About Stains & Topcoats

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Tips for success when applying stains

  • Get some pieces of wood and practice to get an idea of how stain works.
  • Work quickly
  • Soaking the wood will not make the wood absorb more stain. The wood absorbs what it absorbs.
  • Apply stain and wipe
  • Follow the direction of the wood
  • Be patient and wait for each layer to dry before the next application. Applying more stain when is still damp will make a nice gooey mess! Think nail polish.
  • Wear quality gloves…or face yucky nails for a week.
  • Make sure you are following the manufacturers instructions. Always!
  • It matters how cold or humid the weather is!
  • Oh, don’t forget to stir the cans. Stain pigments will separate just like paint. So stir that can!
  • Use the correct applicator. Each manufacturer has different specifications.

Tips for success when applying topcoats

  • The brand you choose will tell you the brush or best application method. Pay attention to this because that will affect your end result.
  • Also, it is very important that you barely dip the brush. You should be applying very thin coats at a time.
  • A heavy coat does not equal three thin proper coats. I know what you are thinking!
  • Pay attention to the drying time in between coats.
  • Some products ask you to lightly sand between coats. Do a test run on an inconspicuous spot.
  • Do not shake the can! We are avoiding bubbles. Shaking = bubbles. Stir instead with a disposable utensil or clean piece of wood. Stir often.
  • It does not matter which brand you use, but make sure you read the instructions carefully. Especially what it says about temperature and humidity levels. Please consider this for better results.
  • Do not rush this process. Remember, although this is a clear material the difference between a rushed application and a careful one is clearly visible. If you do not have enough time, wait until the next day. Applying the protective coat is as important and time-consuming as the stain.

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Tips for choosing a stain 

  • With regular stains you build the color and coverage up. What this means is that the wood will get darker as you apply layers. Remember that stains penetrate into the wood fiber unlike regular paint, which just “sits” on the wood. Use this kind of stain if you want a little color, medium coverage or to the point where you have more saturation but still want to see the wood grain. This is what I used on my kitchen cabinets, night stands and the back yard table top.
  • Use “one or faster applications stains” when you want to achieve full saturation. Use this type if you know you want a deeper coverage. The product label will say something such as “3x faster application”. This is the kind I used on the guest bathroom cabinet, kind size bed, planters and backyard table base projects.
  • Note on color stains: Not all “One Applications / 3x Faster” stains colors will achieve complete coverage such as Ebony. Please run a test to see if the stain you have selected works for you. Stain is not paint. For the most part, unless it is Ebony, the point of stain is to still see the wood grain.
  • Buyer beware. It is very easy to remove a light stain and go darker later. However, it is very difficult to remove a dark stain, such as ebony and then expect to successfully remove all the dark tint to achieve a much lighter wood shade. Okie docki?

Tips for choosing a stain color: 

  • Different wood types absorb at different rates and have different color / tone results. Stores usually have little pieces of stained wood to show the different results. If they do not have it posted on the shelves / walls, ask for a swatch card.

Choosing a top coat finish:

  • Water based is better. Oil based clear coats yellow over time.
  • See what the stain manufacturer recommends.
  • Polyurethane is either oil or water based. The oil option will add a tad of warm color while the water based will not. If you are using a yellow / amber stain such as honey oak, then an oil based top coat will not be a problem. For everything else, stick to a water base.
  • Shellac – The good part is that it is natural. The bad part is that it yellows over time, can get marked by hot items such as a warm pan or mug. Best suited for traditional furniture that will be minimally used.
  • Lacquer – It looks really fab! Use this if you want a super shine finish. Not a good option for traditional looks unless, for example, you are using paint instead of stain. Asian furniture is usually very glossy and will benefit from Shellac. This finish is applied as a spray. Can get damaged over time.
  • Varnish – Usually used for wood projects that have to tolerate UV rays and water.
  • Water based polycrylic is a great option for the kitchen as it does better with heat.

Topcoat finish types:

  • Gloss – Use for a glass like finish. I only use and recommend this kind for color painted furniture. It can look really tacky over grain wood. Unless, you have Asian furniture.
  • Semi Gloss – When you want some sheen, but not over the top. My cabinets were finished with this kind as I wanted some drama in my kitchen.
  • Satin – In my opinion this is better suited for wood. Very little shine.
  • For the most part you can buy some of these in a can or as a spay. I do not favor the spray as the nozzle can drip or spray bubbles. Been there done that

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