Staining Wood and Experimenting With Stains

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Staining wood is a pretty straight forward process on the surface, but there is so much that you can do if you take the time to experiment with stains. If you have been making things, then you definitely have scraps laying around. Those are a gold mine for staining and experimenting with.

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Working With Wood Stain

staining woodYou can really do some amazing things with wood stains. Staining wood is a way to color the surface and create an interesting look that the wood did not have naturally.

There is far more in this world than applying one color. Most beginning woodworkers and wood finishers apply one solid color and then move on to clear coats. 

One of the secrets to staining wood is using multiple colors to achieve a certain look. This is how higher end furniture makers and designers get their signature colors. You also get more depth in your finish when you have multiple colors, and you control the final look.

Staining Wood Using Multiple Colors

staining woodThis piece of Briar is a perfect example of how using more than one stain can make your work really pop. On this piece, there is a black stain as well as a yellow stain.

After applying the black, you cut it back with sandpaper until it only shows on the grain. Then, you apply the yellow over it and you have a more interesting look.

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This process is called contrast staining, and can be done on several different wood species. This look is not possible with one color alone, but the small amount of extra work really makes a big difference.

You can use any lighter stain in conjunction with a darker base stain for this look. Dyes are the best, and I have another article all about them.

Varying How You Apply the Wood Stain

staining woodOther ways you can experiment with staining wood is to vary the amount of time you allow the stain to penetrate.

Traditional stains (like you find in hardware stores) work by coloring the surface. The amount of contact time will have an effect on the depth of color.

In this case, the Provincial stain color that is used on the left is wiped back very hard. It’s also ground into the rougher areas and the knots much harder than anywhere else. This creates a rustic look to the wood surface.

The effect is highlighted areas, and enhanced grain. This way of staining wood creates an instant rustic effect, and you can achieve it with very little practice.

You could also allow the stain to linger on the surface for a longer time, and then wipe off the excess. This would darken the piece more, and create more distressing. As you experiment, you will see how long you need to leave it, and how hard you need to wipe.

If you are completely new to wood finishing, my 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing is a free PDF download that will help you along the way.

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Applying Stain on the Lathe

staining woodFinishing on the lathe is another great way to see how colors combine. The spinning piece allows you to cut back the stain with sandpaper or steel wool. As the piece rotates, you will clearly see areas that are lighter than others.

Staining wood on the lathe for a fading or bursting effect is easy, because you can sand back the areas that are to be lighter. You then leave the areas that are to remain darker untouched.

Be careful applying stain on the lathe though. The spinning piece will take stain, but it will scatter it too. Eyes are a favorite target of flying wood stain, so be sure to wear glasses.

Staining Wood Dark for Deep Color

staining woodLastly, if you are looking for a deep color, stain the wood and allow the stain to linger on the surface for a longer time. Then, wipe it back with a cloth to remove any excess.

If you want a darker look, add another coat. Just be careful. Too many stain coats end up having the effect of paint. You really want to have a little of the wood showing through a stain.

If you are going dark, a good way to bring back some of the color of the wood is to really press hard when you are wiping off the excess. In the case of this pallet wood shelf (full tutorial here) I let the finish linger, then wiped it very hard with a cloth.

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The harder areas of the Pine easily gave up some finish, and allowed me to keep some of the wood look.

As a new woodworker, you should experiment with staining wood early and often. Wood stains are inexpensive. The beauty that you are capable of producing with them will take your woodworking to the next level.

Play around. Ruin some scraps. You may end up finding a color combination that becomes your personal signature.

In review, these are the things you can do to vary your staining looks:

  • Use more than one color of stain.
  • Vary how much stain you apply, and where you apply it.
  • Burst or fade colors on the lathe by sanding them back (this can be done off the lathe too, but it will take a little longer).
  • Use dark stains for deep color, but preserve some of the wood look by wiping hard.

If you have any questions on Staining Wood and Experimenting with Stains, 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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brian forbes westfarthing woodworks llc owner

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