How to Stain Natural Cork

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Staining is one of the most basic and oft-used techniques implemented in decorative woodworking, and the application process remains largely the same from one type of wood to another. However, when it comes to soft, spongy natural cork, what works for pine or oak might not yield satisfactory results. This delicate, absorbent bark wood needs special handling due to its tendency to soak up extra stain and how easy it is to accidentally damage the fibers.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood stain
  • Mineral spirits or water
  • Disposable container
  • Paintbrush
  • Soft cotton rag

Wipe down the surface of the cork with a damp cloth to remove any residue or coating of dust. If you're using an oil-based stain, let the cork dry fully before you continue.

Mix a solution of 1 part wood stain, 2 parts mineral spirits (if you're using an oil-based stain) or 2 parts water (if you're using a water-based stain) in a disposable container. Stir thoroughly; this will compensate for the absorbency of the cork to create a staining result comparable to what you'll get with most woods.

Dip a paintbrush into the thinner and spread it lightly over the surface of the cork. Coat the entire surface of the cork with brush strokes, but don't worry about covering every tiny spot on the cork. Dip the brush frequently to coat the surface generously.

Rub the brushed-on stain into the cork using the cotton rag. Use a circular motion to spread out the stain and even the color distribution.

Fold the cotton rag and dip the corner into the stain. Soak it thoroughly in stain.

Apply the thinner to the remaining uncovered spots using a blotting motion. Pay special attention to areas that aren't yet stained or that don't seem to have color applied as thickly as other areas.

Go over the cork with another circular rub, this time using the soaked corner of the cotton rag.

Cover the cork's surface with a second coat using the paintbrush again. Focus on areas that are too light or that look uneven in their color application.

Rub down the surface of the cork with a clean, dry portion of the cotton rag to remove excess stain.

Let the stain dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Because of the absorbency of cork, the stain will be dark even if diluted. Dilute it further the more you want the grain and contours of the cork to be visible through the stain. If the application appears too heavy, wipe the cork with a stain-free rag coated in water or mineral spirits.

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References

  • "Flexner on Finishing: Finally - Answers to Your Wood Finishing Fears & Frustrations"; Bob Flexner; 2010
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