Stains add color, providing a richer look to bland woods. Plus, they can unify mismatched colors such as uneven tones or bands of sapwood.  The final color depends on the wood – even two pieces of the same species can stain differently – and the finish. Experimentation is key.

Penetrating stains, such as aniline dyes, add pure, clear color without obscuring the grain. Work fast, because they absorb quickly into the wood. Pigmented stains, such as oil-based wiping stains, are easy to apply but deposit larger particles that can muddy the grain. Gel stains combine the advantages of both: They’re almost foolproof, absorb evenly and allow the grain to remain visible.

Tips for a Top-notch Stain Job

Wear old clothing, a shop apron, and gloves, and work on an old bench or cover it with thin plywood. Stains are difficult to remove – from you or from the wood.

Mix customer colors by combining two ore more stains of the same brand and type.

When making your own colors, mix enough to finish the entire project.

You won’t be able to get an exact match later if you come up short.

To test stains on existing work, such as an old table, apply the color first in an inconspicuous area, such as under the top.

Thoroughly stir oil-based stains to dissolve the pigment that’s usually sitting on the bottom of the can.

When applying oil-based stains, wipe the wood with mineral spirits just before staining to ease and even stain distribution.

Try spraying penetrating stains, which gets them on the surfaces more quickly. You’ll get more even coverage with fewer overlap marks.

Use alcohol-soluble stains for a touch-up. They’re easy to pinpoint and they dry almost instantly.

Place used oil-soaked rags in a flameproof, water-filled container to prevent spontaneous combustion.


Test your stains on scraps of wood from your project that have been sanded using the same process. Not the type and amount of stain you use and be sure to apply a few finish coats to get a feel for its final color.


When using water-soluble stains, raise the grain first with a damp rag. Sand it smooth when dry, and then stain. Now the water in the stain won’t raise the grain.


With wiping stains, rub the stain into the wood using a soft, clean cotton rag. Stain in any direction you wish but always make the last pass in the direction of the grain. If you need to remove excess stain, use a rag that has a small amount of stain on it.


What are Dyes and Glazes?

Dyes and glazes are stains of a different sort. Dyes are tiny in color particles – much smaller than those in pigmented stains – sold either in powder form or as a liquid. They’re great for making custom colors or for staining without obscuring the grain.

Glazes are heavy-bodied pigment-type stains that you apply over a sealed surface to add tone and uniformity. Their thick, workable consistency lets you “age” a piece to make it look old. Glazes come premixed or you can make your own by combining artist’s oil with a glazing medium.  You can, however, simplify the entire process explained above with the hiring of an experienced house painter.  You’d be investing in time and quality of work.

Spray Painting

Speed alone could justify the extra masking that spray painting requires.  However, spraying has another advantage over brush or roller painting.  It covers intricate shapes – louvered shutters, trellises, and fencing, for example – far more evenly than hours of handwork with a brush, roller or pad.  And spraying does it in minutes.

Several types of sprayers are available, each with its own pros and cons.  Select the one that suits your job and budget.

Aerosol cans are ideal for small projects like painting wicker furniture or shutters.  Applying several light coats will produce the best results.  The first coat called a track coat, prepares the surface to accept the final coats.  The next light coat can usually be applied before the tack coat is dry, but for subsequent coats wait until the previous  coat has dried.  Read and follow the instructions on the can; applying coats too early, too late, without proper surface preparation or too thickly can result in a wrinkled surface.

Handheld airless sprayers are portable, lightweight and an excellent choice for intermediate-size tasks, such as fences.  These tools basically atomize the paint and direct it through an adjustable spray tip to the surface.  They have  limited holding capacity- usually about one quart- and even a slight breeze can disperse much of the paint before it hits its intended surface,

Large airless sprayers work well for large jobs, such as painting entire houses.  With these sprayers, paint is drawn into a tube, then pushed through the spray gun’s tip at pressures ranging from 1,200 to 1,300 pounds per sq. in. (psi).  Thye allow you to cover large areas in a short time.

HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) sprayers are excellent got fine finishing tasks.  They apply the paint at pressures less than 10 psi and are easy to control.  They’re portable and can apply most types of finishes.
Whatever type of sprayer you use, clean your equipment thoroughly after each use and wear safety glasses and a dual-cartridge respirator.