This is 13 Helpful Tips on How to Stain a Wood Table. By the end of this post, you will know everything you need to stain a table project, and the common mistakes to avoid. These tips will make a big difference in your final look. Enjoy.
How to Stain a Wood Table
Staining wooden tables is just like staining any other project. The only real difference is that it’s much larger than you might be used to. In the end, that’s not really very much of a difference, and you can overcome it pretty easily.
After all, until you finish something bigger than you’ve ever finished before, you never really exceed your previous size limitation. Once you stain a large project like a dining room table, your new biggest is all of a sudden pretty big.
Thankfully, there are several tips and techniques that can get you through the project with the least amount of mistakes and stress. Go through them all, and put them into practice when you finish your table project.
None of these concepts is difficult, and you can complete the project in one day. Now obviously drying times and curing times may extend that, but your actual hands-on time is going to be pretty low, even though the project is pretty large.
Here are all of the tips, and I will go into each one of them in a lot more detail individually. These are all designed to get you the best results, with the least amount of worry or mistakes.
- Preparing the Surface Well
- Mini-Tips on Surface Prep Before Staining
- Clean the Bare Wood Really Well
- Decide on a Pre-Stain Product
- Pick the Best Wood Stain
- How to Choose the Perfect Stain Color
- Pick the Best Clear for the Project
- Find a Large Open Space to Apply Your Stain
- Ventilation is Very Important
- Keep the Dust Down While Finishing
- Allow the Stain Time to Fully Dry
- Clear Coat With Good Product
- Allow the Clear to Fully Cure
- Staining a Wood Table Wrap-Up
See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing
Preparing the Surface Well
One of the fundamentals of staining and wood finishing is surface preparation. Without good surface preparation, your ability to apply a great looking finish is significantly reduced. This is a non-negotiable part of wood finishing.
The finish that you apply, and especially the stain if you are using a pigment stain, will not hide surface defects. In fact, it will magnify them. Minor scratches that you never thought were there will now look visible on the surface.
Larger scratches that you knew about but ignored can now be seen from the international space station. It’s actually kind of a bummer when you make this mistake the first time. You hope and hope that the finish will hide the blemishes, but then the exact opposite happens.
Don’t fall into this trap. It’s not very hard to prepare the table surface for staining, you just need to work at it until it looks good. Once you’re happy with the look, and you don’t have any scratches left, you’ll be in a much better position to apply your stain.
See Also: 3 Common Types of Wood Stain and When to Use Them
Mini-Tips on Surface Prep Before Staining
Since surface preparation so important, here are several mini tips that can help you get prepared to apply your stain. Read through these, and as you’re doing the surface preparation pay attention to each one of them.
Don’t skip steps, and make sure that you’re one hundred percent happy with the look before you open any can of finishing product. Don’t even tempt yourself. The effort you put in now will pay itself back 10 times in the future, so don’t rush.
- Take out any large defects, or fill them with wood filler.
- Sand the surface with progressively finer sandpaper until you get down to about 220 grit.
- Evaluate the surface, and if it needs more work proceed to 320 grit.
- Make your last sanding passes with the grain, which will hide any final minor scratches.
- Wipe down the surface to remove all sanding dust or use an air hose to blow it off.
- Check the surface and a glancing light and identify any hidden scratches.
- Remove all of the scratches with your last grit of sandpaper that you used previously.
- Repeat the wiping down and checking steps again until you find no scratches.
See Also: 10 Easiest Wood Finishing Products for Beginners
Clean the Bare Wood Really Well
Before you can apply your wood stain, you need to have a clean surface. Dust, debris, and falling off grit from sandpaper will ruin the finish. Steel wool can also have the same effect, and be hard to remove after the layer is dry.
The easiest way to do this is with a slightly damp cloth. Get yourself a rag, get it wet, and then ring it out so hard it almost feels like you made it dry again. You do want some dampness in the rag still, but you definitely don’t want to leave behind moisture.
The point of the dampness is to attract the sanding dust. You’re not actually cleaning the surface, more than just collecting the dust that’s sitting on the surface. This is different than wiping down the table that has spilled food or liquid on it.
After the surface dries, because it will pick up a pinch of moisture from the rag, feel it again and see if it needs a final light sanding to remove any whiskers. Do this, and then finally wipe down the surface with a dry towel to remove any last sanding debris.
If you have access to an air hose, use the airline to blow out all of the dust rather than wiping with a rag. This is a little bit faster, but make sure you wear adequate protective equipment so that way you don’t suck up a lot of sawdust as you breathe.
One final wipe down with a dry cloth, like a hand towel for the bathroom, and that should remove every last bit of dust. Do a check, and make sure you don’t have any surprises to clean while you are trying to apply your stain.
See Also: 9 Excellent Tips for Staining Plywood
Decide on a Pre-Stain Product
Pre-stain conditioner is an optional step. The point of pre-stain is to create a slight layer of finish on the surface, and that helps your stain penetrate more evenly. It’s only helpful on certain types of wood, and is not needed and less you want to use it.
