If they say to use an airless sprayer, use an airless sprayer.


Using cold or moist boards


Boards with high moisture content or too cool of temperatures will decrease the stain’s absorption. Aim for your boards to have a moisture content under 20%. Your boards should be 45 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.


Changing Your Mind on Color


When it comes to staining wood, once you apply it to the wood you're more or less stuck with it. You can't just sand stain off like paint. Paint sits on top of the wood whereas stain literally stains the wood and penetrates the grain. When it comes to stain wood is practically a sponge. 


How to make wood absorb more stain


Condition Your Boards


To make your boards absorb evenly, use a wood conditioner after you’ve sanded the boards. Softwoods like cedar, pine or ash don’t always absorb and can turn out blotchy. A wood conditioner will stabilize the wood and allow it to absorb the stain for a consistent golden glow.


Mix it Up


Frequently stir your stain to ensure it's evenly mixed.


Back Brush Your Stain


Immediately after applying a coat of stain, vigorously back brush the boards. If you have a buddy helping you, they can work on back brushing behind you as you finish staining. This will eliminate blotches and penetrate deep into the grain. 


Dry between coats


Allow your boards to completely dry between coats of stain or it won’t have a chance to absorb evenly. Caulk between the boards, and come back to give your boards a second coat. 


Can you overstain wood?


Wood can only absorb so much stain. Once the board has absorbed as much stain as it can, the stain will just sit on top of the wood and feel tacky even if you let it dry for days. You should wipe your excess stain off with a clean cloth when you’re done applying. 


Lovitts Coating


Lovitt's Coatings provides deluxe products for wood and masonry for both the construction and restoration phases of your project. All our products are made in the USA with quality and environmental responsibility in mind. Our knowledgeable team is available to answer any other questions you may have about your project. Give us a call at (877) 966-3476

8 Comments

David F Rolewicz

Date 11/5/2020

I stained a piece of furniture top and it came out beautifully except for two areas. The stain did not seem to seep in. I re-sanded and put a preperation on and re-stained. It still did not take the stain well. How can I correct the situation?

Mike Whalen

Date 1/28/2021 4:56:29 PM

It could be many things: 1. There could be the original stain still in the wood. Wood has soft grain and hard grain areas. Pine is the most common wood that does that---and pine is also known for staining badly. The more dense grain takes very little stain, while the softer areas soak it up. 2. It could be silicone (most likely culprit is Pledge furniture polish), glues, wax or other contamination can cause stains not to grab. Dyes need to soak into the wood structure and pigments need somewhere to lodge. Considering that it is a spot or spots tells us that it is some type of contamination, you may have to rework the piece, including a chemical strip and sanding at a lower grit and working up to 180 grit (do not sand more than 180 grit)-good luck!

Lynn west

Date 11/18/2020

I have the same problem as David Rolewicz. I have three spots on top of a table that just won’t take the stain. I have sanded it off and tried again but the same problem is happening.

Mike Whalen

Date 1/28/2021 4:59:27 PM

Try chemical stripping, then sanding to get better results.

Ryan Newell

Date 1/4/2021

I have had the exact same problem as David and Lynn where there are two big spots on a board I’m trying to stain, but it will only accept a small amount of stain compared to the rest of the board. If anyone knows the solution please reply.

Mike Whalen

Date 1/28/2021 4:57:22 PM

It could be many things: 1. There could be the original stain still in the wood. Wood has soft grain and hard grain areas. Pine is the most common wood that does that---and pine is also known for staining badly. The more dense grain takes very little stain, while the softer areas soak it up. 2. It could be silicone (most likely culprit is Pledge furniture polish), glues, wax or other contamination can cause stains not to grab. Dyes need to soak into the wood structure and pigments need somewhere to lodge. Considering that it is a spot or spots tells us that it is some type of contamination, you may have to rework the piece, including a chemical strip and sanding at a lower grit and working up to 180 grit (do not sand more than 180 grit)-good luck!

Jane C.

Date 1/24/2021

I am staining banisters to match a dark floor. I selected a dark stain, sanded, and waited, but the stain was only visible in the small grains. What is going on here? After wiping, I sanded more and tried again and still nothing. I want to understand why this occurs. Thank you!

Mike Whalen

Date 1/28/2021 4:58:16 PM

Have you tried using a gel stain, it seems to take better on hard grain surfaces!

Mike

Date 1/28/2021

It could be many things: 1. There could be the original stain still in the wood. Wood has soft grain and hard grain areas. Pine is the most common wood that does that---and pine is also known for staining badly. The more dense grain takes very little stain, while the softer areas soak it up. 2. It could be silicone (most likely culprit is Pledge furniture polish), glues, wax or other contamination can cause stains not to grab. Dyes need to soak into the wood structure and pigments need somewhere to lodge. Considering that it is a spot or spots tells us that it is some type of contamination, you may have to rework the piece, including a chemical strip and sanding at a lower grit and working up to 180 grit (do not sand more than 180 grit)-good luck!

Laura Grandis

Date 3/27/2021

I am trying to touch up my breakfast chairs. They are supposed to be distressed Looking but not to this degree. After I’m done fixing them/destroying them I’d like to use a water based spray polyurethane product on them. I have several questions since I’m not very experienced working with wood. 1. was washing the chairs and as I was wiping them this waxie material started to flake off on the arms of the chairs. Is that some type of finish or it built up dirt? I tried to get it off so I ended up sanding the chairs some 2. The chairs have a faux black finish on the edges of the wood eg the arm rests. The chairs were very rough so I sanded the edges to make them smooth. Though it was already chipped the sanding took off more of that black edging. What product do I use to get that black lined look on the wood edges? I’ve tried the furniture scratch markers but the wood won’t pick up the color. What do I do? I actually thought of using a black permanent marker on the edges but I’m thinking that’s a bad idea. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier I want to spray polyurethane the chairs. Help

Laura Grandis

Date 3/27/2021

I am trying to touch up my breakfast chairs. They are supposed to be distressed Looking but not to this degree. After I’m done fixing them/destroying them I’d like to use a water based spray polyurethane product on them. I have several questions since I’m not very experienced working with wood. 1. was washing the chairs and as I was wiping them this waxie material started to flake off on the arms of the chairs. Is that some type of finish or it built up dirt? I tried to get it off so I ended up sanding the chairs some 2. The chairs have a faux black finish on the edges of the wood eg the arm rests. The chairs were very rough so I sanded the edges to make them smooth. Though it was already chipped the sanding took off more of that black edging. What product do I use to get that black lined look on the wood edges? I’ve tried the furniture scratch markers but the wood won’t pick up the color. What do I do? I actually thought of using a black permanent marker on the edges but I’m thinking that’s a bad idea. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier I want to spray polyurethane the chairs. Help

Aaron

Date 4/11/2021

Reading the previous answers a chemical stripper was recommended for spots that won’t take stain in pine. Do you have a specific product in mind?

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