What’s The Best Way To Stain Wood? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On May 26, 2023

Getting ready to stain a new wood project? 

You've come to the right place!

In this ProPaintCorner.com guide, you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about staining wood
  • Different types of stains to use on wood
  • Supplies you'll need to stain wood

And much more!

How To Stain Wood? (5-Step Guide)

It's always nice to run over the steps to make sure you get the job done right. 

It's also nice to see a list of recommended supplies, so you don't have to keep running back to the grocery store.

In this article, we go in-depth on the process necessary to stain wood specific to each project.

So, before you dive into your DIY project, I recommend you read our guide on the best way to stain wood.

What Do You Need To Know About Staining Wood?

Staining wood is really simple, but the process involved depends on the type of stain you use and the type of wood you're working with.

Unfinished wood is nice, but it can leave slivers in your fingers, and the natural grain of the wood needs to be sealed in if you want it to last.

That's why it's smart to sand and stain wood surfaces like tabletops to give them a smooth touch.

Reading the label of the specific product you are using will give you exact instructions on how to successfully apply the stain.

The best way to learn any task these days is by searching online for someone who has done something similar, and here at Pro Paint Corner we have stained our fair share of furniture.

Staining is actually easier than painting in most cases, but it can get messy if you don't mask things properly, so keeping the project surrounding

What Supplies Will You Need For Staining Wood?

Staining wood doesn't require many materials. Here's a quick list to help you remember everything when you go to buy:

Stain/Varnish of Choice

You'll want to do some quick research online to figure out which stain or varnish product will work best for your specific project.

Stain color depends on the specific product you use. Keep in mind that you can always buy small samples that allow you to apply a small amount on your project to see how it looks.

Masking Materials/Paint Masker

Staining is messy, so you'll want to have masking materials like plastic film, paper, and masking tape. Drop cloths always work great for covering up freshly tiled or floored surfaces. 

Remember, you can really mess up a project by getting stain blotches on something that you didn't mean to!! So be careful!!

Using a paint masker helps to get all surfaces covered and ready to stain fast. Check out 3M paint masker on Amazon for the best prices.

Nitrile Gloves

Since most stains are damaging to your skin, you'll want to pick up some nitrile gloves that keep your hands clean and your mind sane when staining.

Safety Glasses

Trust us, you do not want to stain in your eyes.

You could permanently damage your vision or even go blind from stain splashes, so wear some protective glasses. 

Be safe when working with nasty chemicals!

Microfiber towel

A microfiber towel is useful for cleaning off the surface of the wood when prepping, and it will also serve you in shining your project up after you are finished.


Sandpaper is a must when working with wood and fiberglass.

Start with 80-grit sandpaper on rougher surfaces, and work your way up to 120 or even 200-grit for a smooth finish.

You might even want to lightly sand your project after it has been stained.

Cotton Mask/Respirator

Since most paint stains are toxic, you should use a cotton mask or respirator to avoid causing damage to your respiratory system. 

Paintbrush/Foam Brush/Bristle Brush

Some jobs are more conveniently stained by using a paintbrush or even a foam brush.

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits will help you with cleanup. 

Soak your brushes, and then rinse them off with water after all the stain has come out of the bristles. 

You can also try mineral spirits to remove spill spots.

Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

You might want to use a pre-stain conditioner to help the wood easily accept the stain because some types of bare wood will absorb the finish and end up using more than was necessary.


Professional woodworkers will sometimes apply a clear coat over the top of the stained wood to give it a glossy look.

Read More >> What Are The Best Deck Stains To Use?

Staining wood can actually increase its lifespan.  This is because the stain prevents splintering, rot, and rain from destroying the wood's surface.

What Are The Different Kinds Of Wood Stain?


Oil-based stains are certainly the most common stain that you will find at any hardware store or Home Depot. 

These stains are easily applied with a rag, paintbrush, or even a paint sprayer.

Gel Stain

Gel stains are thicker in consistency, and they don't absorb into the wood like oil-based stains do.

Note: You shouldn't put a gel stain inside a paint sprayer.

Clear Lacquer

Using a clear lacquer is a great way to get a tough and smooth finish on a piece of wood.

Acid Stain

Try an acid stain on your wood for a potent finish.


Polyurethane finishes give wood a strong finish that will help enhance its life and appearance. 

Be careful, however, when applying polyurethane over oil-based stains, as some products are not recommended to be used with each other.


