Things You'll Need
Staining is a messy job under any circumstances. Staining a porch ceiling will be ever messier because there's no way you can prevent stain from raining down on you while you work. Ideally, the wood is stained before it's installed on the ceiling, but when you have to apply stain to an overhead surface, there are a few tools and tips (besides wearing an umbrella on your hat) that can make it less messy. If you've never heard of gel stain before, now is the time to find out why it could be the solution to a cleaner and smoother job.
Sand, wipe down or brush off the porch ceiling. It should be clean, dry and free of dirt, cobwebs and dust.
Cover everything. Protect walls or siding by taping large sheets of plastic along the top of the wall and letting them drape to the floor. Lay canvas drop cloths on the floor. Protect yourself as well, with a hat and eye protection. Wear latex gloves if you don't want your fingernails stained for a week or more.
Pour some stain into a smaller bucket to avoid working out of a full one while standing on a ladder.
Apply the gel stain liberally with either a lambs wool or foam applicator. Work in sections–one or two boards at a time, or from joint to joint, trying not to apply more than three square feet of stain at a time.
Allow the stain to set up for three to five minutes, then wipe it off with a lint-free rag. Wipe in the direction of the wood grain. The more you wipe, the lighter the color will get.
Keep working in sections. If you need to take a break, stop when you have finished an area, such as several boards, or a section between beams or trim boards. Stopping in the middle of a board, allowing the stain to dry, then resuming work guarantees a darker line where you left off and started again.
Brush or roll on one or two coats of clear varnish if you want some shine or luster on the ceiling. Use acrylic (water-based) varnish over water-based gel stain. Oil-based varnish or polyurethane can be applied over either water- or oil-based stain.
The same directions apply to non-gel stain, although you should use a brush to apply it. Using gel stain will be much less messy, however. It's more economical to buy plastic by the roll, instead of in separate packages. Gel stain is available in both water-based and oil-based formulas. Water-based gel stain is easier to clean up, but may leave a blotchier finish on some woods than oil stain.
Discard stain-soaked, oily rags properly to avoid spontaneous combustion. Never put them in the trash or any enclosed space where fumes can build up. Drop them in a bucket of water when you're done, or leave them out in the open to dry.