On types of wood like Pine, your stain can absorb at a very uneven rate, the pre-stain will help solve that problem. However, there are a lot of wood workers including myself that like the natural look that stain and parts on wood.
If you are going to apply pre-stain, follow the directions from the manufacture. It’s going to be similar to wiping on any other product, and it will create a nice layer that you can use as a base for applying an even coat of stain.
Match the pre-staining product to your actual stain. This means use the same brand, our use the one that the stain manufacturer recommends. It’s best to just get the recommended product, because you don’t want to risk using two products that don’t agree with each other.
Instead of experimenting, just use the right thing. The manufacturer has already spent money in research and development to figure out which one is the best to use. Don’t perform the same research for free in your own shop, just use the matching product.
See Also: How to Speed Up Wood Stain Dry Time
Pick the Best Wood Stain
Picking the best wood stain is a personal preference. In general, as long as you are getting a name brand that you trust, and not buying a product that’s been on the shelf for 10 years, then you are doing just fine.
Start with the name brand. There are a lot of different stain manufacturers out there, so look for one that has a long track record, and that has been in the business of stains for a good amount of that time.
You can even take a look online and see what other woodworkers are using. Maybe there is someone you follow that you respect, and they like a particular brand. If you are wondering, I use Varathane products most of the time.
That being said, there are number of other name brands that are good as well. Brands like General Finishes, Minwax, and the other major brands are all pretty good. What stain really comes down to is color, and that’s coming up next.
See Also: How to Prepare Wood for Staining
How to Choose the Perfect Stain Color
Color is one of those things that is extremely subjective. What looks beautiful to some is utterly hideous to others. That’s OK. It takes all kinds of different people to make the world go around, and thank fully we have so many colors to choose from.
One of the best ways to find color inspiration is to look online. Do a Google image search of the project that you’re making, and see what colors you like. Once you find that color, then try to match it on a wood stain manufacturers website.
If the product that you’re looking at is handmade, you may be able to contact the person that made it and ask what color and product they used. One of the ways to increase the likelihood of this is to find color examples on YouTube.
Do a search on YouTube for people that are making tables just like you. Since they are demonstrating the process, they will likely mention the finishing products, and even show you the can. If they don’t, you can always send an email.
People like this enjoy helping others. As long as there’s somebody that actually checks the email, they will more than likely answer with the type of product that they use. This can save you a lot of trouble, as well as time spent searching for the name.
See Also: How to Fix a Bad Stain Job
Pick the Best Clear for the Project
While you are picking a color, also pick out your clear coat. The easiest way to do this, just like the pre-stain and stain choices, is to look at what the manufacturer recommends, and then match the top coat product based on those recommendations.
For most furniture, any type of furniture grade lacquer product is going to be your best bet, and the easiest to apply. Even spray cans of high end lacquer make it possible to finish a large surface like a table top. It can take a little practice, but you can get a good layer.
The absolute easiest alternative is to use a hand applied finish. These don’t require any type of spraying equipment, and they apply a lot more evenly. As a beginner, I recommend a product that you can wipe on or brush on rather than something you spray.
While you can get very good at spraying large surface like a table, it does take some practice in the beginning. You also need to seek out spray cans that have the right tip to apply a thicker layer of lacquer faster.
Though securing the equipment is not very difficult, you are going to blow through some of it in the practice rounds. If that’s what you want to do, I recommend it, and don’t worry about getting the process started.
It’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and once you can finish a sheet of plywood that’s the same size as your table top, and have it look even, do you know you’re ready for the real thing.
See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker
Find a Large Open Space to Apply Your Stain
Since a table is a large project to stain, you need to make sure that you have a large open space to apply the product. There are a few good reasons, and one of them is just have space to get around.
The last thing that you want to do is apply your stain in a cramped shop. It can be hard enough to move around, and now that you have a giant table in your way, the staining process can end up being pretty frustrating.
Especially when things start to go wrong, and you’re forced to hop under or over other things that are in your way to complete the job, you can end up making a lot of mistakes. This is not good, and all for the want of breathing room and space.
The larger space itself won’t make you a better applier of wood stain. What it will do is cause secondary factors not to add stress to the process. This is a big job, and you want to be able to focus on applying your stain without distractions.
See Also: How to be a Modern Renaissance Woodworker
Ventilation is Very Important
On a large project, ventilation is also very important. It’s still important on smaller projects, but you will notice right away the difference in the amount of fumes from a dining table. It’s just so much bigger, and there’s so much more evaporating at the same time.
Don’t make the mistake of finishing something like this in a confined space. Make sure that you have a lot of air flow, and that you have clearly defined exit paths in case you become woozy, and need to get fresh air.
