Staining Wood

Staining wood is about giving wood a transparant, colored finish. It's a great way to give whitewood a very different look (think: mahogany, oak, ebony wood), or to give whitewood a fresh color while the woodgrain remains visible.

The key to staining wood is: water soluble stain, completed with a transparent finishing laquer. If you take colored oil-based staining laquers, the color won't go into the wood. The color will lay blotchy on top of the wood, and you'll see every drip and paintstroke. Waterstains go into the wood, coloring the actual wood, and the finishing laquer lies on top of that. That gives a very convincing and classy result. On top of that, water-soluble stains are much easier to spread evenly.

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Is your wood real wood, or a laminate imitation? Laminate can be (sort of) stained too, but not like wood. Click here for more on painting over laminate

Dining Table

On the right, you see a section of my dinner table. It's actually made of whitewood.

When I bought it, it was stained almost black. Once I placed the table, I saw it was too dark. I took off the old stain with paint-removing chemicals (and then found out it was a whitewood table...). I didn't get all the black stuff off, but I expected that would be OK. It's still there in bits, deep down in the grain, but it gives the piece an interesting look.

As a stain, I took lightfast drawing ink, I mixed brown and added green to that, to moderate the color and shade it to match a green painted cabinet. I did about three washes of ink, with drying and light abrasing in between. After that, I applied a strong polyurethane laquer, in two layers. No one ever notices, that this is a whitewood table. It took some time to make it that way, but I enjoy it every day...

wood-stainded dinner table with green cabinet

Stain colors

You'd say all woods are brown. But mahogany brown is almost red, and oak brown is pretty greenish. Cherry wood has pink and green stripes in it, and some light woods can lean towards orange.

When you choose a color for staining wood, don't just read the color name and assume it'll be okay: try some out on a similar piece of wood and see if the color needs adjusting. Try the color out on a small piece of wood and hold it to your furniture. Consider if this color does something good for your interior design. If you want to precisely mix you own stain colors, consider buying different colors of stain, or lightfast drawing ink.

Wood Staining Techniques

First you color the wood by applying the water-soluble stain. Try your staining-fluid out on a similarly colored piece of wood. There's no real need to let it dry - the laquered wood will look about the same when it's wet. When you do staining wood like that: work as fast as you can. Wash the color in, soak the wood through and through, then you won't get color differences. If you put on a stripe and let it dry for too long, you'll keep seeing that sharp edge. The watery part of staining wood can be done in two or more layers, if you want to have control over the lightness you get in the end. If you do more layers, make your paint thinner at first. Apply second layers on the sample piece of wood too, on that you can try out the finish coats and plan your final look ahead.

In between the wet wood staining process, your dry wood looks lighter and matte, but when you laquer the wood it will look just like when it's wet again.

After the first layer has dried, the wood is very rough with swollen fibres. Do some light abrasing, with fine abrasing paper. If necessary, give it a second wash and abrasing.

Finishing with transparant laquer

Try out the laquer on the example-piece you stained, along with your project. Laquer will make your wood go a little darker and shinier. It makes the wood look like when it's wet.

For the strongest protection, take a transparant glossy urethane laquer, or even a two-component urethane floor laquer. Whitewood needs that, it's extremely soft (on my table, there's an imprint of my daughters handwriting...). You get the best results when you apply two or three thin coats of laquer. Take high-gloss laquer (it's the strongest paint). If you want to get an eggsheen finish, it's best to first do two coats of highgloss laquer, and finish off with a coat of eggsheen laquer.

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