Epoxy is a great wood finish for woodworking because it dries hard as a rock, and is ideal for filling bit knots in hardwoods(like tables, for example).

Used motor oil

This might sound weird, but you can actually stain wood with used motor oil to help resist water damage. This is a great option for people who like to recycle (and you should recycle!).

Try used motor oil for a sealant on outdoor framing projects.

Read More >> What Are The Best Fence Stains To Use?

How To Stain Wood Like A Pro (5-Step Guide)

  1. Sand the surface of the wood/mask surrounding surfaces
  2. Vacuum off the dust
  3. Wipe the surface with a microfiber towel
  4. Apply stain using either a cloth, paintbrush, or paint gun
  5.  Let the stain dry, and lightly sand for the best results

Step 1 - Sand the surface of the wood/mask surrounding surfaces

The first step is sanding the wood so that the finish is even and can adhere to the wood grain well.

Remember, the more porous the wood surface is, the more coats of stain it will take - sometimes you apply stain to wood, and it completely absorbs into the pores making more than one coat necessary.

That's why you might want to apply a pre-stain conditioner first.

Typically, it takes 2-3 coats of stain to get the job done depending on the type of wood you are staining. 

Step 2 - Vacuum off the dust

Using a vacuum is key when applying stain because it removes dust from the porous surface of the wood.

Professionals typically use a brush or larger attachment for larger surfaces, and they might even use a skinny vacuum attachment for high suction to remove dust from all the small cracks in the paint job.

If you don't already have a little shop vac in your garage, now is a great time to get a good price on one using Amazon.

Step 3 - Wipe the surface with a microfiber towel

After you vacuum, take a damp microfiber cloth, and wipe down the surface to get the cleanest finish.

Microfiber towels work great at picking up tiny dust particles, but if you are out of stock you could always use a towel or old shirt to wet the surface of the wood before staining. 

Step 4 - Apply stain using either a cloth, paintbrush, or paint gun (1-3 or more coats)

The method for applying the stain depends on the project.

Applying with a rag or old shirt works well

For example, if you are staining a wood handrail, you might want to simply throw on some nitrile gloves, and apply the stain using a rag/microfiber towel/old t-shirt - some type of fabric.

Bunch the fabric up, pour some stain into it, and rub it onto the wood.

You will be surprised at how fast you can stain a surface just by giving it a quick wipe down. 

Note: You can stain more than just wood. In fact, staining fiberglass works great for home improvement projects like window frames.

Applying stain with a paintbrush

For cabinets and other flat surfaces, you may want to use a paintbrush to apply a coat of stain.

You must use a paintbrush or rag for gel stains because they are generally too thick to put into a paint sprayer.

Applying the stain using a paint gun

For large surface areas, you might want to try using a paint sprayer.

Note: The idea is to apply the stain with the direction of the grain. 

Also, be sure to wipe off any excess stain because you'll end up sanding it off anyways.

Step 5 - Let the stain dry (apply a second coat if necessary), and lightly sand for the best results

After you have applied the stain, you might want to pass over it with lighter-grit sandpaper(180+ grit) for the smoothest look. 

Of course, after you have lightly sanded the stained finish, you'll probably want to wipe it off again with the microfiber cloth, and call it a day.

Other Valuable Resources On The Best Way To Stain Wood

Because some stains are runny and hard to apply with a brush, the biggest part in staining is not making a mess, so be sure to throw some drop cloths down to avoid getting stain on the floor.

Read More >> What Are The Best Paint Sprayers For Staining A Fence?

Final Thoughts On Staining Wood

Now that you have all the info you need to start your wood staining project, you're ready to get after it!

If you're looking for a more convenient way to stain, though, I'd recommend using a paint sprayer.

Use a Handheld HVLP Sprayer For Help

With the cheap prices of handheld HVLP paint sprayers (check out Amazon), larger projects will go a lot faster. 

Take into consideration a cheap paint sprayer before starting on your project. 

Ask Us Questions On Our Page!

We care that you get the most out of your DIY project. 

For your convenience, we answer questions on our Pro Paint Corner blog! 

If you have any doubts about your next painting project, you know where to find us!

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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Got Paint Questions? Search For In-Depth Answers Below!

Ryan Nichols

Ryan Nichols

I first painted professionally in my late teens. I have painted everything from long military base walls to spraying cedar wood siding on cabins in the mountains of Utah. I am also an automotive technician with plenty of auto body and paint experience. In my spare time, I even enjoy artistic oil painting.

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