Wood Staining Tips, Do's & Don'ts

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Wood Staining Tips, Do's & Don'ts

Stain Application Tips

All stains require open pores for adequate absorption into the wood.

Applying stain over a finished surface will not change the color of the wood. Your cloth will simply wipe off the stain blocked from the pores by the existing finish.

Sand bare wood lightly.

To open the pores in preparation for staining. Begin with medium-grit sandpaper (#120). Work your way to a final sanding with fine-grit sandpaper (#220). Always sand in the direction of the grain to avoid leaving unsightly scratches.

Stain can be applied with a bristle brush, a foam brush, or a cloth.

On woods with large, open pores, such as oak, mahogany and ash, increase your pressure to work the stain into the pores. Rubbing or brushing against the direction of the grain will help fill deep pores with stain. Apply a liberal amount of stain, giving the wood an ample amount to absorb.

Pay attention to how long you leave the stain on the wood before wiping off any unabsorbed liquid.

The longer the stain is left on, the deeper and richer the color will be. For consistent color, use careful timing. Never allow any stain to dry on the wood surface—it will prevent the clear finish from adhering and cause other issues.

Remove the last of any unabsorbed stain with a dry cloth, wiping in the direction of the wood grain.

Swirl marks left by a stain-saturated cloth will become even more obvious under a coat of clear finish.

When staining vertical surfaces, such as unfinished paneling or doors, try Minwax® Gel Stain.

Its thicker consistency enables it to cling to vertical surfaces without immediately running, giving you more time to apply an even coat of stain.

Remember: a stain provides color, but not protection.

Once the stain has dried, apply a clear finish to protect both the stain and the wood—and to make the final results look even more beautiful.

Wood Staining Do's and Don'ts


Always prepare the wood with a light sanding.

Apply Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to ensure an even stain color (see Wood Preparation for other tips).

Stir the can thoroughly.

Stir the can thoroughly to evenly redistribute any color pigments that may have settled to the bottom.

Test any stain you are considering.

Test any stain you are considering on an inconspicuous spot to ensure that the color of the stain—in conjunction with the natural color of the wood—produces the color you desire.

Apply a second coat.

If you want a darker, richer tone, apply a second coat according to label directions.


Leave hinges, handles, knobs or pulls on a piece.

Remove hinges, handles, knobs or pulls before you start staining or finishing. Wood finishing products may change the color of any metal hardware.

Attempt to obtain a darker color by allowing any unabsorbed stain to dry on top of the wood.

This will later peel off. Stains are formulated to dry in the wood, not on the wood.

Apply a clear protective finish before the stain has dried completely.

The solvent in the finish will activate the damp stain, allowing your brush or cloth to pull the stain out of the pores of the wood.