Steve Maxwell, interior wood to stain, Sudbury, DIY wood sealers
This acacia wood table top is being refinished with oil. It takes at least four coats of oil for durable results, but scuffs and wear can be easily fixed later. Steve Maxwell
Got some interior wood to stain this winter?
When people talk about staining, they usually mean more than just creating a darker, richer colour with liquid or gel. If your wood finishing plans involve trim, floors, cabinets or furniture, you’re really after more than just colour. Your wood needs protection, too. It’s a two-step process that still manages to stump too many people – both homeowners and pros.
Stain is any liquid or gel that’s applied to bare wood to change its colour. Stains can be solvent-based or water-based and some stains also offer a bit of surface protection, too.
Sealer is the second product in a typical interior wood finishing job and it can be any liquid designed to form a protective coating within the pores of wood or as a film over top. Making wood smoother, less vulnerable to dirt, and more damage-resistant is what sealers are all about.
Water-based or oil-based urethanes are the most common type of DIY wood sealers, but lacquer, varnish, shellac and finishing oils are also sealers to consider.
Oils, in particular, are under-appreciated and especially useful because they can be easily repaired.
Visit baileylineroad.com/oil-finishes-beautiful-and-repairable for detailed information on successful oil finishing.
So, stain goes on first to add colour, followed by one or more coats of sealer for protection and depth of sheen. But staining and sealing are only the second and third steps in any successful wood finishing campaign. Failure to properly complete step#1 is where most people make trouble for themselves.
This 1/4-sheet finishing sander is being used with 240-grit sandpaper to smooth urethane before applying another coat. Robert Maxwell jpg, SU
Step#1: Start with Sanding
Success depends on sanding because wood stain always brings out surface flaws that look a whole lot worse after finishing than they did before. Start with an 80-grit abrasive if the wood shows marks left behind by the milling process or a 100-grit abrasive if it seems smoother. Sand in the direction of the wood grain only.
Step#2: Stain for Colour
Stain is traditionally applied by brushing or wiping on the wood first, then wiping off everything that doesn’t soak in. This colours the wood without leaving any residue on the surface to hide wood grain. Although you can apply stain with a brush or rag in any direction, always complete final wiping parallel to the wood grain.
Step#3: Seal for Protection
Although some stains are engineered to offer a small amount of sealing action without a clear top coat, most demand more protection than a sealing stain alone. Tables, kitchen cabinets and bookshelves are the kind of items that benefit from a couple of additional coats of clear sealer over any stain, to protect against dirt and grease.
Step#4: Sand Between Coats
Regardless of how successfully you sanded your wood before staining, it will feel rough after this first coat of clear sealer dries. This happens because microscopic wood fibres on the surface soak up the sealer, then swell and stand up before hardening. This roughness happens more with water-based urethanes than oil-based, but it’s easily fixed with some light sanding using fine sandpaper.
A 1/4 sheet finishing sander with 220- or 240-grit open coat paper works well for large, flat sections of wood, as long as hand pressure is kept light.
For narrow edges and corners, I use this same sandpaper by hand. Curved or detailed areas are best smoothed with steel wool for oil-based finishes or a synthetic equivalent like Siawool if you’re using waterbased products.
Just be careful. Even an abrasive as fine as 240-grit sandpaper can easily wear through the delicate first coat of finish. Failing to sand between coats is the biggest single reason why wood finishes turn out badly.
Wood finishing is one of those things that’s surprisingly easy when you understand the reliable, four-step process.
Steve Maxwell has been finishing wood since the mid-1980s. Visit him online at BaileyLineRoad.com for how-to articles, videos and inspiration.