Rustic Wood Staining Technique

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Rustic pieces are super popular. This rustic wood staining technique will have you creating rustic finishes on your projects easily, and with one simple application. I use this process on many of my projects, and it gives the wood a much nicer look.

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Easy Rustic Wood Staining Technique

rustic wood stainingThere is a look at the finished board that I am demonstrating with in this tutorial. You can see that the stain has an irregular look, and has not evenly colored the board.

This difference in color density adds depth, and gives the wood a rustic look.

Pine is the best species of wood to use for the rustic wood staining technique. Thankfully, it’s also one of the least expensive to buy, and easiest to work.

Pine has varying densities in the wood, and is one of the hardest species to stain evenly. This is an advantage for rustic style staining, because the distressed irregular look is what you are going for.

See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing

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Rustic Wood Staining Products and Wood

rustic wood stainingPractice this on some scraps before moving on to the real thing. It’s better to demolish some scrap wood learning the technique than to ruin a perfectly good project.

The wood stain that I use is Varathane, and the color is provincial. These stains say they dry in one hour, and they are thicker, almost like a gel stain.

Rustoleum makes a similar product that I found at WalMart, and it applied just as easily. Most stains are a little thinner. The thickness of this product helps you in the rustic wood staining process, because you can move the stain around more before it dries up. It gives you a chance to alter the coloring before it sets.

rustic wood stainingThe type of board that you use does make a difference. If you are looking for an irregular look, then you want to have a board with defects and irregularities.

When you sand a piece of wood, the surface loses the scratches, dents, and dings. These things add to the rustic look.

If you want to have a really rustic feeling to your project, then seek out pieces of Pine that are riddled with knots, dents, and other defects. The rustic wood staining process will highlight them, and the wood will look even more interesting. When you pick out your pieces, keep this in mind.

rustic wood stainingThe knots on store bought Pine tend to have tear out all around them. This is great for rustic staining. Those small holes and defects take in higher amounts of stain than the surrounding area, which is how this all works.

The only reason one area of the wood will be lighter or darker is because of how much stain is taken into the wood.

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Areas that are harder and smoother take in less stain than softer and rougher areas. This is for all types of wood. The denser and smoother areas resist the penetration of stain. The softer and rougher areas soak it in.

See Also: 9 Unbelievable Wood Finishing Myths for Beginners

Applying the Stain by Hand

rustic wood stainingApplying this stain is easy. First, have a set of disposable gloves available to keep your hands clean, and wear the recommended personal protective equipment from the manufacturer of your stain.

Next, cut a piece of cotton cloth, like from an old undershirt, that measures about 6 inches square. Fold the shirt piece over a few times, and make a small bundle.

This is now your staining pad. These are great for applying stains, because they are small, disposable, and inexpensive. Smaller pads also discourage hosing your project with finish, which will make it look nicer in the end.

rustic wood stainingThe first step is to dip the end of the folded up pad into the stain. This is where beginners tend to go wrong.

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Notice that I did not dip the pad up to my elbow, rather I just dipped the last 1/4 inch. You really do not need very much stain for this process.

A smaller amount of stain is perfect. This allows you to work it into a single section at a time, and prevents over staining. It also gives you more time to work, because you are not chasing down a pool of stain and trying to spread it out before it stains the piece too dark.

rustic wood stainingApply a layer of stain to the test board, and do not wipe very hard. The goal of this first application is simply to transfer stain to the board, and coat the whole working area.

Notice that you can see some residual stain on the face of the board.

The excess stain will be dealt with in a few seconds. This initial transfer of stain to the board is what starts the coloring process. Right now, the stain is coloring the wood. This is happening fairly quickly, and the wood is taking it in at different rates again depending on the density and smoothness.

See Also: 23 Easy Ways to Age Wood and Make Wood Look Old

Creating the Contrasting Rustic Look

rustic wood stainingLeaving the board like it looks above will yield a semi even coloring, but not the rustic coloring that we are looking for. The trick is to wipe the stain around to highlight certain areas.

Use a clean portion of the staining bundle, and start wiping. On the areas without knots and defects, wipe hard to remove as much stain as possible from the surface.

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On the knots and defects, really grind that stain into those areas. You can also switch to the wet portion of the staining bundle and squeeze more stain into these areas. Work a section at a time.

You can see in the board that I wiped the left side, and am about to move over to the right side. The longer you allow the stain to linger, the darker the color will become. If you get after it quickly, you can really prevent it from coloring the cleaner areas very much.

rustic wood stainingHere is what I mean by highlighting the defects and the knots. This is the same knot from an earlier picture. The tear out and the rough areas around the knot have taken up a lot of stain.

After wiping hard on the lighter areas to remove color, and grinding the stain into the rough areas, I now have a high contrast knot.

Spend time working the areas that are going to give the board character. Make sure to wipe the surface clean in the lighter sections, almost like you are drying off the surface entirely. A new rag that is completely stain free works well for this. The absorbent cloth removes any moisture from the surface, and pulls more color away. A paper towel works well too.

See Also: 20 Easy DIY Woodworking Projects With Tutorials

Rustic Stain Tips and Tricks

Here are some tips that you can use as you apply your stain in order to get the best look possible:

  • To further the rustic look, you can add things over the stain like white paint, colorful stain, or a darker stain.
  • You do not want to use a pre stain, pre stain wood conditioner, or anything else that makes the stain absorb evenly. The look comes from uneven absorption. 
  • This looks great on a piece of furniture or any staining project where you want to emphasize the wood grain.
  • You can use water based stains, or oil based stains. Dyes do not work as well.

See Also: How to Pick the Best Respirator for Wood Finishing

Rustic Staining Technique Wrap-Up

rustic wood stainingHere is another look at the board after going through the rustic staining process. The piece has a ton of life and character now.

Normally, Pine boards have some definition to them, but not as much color variation. This staining technique essentially highlighted certain areas of the wood.

If you are planning on doing this for a larger project, do not worry. Simply work in smaller areas, and blend in the stain from section to section. I recommend that you do an entire surface in sections before taking a break, as it can be hard to blend a completely dry section with a newly stained section.

I have used this technique on projects as big as a movable kitchen island before, and the color came out great. Just work in sections, and make sure to wipe the surface well. If it feels like you have wiped everything off, then you are doing it right.

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If you have any questions on Rustic Wood Staining Technique, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends on Pinterest! Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
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