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What is wood stain: a guide on how to varnish wood

Not sure how to varnish wood? Don’t worry, we have you covered with our super simple guide!


what is wood stain

Key steps

  • Work in a clean, well-lit, well-ventilated area.

  • Prepare your wood by removing old finishes.

  • Sand and clean the surface.

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  • Work in long, even strokes along the direction of the grain.

  • Typically, your wood will need two layers of wood stain.

Knowing how to varnish wood properly, without the need for professional help, is a must if your house or flat is filled with wooden surfaces and furniture. Here we’ll explain what wood stain is, as well as provide an easy-to-follow guide on how to apply wood stain and varnish the right way to leave your wood protected and looking its best.

Noticed the fumes are strong and the wood stain is making you feel light-headed? Open a window and take a break.

What is wood stain

Looking to add a bit of color whilst protecting your wooden furniture and more? Wood stain is the product for you. The stain is designed to penetrate deep into the wood surface allowing you not only to add a little change of color but also protect the wood, in particular against UV light.

What to do before staining wood

There are a few steps you need to take before using stain to color and protect your wood. These include:

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  • Always work in a well-lit area. This will allow you to spot bubbles and other imperfections.

  • Always work in a well-ventilated area, as stains can smell extremely strong.

  • Work in a dust and dirt-free area. This will ensure you don’t accidentally seal any of the dust or dirt to the wood as you stain it.

  • Make sure it’s not too hot. If the temperature is above 78°F the stain will dry too quickly, which could form air bubbles.

  • Make sure it’s not too cold. This will cause it to dry slowly and dust could settle and ruin the look.

  •  Always wear old clothes or coveralls, gloves and glasses. Additionally, consider a dust mask.

  • Clean your workspace. Mop or vacuum the floor to ensure there is no dust or dirt which could ruin the finished piece.

Now you’re ready to prepare the wood for staining:

  1. You will need to remove any old paint, varnish and other finishes; returning the wood to its unfinished state.

  2. Use a paint stripper to remove the finish.

  3. Sand the surface of the wood gently in the direction of the grain to prepare it for staining.

  4. Clean the surface with a damp cloth; then leave it to dry fully.

How to varnish wood with wood stain

Now you have our top tips, you’re probably wondering how to apply varnish to wood! Read on for our simple steps for how to stain wood easily and give it a new lease of life.

Choose your wood stain. There are a few types:

  • Oil-based: These are the most durable and will most-often need mixing with paint thinner, so check the label and follow the directions.

  • Water-based: Easy to apply, and don’t really produce fumes. They are not as durable, however!

  • Gel: These often need mixing with mineral spirits, so check the label and follow the directions. These work well for woods such as pine.

  • Lacquer: If you’re looking for a quick product, these dry in around 15 minutes.

  1. Check the label for directions of use for your chosen stain.

  2. Apply the first layer, ensuring you work in the direction of the grain using long even strokes.

  3. Once applied, use a rag or cloth to wipe the excess away. This will allow the stain to penetrate into the wood but not leave the surface sticky.

  4. Want a darker color? Leave the stain for a little longer before wiping the surface.

  5. Typically, your wood should only require these two layers. Nonetheless, double-check the recommendations made by the manufacturer on the label as some brands may vary.

  6. Leave your stain to dry before applying the finish. Read the label to check how long, but most should be left for around 24 hours.

  7. Add a transparent layer of varnish following the manufacturer’s instructions to seal the wood and add that extra layer of protection.

With this simple guide on different types of wood stain and how to use them, you’re now all set to start your woodwork. Decided you’d like to paint the wood instead? No problem! Simply check out our guide for how to paint wood here.

Do you want to learn which household cleaning tasks cause the most stress?  Then read our Heated Household data analysis. 

Originally published