How to Fix a Bad Stain Job

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This is How to Fix a Bad Stain Job. Have you ever ruined a staining job, or had to fix a stain that someone else ruined? There are several easy methods, and I’ll show you exactly how to do it. Enjoy.

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How to Fix a Bad Stain Job

How-to-Fix-a-Bad-Stain-JobSometimes, a staining task does not go well, and you are left with a project that doesn’t look anything like you intended. This happens to even the best woodworkers. You are not alone, so don’t feel too bad about it.

There are a lot of factors that go into a great looking stain job, and sometimes you can get one or more things wrong. When this happens, you end up with uneven coloring, bald areas, drips, and a generally bad looking stain.

Thankfully, there are many easy ways to correct a bad looking stain on your project, and you may even have what you need already in your shop. The biggest thing is that you don’t ship a project with a poor looking stain. Take the time and fix it.

See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing

Evaluate Your Surface First Before Deciding on Treatment

The first step in fixing your stain is to evaluate the project and see what went wrong. There are a number of things that can happen to a stain that makes it look bad. Each of them is different, and can require a different treatment.

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First, the surface can be uneven. This happens when you have a stain that has penetrated deeper in one area than another. On woods like Pine, the difference in densities on the surface can cause this problem every time.

You might also have drips or stain marks from can rims or brushes. These really dark areas are hard to remove. Unfortunately they are also really bad looking, so you have to do something to them before you finalize your project.

Your stain might not have fully dried, even after several hours. The surface night be tacky, the color can be wrong, and the shade might be too light or dark. Evaluate your surface, and figure out the root causes of your staining problem.

From that point, you can decide on the solution to fix it.

See Also: 3 Common Types of Wood Stain and When to Use Them

Several Ways to Fix a Bad Stain Job

There are several ways to fix your stain job. Here is the list, and I will cover each one in depth a little farther own in the post. Each one has full instructions, and can help you correct the look on your woodworking project.

  • Apply Stain in Selected Places to Even the Look
  • Apply Thinner to Wipe Away Darker Areas
  • Apply One More Coat on the Entire Surface to Even the Look
  • Sand the Existing Stain Off the Project
  • Use a Chemical Stripper to Remove the Stain
  • Covering Treatments (options for just covering the mess)
  • Coat with a Very Dark Stain Color
  • Paint Over the Stain to Hide It
  • How to Avoid the Mistake Next Time

Apply Stain in Selected Places to Even the Look

The first method here is for when you apply a stain and it has a light and dark look. The surface is not terrible, but there are some areas where the stain is really light, and others where it is correct. There might even be some dark areas.

This is a common problem, but is also a simple solution. The easiest thing you can do is just go back over the project with another layer of the same stain. The trick though is to target the areas that are lighter.

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With your rag or cloth, apply stain and let it linger on the areas of the project that are too light to blend in with everything else. This extra stain application can help even out the light areas, and bring them closer to the rest of the piece.

Be careful not to get more stain on the good spots, or the really dark areas. This is a little bit of a trick, so work carefully and wipe off anything that gets in places it should not. After the stain has lingered a bit, wipe it all off, wiping over the entire surface.

The last wipe is over the entire surface, because it will help blend in the look, and eliminate any areas that have sharp contrast. Your stain will look more even, and the lighter spots will not be more in line with the rest of the piece.

See Also: 9 Excellent Tips for Staining Plywood

Apply Thinner to Wipe Away Darker Areas

If your bad stain coat has darker areas, you can sometimes lighten them with thinner. Look at the can of finish that you are using, and use the thinner recommended by the manufacturer to wipe off color from the affected areas.

Work carefully, and try your best to only target the areas that are darker. Thinner doesn’t know your goal, and it will take color away from anything it touches. Work on the dark spots by wiping away color, and you can feather the edges to blend it.

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This works best on finishes that are dark. The really light finishes can sometimes be hard to tell if anything is coming off with each pass of the rag. As you work, you can look at the rag as an indication that you are going in the right direction.

If there is stain on the rag, then you are removing color. Keep working on the dark areas, and eventually they will lighten. In the end, apply a thin coat of color to the entire surface to even out the look, and it will reduce the contrast.

See Also: The Easy Way to Stain Wood Darker

Apply One More Coat on the Entire Surface to Even the Look

Sometimes the difference in the color is very faint. In a case like this, you can simply wipe on another coat of stain and it will even out the look. This is for times when the color difference is very minor, and you just need to even it a bit.

Start with the same stain color you already used. Apply some to a rag or applicator, and remove the excess before touching the piece. Work quickly so you don’t over apply it to any one area, and spread around the coat.

Once its spread evenly, wipe off as much as you can from the surface as quickly as you can. Press hard, and even out the look of your project as you go. Once this layer dries, you will have a nice looking, even coat of stain.

See Also: How to Speed Up Wood Stain Dry Time

Sand the Existing Stain Off the Project

Sometimes a stain job is so bad that you need to remove the entire coat before you can start again. If you are dealing with a flat surface, one of the easiest ways to do that is by sanding it off. It can take a little time, but it will give you the reset you need.