Make sure that you have a good cross draft, and use a fan if necessary. Make sure the fan isn’t anywhere that will stir up dust, it just needs to create a gentle air flow from one opening in the finishing area to the other.
The last thing you want to do is end up face down on your brand new table. Pay attention ventilation, wear the right personal protective gear, and don’t take chances.
See Also: How to Pick the Best Respirator for Wood Finishing
Keep the Dust Down While Finishing
Coming back to the fan. You definitely don’t want to create a lot of dust when you are applying your stain, or your clear coat. These particles can get trapped on the surface, and they will ruin the look that you are going for.
Also, right after you blow off the dust from the table with your air hose is not the best time to start applying stain. Those airborne particles are going to be floating in the air for several hours, so you just have to wait.
One of the best things you can do is clean the shop early in the morning, and wipe off everything that you possibly can. Then, come in later that evening and wipe down just your table prior to finishing.
As long as your table wasn’t covered with a lot of dust that settled out of the air, you’re probably good to start applying the stain. If that process itself created a lot of dust in the air, then just wait till the following morning.
See Also: How to Pick the Best Dust Mask for Woodworking
Allow the Stain Time to Fully Dry
This is one of the areas where woodworkers tend to make their big mistake. We’re just like a bunch of kids that are sitting in the car with a brand new toy on their way home. There’s no way were not going to open it early and start playing.
The finishing phase of any project is kind of like that brand new toy, you are just so close to seeing the results that you just can’t resist playing. This is where the mistakes happen, and you end up going too fast into the next steps.
Allow your stain to fully dry before moving on to clear coat. Take a look at the recommendations from the manufacture as far as dry time and then double it. Manufacturers are notoriously sneaky for using little tricks to make their dry time seem faster.
This is actually our fault, because consumers have shown repeatedly that they would rather have a product that dries faster than nearly any other factor. So, they use things like a warm room with very low humidity when they test their drying times.
Of course under optimal conditions the stain is dry in an hour or less. In your shop however, it can take much longer than that. It’s better to double the time on the can and then still do one last check before you go to your clear coat.
See Also: How to Speed Up Wood Stain Dry Time
Clear Coat With Good Product
When you purchase your clear coat product, make sure that you are using something that makes you confident in the final project. This means to choose a clear that was purpose made for your table.
It doesn’t matter if you’re finishing by hand, spraying from a can, or using a machine sprayer. Pick the right finish that works for a dining table, or whatever the table is going to be used for in the end.
Dining room tables tend to take a little bit more abuse than other tables. End table in the living room will just see cups on it every once in a while, and maybe a picture frame. Your dining room table can get a lot more abuse in contrast.
Pick a product that can stand up to what you plan on dishing out. Make sure that you are happy with the product, and that you’ve seen and read the type of results that you’re looking for on your project. That’s how you know you’re getting what you want.
See Also: How to Choose the Best Wood Finish Spray
Allow the Clear to Fully Cure
Just like staining, you need to allow your clear coat to fully cure. This is very important step, and again just like the new toy in the back seat of the car, wood workers tend to rush this part of the process more than they should.
Break this habit early, and you won’t have nearly as much to worry about in the future with your projects. It’s not a good habit to have, and if you do ruin the finish by handling the product too fast, you’ll have to start over.
What’s worse than that, if you really mess up the finish, you may have to strip the entire project. This will add far more time to the build than any time you might have saved by handling the product to early. Don’t risk it, it’s not worth it.
See Also: 19 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Woodworking
Staining a Wood Table Wrap-Up
Those were 13 helpful tips on how to stain a wood table. Hopefully you learned quite a bit from reading the tips, and I hope that your table finishing project goes extremely well. I think it will, all you need to do is have the confidence to get started.
When you pick out your products, stop into a woodworking store if you have questions, and you would like some advice. The people that work in the stores know their finishes really well, and they know what products go together really well.
They can recommend a good stain, and a good topcoat that work well together, and they will give you the results you’re looking for. This will build confidence, because you can go into your shop knowing that your products will not betray you.
Make sure to remember the tips, and especially the ones about letting the layers dry. Don’t fall into the trap of playing with your toys too early. Apply thin coats, and let those layers dry before moving onto the next step. You’ll be glad you did.
See Also: Printable Woodworking Tips Cards
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know exactly what you need to do, it’s time to get out the shop and put those words into action. Remember, all the academic learning in the world is completely useless and less you take action.
Maybe you need to start by making a table first. Perhaps you’re really good at researching, and you want to knock the finishing part out as well as the research on how to make the table. If that’s you, great job, now you just need to start building table.
Maybe you already have a table ready for the finish, and if that’s you then go out and buy your finishing products. Find something you like, and a color that makes you happy, and then bring those products home and start the process.
You can do it, the table is just a really large woodworking project. It’s no different than any other project, and if you are patient, and treat it with care, your wood stain can come out great and so can your table.
If you have any questions, please post a question and I’ll be glad to answer it. Happy building.
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