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Choosing the Right Products for Staining Your Furniture

Choosing the Right Products for Staining Your Furniture

Wood furniture is beautiful, natural and sustainable – you can stain your furniture a different colour to give your décor a new look, or maybe you’ve been thinking of repairing a damaged finish on a family heirloom.

Wood stain works its magic by changing the colour of the wood while letting the natural wood grain shine through. Staining your wood furniture will also help protect it from moisture, heat, UV rays and scratches.

Stain is made with colourants or pigments that are mixed with oil, water, gel, alcohol or other solvents that beautifully preserve your wood furniture. You will also find wood stains combined with varnish, and a variety of top coats including varnishes, waxes and rubbed oil finishing products.

Drop into Wood Country Building Services today. Our team will be happy to help you find the right stain products for your project.

The following questions will help you narrow down your stain choices:

  1. What type of wood are you staining?
  2. Is the furniture you are staining already finished or are you staining raw wood?
  3. Are you looking for a stain that will be safe on children’s furniture?
  4. Do you have a preference for water-based or oil-based stain?
  5. Are you staining interior or exterior furniture?
  6. Do you want your furniture to be stained in a dark or light colour?
  7. What colour do you want your wood to be?

Water-Based or Oil-Based Stain?

First decide what colour you want your furniture to be. Picture how the stain colour you are considering for your furniture will complement the rest of your furniture.

Keep in mind that each type of wood will look different with the same stain, so test a few stain colours on an inconspicuous area of the furniture first.

Water and oil-based stains can be used on both interior and exterior furniture. Wood stains were traditionally oil based, but now there are many water-based stains available. Water-based wood stain is better for your health and the environment, and makes cleaning up a lot easier.

Stains do help to protect your wood furniture but they will need a top coat for better protection from moisture.

Apply stain at the recommended air temperature and humidity level for best results. Allow the first coat to dry properly before applying a second coat of stain or a top coat.

Advantages of using water-based stains

  • Fast drying, 1 to 2 hours
  • Low odour
  • Wide range of colours
  • Rich vibrant colours
  • Easy to spray on or brush on
  • Environmentally friendly
  • VOC compliant
  • Nonflammable
  • Easy clean-up with water

Important to know about water-based stains

  • Dark water-based stains look much darker than oil-based stains

Advantages of using oil-based stains

  • Oil stains perform better with hand application
  • Ideal for hardwood (maple and oak), as it shows the grain
  • Penetrates deeply for better protection
  • Smoother finish
  • New oil-based stains dry faster and only one coat is needed

Important to know about oil-based stains

  • Some need more time to dry: 24 to 72 hours
  • Wood may require more sanding
  • Stronger odour
  • Not able to support as much pigment
  • More suitable for lighter colours
  • Combustible
  • Needs proper ventilation
  • Requires solvents for cleanup
  • Clean-up requires more work

Advantages of using gel stain

  • Easier to stain a vertical surface as gel stain is thicker; it stays put unlike liquid stain
  • Rich, even colour especially on woods with uneven grain, like pine
  • Doesn’t require as much sanding

Important to know about gel stain

  • Requires more time to dry between coats
  • Not recommended for wood with textured grains as the gel can pool thickly in crevices causing dark spots
  • Less likely to bring out the natural grain in some hardwoods
  • Gel stain is water or oil-based

Staining Unfinished Wood vs Staining a Finished Piece of Furniture

Unfinished wood

Do you have a brand-new piece of furniture you built yourself from natural wood? Or perhaps you purchased a piece of unstained furniture. Either way, you will need to sand the wood before you stain it. Pre-stain conditioner will ensure an evenly stained look.

How will the stain look on raw wood?

The stain you choose will need to be suitable for the specific type of wood you are working with. Be aware of the density of the wood and determine how well it will be able to absorb the stain. Some woods such as maple and cherry are more challenging to stain as they tend to have an uneven density. If the wood has tighter grains, the stain will not be able to soak in as well and you may end up with uneven patches.

Staining a finished piece of furniture

Before staining finished or painted furniture, you will need to remove the original finish. Use an eco-friendly solvent furniture stripper in a well-ventilated room, or a sander, sandpaper or chemical stripper. Be aware that chemical strippers are a risk to your health as well as the environment. You will be able to find water-based varnish and stain removers that are safer to use and less harmful to the environment than traditional chemical strippers.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective equipment to prevent inhaling fumes and dust. Although there are many products with low VOCs available, it is always best to protect yourself by wearing protective eyewear, a mask and gloves.

Finishing Your Staining Project

Polyurethane varnish is available in water or oil-based formulations and will give your furniture a durable top coat in glossy, satin or flat sheen. Top coats can protect your furniture from fading, both inside your home and outdoors. They will also help prevent water marks, scratching and stains.

Shellac – Did you know that shellac is made from the resin secreted by the lac bug? An old standard used by many antique refinishers, shellac is usually mixed with alcohol to make it thinner before applying to wood.

Lacquer – This popular wood sealant is made with nitrocellulose and solvents. Your furniture will be well protected with either a durable glossy or matte finish. It dries quickly but the fumes are very strong.

Finishing wax will give your furniture a richer, more lustrous look. Most waxes are made with a mixture of beeswax and/or carnauba, with other ingredients such as boiled linseed. You can also find solvent-free waxes made with safflower oil, hemp seed oil and other natural ingredients.

Wood Oils – Wood oil is another option for refinishing your wood furniture. It soaks easily into the wood and after a few hours, will form a hard and protective coating that repels water and dirt. You can also find food-safe and nontoxic oils.

Types of furniture wood oil:

  • Danish Oil is a time-tested wood protector that is easy to apply, doesn’t take much time to dry, and gives your furniture a warm natural look.
  • Boiled linseed oil is a protective and attractive finish on its own or mixed with other products to make an original finish.
  • Teak Oil gives furniture strong protection and beauty, as it penetrates deep into the wood, and can be used on indoor and outdoor furniture.
  • Tung oil gives furniture a lower sheen finish similar to a hand rubbed wax finish. Your furniture will be well protected from moisture and water.

Drop by Wood Country Building Services today to learn more about the types of stain products available to help you finish your furniture.

Disclaimer: The information and resources in these articles and on this website are available for informational and educational purposes only. The articles provided on this website are created with every reasonable effort to ensure completeness and accuracy. In doing so, the article writers, publishers, and the business that this website represents assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or opposed interpretation of the articles and under no circumstance will these parties be held liable for any direct, indirect and/or consequential damages of any kind incurred from undertaking tasks outlined in the articles or on this website. In addition, it is suggested that readers check by-laws, zoning laws and building codes of your local area and country.


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