How to Stain Furniture a Cherry Color

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Staining furniture can be messy, but with these careful steps, you'll bring new life to a bookcase, a dresser, or table in no time. Plus, you'll feel a real sense of accomplishment when it's done.

Things You'll Need

  • Well-ventilated area, such as a porch or patio
  • Newspaper, plastic garbage bag or other drop cloth
  • Clothes you don't mind getting dirty
  • Gloves (latex or vinyl)
  • Dust mask
  • Furniture stain
  • Sandpaper
  • Clean rags
  • Foam applicators or brushes
  • Paint tray
  • Screwdriver (optional)
  • SELECT YOUR STAIN. Wood stain is sold in water-based and oil-based finishes. Water-based stain cleans up with soap and water but dries extremely quickly (it can penetrate wood within a few minutes). For this reason, manufacturers recommend that if you're staining a large area, or if you're simply unsure of your technique, go with an oil-based stain. It'll give you more time to correct any gaffes. Some oil-based finishes now are available in a more environmentally friendly, low-VOC formula, which takes longer to dry. There's also gel stain, which is a thicker formula that doesn't drip -- ideal for staining a vertical surface, like the side of a bookcase. I've always used oil-based stain. For extra protection (and to save yourself a step at the end), you can purchase a stain-polyurethane mix.

  • PICK YOUR COLOR. The color of your finished furniture will depend on the color of the stain you choose, how many coats of stain you apply and whether your furniture is unfinished or has a previous coat of stain on it. I've seen cherry furniture appear very light and very dark. Some colors you might find suitable in the Minwax® 250 VOC Compliant Wood Finish™ are Cherry (#235) and Red Chestnut (#232). To test the color, buy a small can and apply a small swipe of stain on a part of the furniture that's not readily visible, like the underside of a desk drawer or shelf.

  • PREP YOUR WORKSPACE. You'll want to work in a well-ventilated area, like a porch or patio. Spread several sheets of newspaper on the ground, or cut off the end of a plastic garbage bag and open it up for a drop cloth. Wear clothes you don't mind getting splattered (I've ruined a T-shirt or two), and put on latex or vinyl gloves to protect your hands.

  • PREPARE YOUR FURNITURE. Remove any drawers, and remove any knobs or other hardware. Following the direction of the wood grain, run medium-grade sandpaper over all surfaces, then fine-grade sandpaper. If you're not sure what the wood grain is, it's generally the "longest" side of the furniture. For instance, on the top of a dresser, the wood grain runs horizontally from left to right. On the sides of a bookcase, the wood grain runs vertically from top to bottom. With unfinished furniture, I've found you can use just fine-grade sandpaper.

     Sanding helps the stain penetrate better -- but it creates a lot of dust, so you might want to wear a dust mask for this step. Wipe off the dust when you're done with a clean rag. If your furniture has been stained previously, you can either try to remove the previous stain, or stain on top of it, which I've done. Simply run the medium-grade sandpaper over all surfaces repeatedly until the previous finish is good and scuffed. Stay in the direction of the wood grain, and wipe away the dust with a clean rag afterward. NOTE: Any previous stain will affect the color you've chosen; either remove as much of the previous stain as you can, or choose a new color that's dark enough to cover it once you sand it.
  • APPLY STAIN. I like to use foam applicators when staining. Empty the stain into a small paint tray. Dip your brush into the tray, wipe off any excess on the sides of the tray, and stroke on the stain in the direction of the wood grain. Again, if you're not sure what that is, follow the longest side of the furniture. Staining the top of a dresser? Sweep the brush horizontally from left to right in long strokes. Staining the sides? Sweep the brush vertically from top to bottom. Don't zigzag or apply the stain in short, choppy strokes.

  • SEAL THE DEAL. To protect the surface of your newly stained furniture, spray on one to two coats of polyurethane after the stain has dried (usually after 24 hours). Spray polyurethane doesn't drip.

Tips & Warnings

  • Watch for drips. If you notice drips rolling down the sides of your furniture, take a foam brush damp with stain and lightly blend them in with the rest of your brush strokes.
  • Wait adequate time before applying a second coat.
  • Spray on polyurethane after staining for a protective coating.
  • Don't rush -- well-applied and well-dried stain looks best.

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