Tips on Staining Pine Furniture


Staining pine furniture can be tricky. Pine has natural yellow undertones that tend to show through most stains. Pine rarely accepts stain evenly without effort, which means that the furniture will have blotches that are darker or lighter than the surrounding area. Pre-conditioning, careful sanding and thoughtful preparation will help to alleviate some of the worst of the possible staining problems.

Prepare the Surface

  • Prepare to devote a fair amount of time and effort when staining pine furniture. Pine is a soft wood. The cells of the wood absorb stain quickly; however, since it is a natural product, the cells absorb the stain at different rates. Apply one of the products developed by stain manufacturers, such as Varathane, Minwax or Olympic to help even out how pine wood cells absorb stains.

    Start with bare wood. If this is a refinishing project, sand or scrape off all the old paint and finishes. Start with a 150-grit sandpaper, and proceed up to a 200-grit or finer sandpaper, as recommended by Olympic. Remove all dirt, oil or grease. Remove the dust leftover from the sanding process by wiping the wood with a tack-cloth or a cloth that has some mineral spirits on it. You can also vacuum away the dust.

Condition the Surface

  • Stir the can of wood conditioner thoroughly. Apply the wood conditioner with a brush, roller or a lint-free cloth to the surface if it is completely clean and dry. Apply the conditioner across the grain of the wood. Saturate the wood with the conditioner. Minwax and Olympic suggest you allow oil-based conditioners to soak into the wood for 5 to 15 minutes; Varathane suggests 30 minutes. Let water-based conditioners penetrate for 1 to 5 minutes. Remove the excess conditioner with a clean dry cloth following the grain of the wood. For water based conditioners, Minwax recommends users sand the wood 15 to 30 minutes after the conditioner has dried. Minwax explains in its literature that the conditioner raises some grain during the process, and sanding will smooth this grain back down.

Apply the Stain

  • Use only oil-based stain following an oil-based conditioner and water-based stain after a water-based conditioner. Apply oil-based stain within two hours of conditioning the wood.

    Apply the wood stain with the direction of the grain of the pine. Use a brush or a clean cloth. Give the oil-based stain 5 to 15 minutes to penetrate the wood; leave water-based stain on for no more than 3 minutes. The time will vary based on the look you are trying to achieve. For darker colors, leave the stain on longer. Take a clean cloth, and remove the excess stain. Wipe in the direction of the grain. Watch the wood as you proceed, and try to blend any light or dark spots. To make the color darker or more intense, apply a second coat of oil-based stain after 4 to 6 hours; you can apply water-based stain after 2 hours. For the best outcomes, work through all these steps on a scrap piece of pine before staining the main piece of furniture.

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