How Much Stain Do I Need? (5-Step Guide)

Last Updated On September 15, 2023

Are you wondering how much stain you'll need for a given project? 

You've come to the right place!

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • Why you need to know about stain coverage
  • What supplies you'll need to make sure you get the best stain finish
  • How to properly apply stains using different methods

And much more!

How Much Stain Do I Need?

There are many different types of stains and many different factors that determine how long it will take for them to dry.

So, before you do apply stain to your next woodworking project, I recommend you read this quick guide if you were wondering about how long it takes for the stain to dry.

How many gallons of stain cover do you need for your next project? Here's a process to help you get the right amount of stain when refinishing.

So, before you do stain your DIY project, I recommend you read this quick 5-step guide that will help you to not miss a beat.

What Do You Need To Know About Stain Coverage?

Whether staining a wood deck/decking, trying to handle a fence stain job, or doing some landscaping around the house, staining is something that most homeowners do at least once or twice throughout their lives.

Staining is arguably easier than painting because all you have to do is wipe the stain onto the surface of the wood, but there are some crucial steps you should take to do the job right(like wiping off the excess stain).

Porosity: What Type of Wood Are You Staining?

One curveball in wood staining is that different woods have different porosities, meaning that the pores of the wood accept more stains than other woods.

For example, softer woods like pine and cedar will absorb more of the stain than hardwoods like mahogany and rosewood.

Take into consideration what species of wood you are staining, and pick a paint product that is designed for it.

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

Supplies You’ll Need For Getting Good Stain Coverage

Before you dive right in, let's walk through some of the key supplies you'll need first.

Measuring Tape 

Use a measuring tape to measure the surface area of your project. You'll notice on the label of most wood finish products that it typically tells you the estimated total square footage that each can of stain will cover.

Your Stain of Choice

Check out our page for the best stains on the market.

Paintbrush/Cloth/Paint Sprayer/Paint Roller

We're not going to tell you how to apply the stain to your project, but you'll need one of the items listed above.

Chemical-Resistant Gloves/Nitrile Gloves

You don't want harmful chemicals on your skin, so be sure to use some rubber gloves on your staining project. You'll thank us when you take lunch/dinner after your stain job!

Safety Glasses

We always recommend safety glasses because some stain products could be damaging to your eyes.

Respirator/Cotton Mask

Always protect your respiratory system from harm when painting with harmful chemicals.

Read More >> How Do You Apply Stain Like A Pro?

How Much Stain Do I Need? (5-Step Guide)

Now that you have all of the necessary supplies, let's dive into the step-by-step process for determining how much stain you'll need!

(Psst! You can click any of the links below to jump straight to that step.)

  1. Measure the area of your project
  2. Pick a specific stain/varnish product
  3. Prep the surface
  4. Apply the stain
  5. Inspect the results

Step 1 – Measure the area of your project

Are you trying to stain a deck or another large project? You'll want to measure the area to find out how many square feet there are.

For smaller home improvement projects like furniture, you'll only need a small amount of stain. For example, if you're staining a coffee table, you'll likely only need about a quart of stain.

Step 2 – Pick a specific stain product

The type of stain you use will also affect the amount of stain you'll need on your project. Gel stains are thicker in consistency and stay more on the surface of the wood, while oil-based stains sink deep into the pores of the wood and may require more stain.

Whatever the case may be, you'll want to read the label of the specific stain where it will tell you how many square feet(sq ft) each can of stain should cover.

Step 3 – Prep the surface

Now that you know roughly how much stain you'll need for your project, it's time to prep the surface.

Most stain jobs should be sanded with 120-grit sandpaper. Try using a sanding sponge or a sanding pole.

You'll also want to clean the surface of your project with either a vacuum or compressed air. Tack cloth is another supply you could use to remove the dust from the surface of the wood.

Step 4 – Apply one coat of stain

Now it's time to apply the stain.

There are many different ways to apply stain, so choose the method that works best for your specific project and have at it! Whichever method you use, just make sure you wipe off the excess stain afterward for the best results--it's a little bit different than painting.

Applying stain with a rag/cloth

Using a rag is a great way to apply stain 

Applying stain with a paintbrush/roller

Use a natural-bristled brush for oil-based stains and a brush with synthetic bristles for water-based stains.

Paint rollers also work great for applying stains.

Applying stain with a paint sprayer 

Most stains can be applied with a paint sprayer. Paint sprayers cover large areas much faster than any other method.

Applying a second coat

You'll likely need two coats of stain to get the job done satisfactorily. Depending on how dry it is, or how much absorption occurs you'll need to do additional touch up even after the second coat.

Always apply stain in the direction of the wood grain.

Step 5 – Inspect the results/polish up

After you've applied the stain, inspect the results by shining a flashlight onto the surface of the job.

If you want, you can apply a polyurethane finish as a sealant/sealer, or you could also buff out the stain with some carnauba wax(like you would a car) for more protection.

Read More >> How Do You Apply Stain To A Deck Like A Pro?

Other Valuable Resources on How Much Stain Do I Need?

Aren't sure which stain to use? We've already researched the best stains on the market and mapped them out for you. You might even call us an online retailer. 

There are literally hundreds of different wood stain colors and semi-transparent stains to choose from on Amazon. We recommend doing a little research on which stain goes best with the specific wood surface that you'll be staining.

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

One last hint: do an internet search on 'stain calculator' and see what results pop up.

Good luck with your staining project!

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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