Staining Wood – Part #1

Staining can be either a very satisfying part of a finishing project, or it can be an annoying and frustrating problem. The difference lies in the kind of stain, type of wood, preparation of the wood, and the techniques used to apply the stain. This article should give you a better understanding of the different aspects of wood staining so that your next staining job will be both easier and more rewarding.

Why Stain Wood?

Staining often is chosen when finishing lighter woods such as pine, maple, birch, and oak because we want to make it match or resemble other types of wood, in order to color-coordinate with other furniture, or just to emphasize the grain and add additional beauty. These lighter woods need stain to give them color and character and to highlight the grain, while darker woods, such as mahogany, cherry and walnut, often look best without stain.

Preparation of the Wood

No finish will be smoother than the wood on which it goes, and there is no such thing as a good finish over poorly prepared wood. Proper preparation of the wood is the first and most important step before staining.

This preparation is even more important when staining wood after an old finish has been removed. Before staining this type of wood, be sure that all of the old finish is out of the wood and that the wood is bare and clean of grease, wax or dirt. Old finish or other foreign material (such as glue) left on the wood, could result in an uneven staining job. To clean the wood, use any good grade of mineral spirits or turpentine. The wood should then be sanded to eliminate scratches or marks in the wood.


Sanding is especially important in preparing the wood for a beautiful finish. There are many different types of sandpaper on the market; most are sold in 9 x 11″ sheets. There are also many different grades of sandpaper classified according to abrasive strength. The size of the particles determines the grit designation, which can range from “super-fine” (600 grit or 600 particles per square inch) to “coarse” (60 grit or 60 particles per square inch). The hardness and sharpness of the particles, the strength of the backing, and whether the backing and adhesive are waterproof, all determine how durable it will be. Considering all these factors, “open coat” garnet paper is usually the best choice. Garnet paper is the most popular sandpaper for sanding wood and is easy to recognize because of its reddish-brown color. It comes in grits from coarse to very fine and it is considerably more durable than flint paper due to the hardness and composition of its particles.

“Open coat” garnet paper has open spaces between the particles so that wood dust and other abraded materials are less likely to clog this type of paper. By contrast, flint paper is a light tan color, the most common and least expensive grade of sandpaper. In the long run, flint paper is not the bargain it appears to be. It does not cut as well nor as fast as garnet paper; also flint paper is more prone to clogging and wears out faster. Flint paper is about half the cost of garnet. However, garnet paper will last almost five times as long.

To be continued in Part 2

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