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Allow the stain to dry completely before trying to sand the project. Wet stain will continue to color more of the wood as you grind it up with the sander. This can cause the color to go deeper, and that’s not what you want.

After the stain has dried, use an orbital sander to prepare the surface. Start with an aggressive grit, and let the sander do the work. As you go, the color will lighten, and the wood will begin to look natural again.

As you get really close to the original color, switch to finer paper. This will not only keep removing color but it will remove the scratches left by the rougher grits of paper. This is a double win, because you would have to remove those anyway.

See Also: How to Get the Best Deal on Sandpaper for Wood

Use a Chemical Stripper to Remove the Stain

On projects where the stain job is too far gone, or you have tight spaces and hard to reach areas, then stripper is your best friend. Chemical strippers remove stain from anywhere the product can touch. If you can smear it on the finish, the stripper can remove it.

Save yourself the trouble and only use a stripper that is not overly caustic. There are alternatives to really aggressive strippers that are made with plants, and they actually work just as well as the harsh stuff.

They do take a little longer to cook, but once the color lets go the stripper pulls just as much color as any other. Look for this kind of product when you need a stripper, and you will have a much safer time in your shop.

Follow the directions and apply a thin layer of stripper everywhere you need to remove color on your project. Let it sit for the recommended amount of time, and then wipe it off. You will be amazed at how well it works.

See Also: How to Prepare Wood for Staining

Covering Treatments

Sometimes, you just need to pull the plug entirely. When this happens, you need to use a method that coves the mess. These are really easy, but they do have some down side that removing the stain and starting over does not.

Starting with the good parts, covering treatments are fast. They are fast because you don’t need to remove anything before you do it. The treatment covers the existing stain, and you replace a bad looking stain with a good looking cover.

The bad part is that you will not have the same look in the end. If you really had your heart set on a certain stain color, covering it will not look the same. The point of covering is to pull the plug when the stain job is really bad, so you do have to make some sacrifices.

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The following methods are all meant to be used in dire situations, or when you just really don’t want to remove the old layer of stain. They work well, and they work quickly. I’ll show you how to do each one, and they will definitely cover up a bad stain.

Coat with a Very Dark Stain Color

The first covering method is the least aggressive. This is still a staining process, and you can use it when you have a light to medium stain that just looks awful. Instead of working to restore the specific stain color, you just cover it with something really dark.

Pick out a very dark stain, like a dark brown or black. Get your rag or applicator, and start coating the piece. Allow the stain to penetrate really well, and then wipe off the excess. If you did this well, the surface should be evenly dark.

However, if you still have areas that are uneven, apply another coat. You can do this many times, because the stain is so dark. Keep on applying, and when you have an even, dark layer, you are all done.

See Also: Staining Wood and Experimenting With Stains

Paint Over the Stain to Hide It

If all else fails, paint will not. Simply painting over a stain that is not good looking will hide the coat, and make your surface even. You can pick out a color that is really close to your original stain if you want, or you can go completely different too.

Paint is a solid, which is why it coats so well. As you apply layer over layer, the solids in the paint form a barrier that you cannot see through. This barrier traps the old color underneath, hiding the stain.

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You might need to apply several coats to make this work, depending on the color that you selected for stain and paint. Remember to allow the stain to fully cure before painting, and you should not have to worry about compatibility issues.

If you are really concerned, use some Killz or a really heavy primer first. After that, you can paint as normal and the end result will look great.

See Also: Rustic Wood Staining Technique

How to Avoid the Mistake Next Time

If you would like to know how to avoid the mistakes that lead to a bad finish, you can better prepare yourself so you don’t have to fix another finish. This is a good thing to know, and thankfully you only have to get a few things right in order to apply a good stain.

  • Prepare the surface really well, removing all defects and sanding to 320 grit.
  • Wipe down the surface to remove all dust and debris before applying a stain.
  • Apply even coats and wipe them off evenly as well.
  • Use fresh product and don’t pour it directly on the surface.
  • Allow the stain to penetrate, but know that the longer you leave it the darker it will be.
  • Pre-treat woods like Pine that take up a stain differently in certain areas than others.
  • Let the surface fully fry before applying another coat.

Use these simple methods for applying a good looking stain, and your odds of applying another bad stain will go down dramatically. You should also look into the reasons that your first stain went poorly.

Once you know the reasons, you can learn the skills you need to prevent them from happening again. It’s typically something easy, and you can usually figure it out. Finishing is not the enigma that some people make it out to be. The answers are all out there.

See Also: Staining Wood with Steel Wool and Vinegar

Your Action Assignment

If you have a stain coat that you are not proud of, now is the time to make it right. Pick out a method from the list that you can use, and give it s try. Even if you improve it just for yourself, you have done the right thing.

The easiest methods are going really dark, and painting. So, if this is your first time fixing a stain, try some of the more involved methods and then you can always go back to painting if you really have to.

The nice thing about this is that you can work in a sort of test environment, and then you have a bail out plan if needed. If all else fails, a nice coat of a really great looking color of paint will make your project look better than it ever has.

If you have any questions about How to Fix a Bad Stain Job, please Post a Question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
Buy My Books on Amazon

I receive Commissions for Purchases Made Through the Links in This Post.

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