An easy tutorial on how to stain wood whether you’re building a table or working on a small woodworking project.
When we finished building our farmhouse table, I was a bit intimidated that it was time to stain the top. We’d decided we wanted to do a darker top and white legs.
Even though I paint furniture ALL the time (see all furniture makeovers here), I’d never stained anything before, and I didn’t want to mess up this beautiful table we’d spent hours on!
Well the worrying was really for nothing. Staining is EASY.
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Supply list for staining wood:
- Stain, color of your choice – we used Dark Walnut by Minwax (also available here – you can order online and pick up in store)
- Paint stir sticks
- Clean, lint-free rags (we used just under one and a half bags of these – you can order online and pick up in store)
- Foam brushes
- Sealant – we used Polycrylic in Matte by Minwax
- Paint brush
- Fine sandpaper
Our table is 37″ x 72″, and we used less than one can of stain and could have gotten away with the small can of the Polycrylic.
How to stain wood:
1. Pick a stain color.
I tried out a few stains on scrap pieces of wood so we were sure we’d like the color.
If you’ve never stained anything before, I’d recommend practicing on some scrap wood, too. It made me feel a lot better before just diving right into the table.
2. Start staining!
Ah, I was so nervous to mess up our brand new table! But then once I started, it was easy.
Be sure to be in a well-ventilated area, because stain definitely smells.
First, be sure you’ve sanded your wood thoroughly. You can read more about all of the sanding we did on our tabletop here.
I taped garbage bags around the apron of our table so I wouldn’t get any stain on our brand new table legs. It was easier than worrying about it, but if you’re careful, you wouldn’t have to.
You can apply stain with a rag or a foam brush, I found it easiest to use a rag for the planks and use a foam brush for the cracks in between the planks.
Stir the stain with a paint stick before you start, and during use if you’re staining for a while. Dip your rag in the stain can so the tip is full of stain but not overly dripping. Then start at one end of your wood piece and apply horizontal strokes in the same direction as the wood grain. Do long strokes so you don’t end up with blotches.
I started with the edges of the table first since I figured those were less important than the tabletop.
The short edges of the planks will take a lot of stain.
Then I did one plank at a time, starting at one end of the table and moving to the opposite end.
The stain will adhere to the knots kind of funny – either lighter or darker, but it’s all part of the farmhouse look. I just went with it.
You can either let the stain dry for 5-10 minutes and then wipe the excess stain off (with a clean rag), or just wipe it off right after you apply it. The longer you let the stain sit, the darker the color will be. I wiped the stain off right after I put it on. Whichever you decide, be consistent across your entire piece so you get an even color. Play around on scrap wood if you’re not sure how dark you want the stain.
Be sure to wipe off the excess stain before it dries, or you’ll end up with a blotchy, uneven color and have trouble applying a sealant.
Repeat the whole process twice, so you end up with three total coats of stain on your piece.
3. Stain the cracks (if you’re also staining a tabletop).
I found a foam brush easiest for being sure to get the stain down in between the cracks far enough that you couldn’t see the bare wood.
You can see how dark the stain is right after I ran the foam brush along the edge. Be sure to wipe it down with a clean rag right way to get rid of all that excess stain so the color matches the color of the planks.
Repeat this process twice more – in between the coats of stain you’re applying to the planks of the tabletop – to end up with three total coats of stain.
4. Let the stain dry.
5. Apply a sealant.
We used Polycrylic. I practiced this on the scrap wood, too since I’d never done this before and wanted to be sure we liked the color after it was all dry.
We went with clear Polycrylic in Matte so we’d get the least amount of sheen on our table while maintaining the original color the stain. If you’re not sure what finish you’d like, grab a few of the smaller sample sizes and bring them home to sample on scrap wood. Some of the finishes are more yellow, some are clear, and the amount of sheen varies.
Stir the sealant before you use it, but don’t shake the can.
Look at the directions on whichever finish you chose. For the Polycrylic, I used a paint brush to apply the finish in the direction of the wood grain. Remember, less is more. A thin coat is all you need.
Let it dry for about two hours, then sand it lightly with fine sandpaper. Wipe off the sanding dust, then repeat that process twice for a total of three coats of the sealant.
If you’re working on a piece you won’t use as much as a dining table, you can probably get away with just two coats. This table is our everyday table, so we went with three coats given all of the activity this table will see.
6. Let the sealant dry for at least 24 hours before use.
If you don’t want to deal with a sealant. you could also get a piece of glass cut to fit the top of your table to protect it. We did that for both of our desks (you can see my desk here), and it’s a great way to protect the entire piece.
Have you stained wood for a DIY project? Or taken on a new DIY skill lately? I love trying new things and realizing they’re almost always easier than we build them up to be.
You’ll want to see these projects, too:
How to build a farmhouse dining table
We’d never built anything before, and I’m telling you, if we can build a table, you can, too. It’s not hard, just takes some time, but the end product is so worth it!
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