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January 30, 2021
Here we are – part 3 of our staining series! We’re walked you through the prep and given you a run-down on the wonderful Osmo stains that we offer here at Decorner – all that’s left is to jump into the actual staining process.
Make sure you’re armed with the following: clothes you don’t mind getting messy, gloves, a mask (chances are you’ve got quite a few of those lying around at this point), paper towels, a couple of rags, and your applicator brush. Your space should be adequately protected with newspapers or a dropcloth on the floor under your piece, or, if you’re staining a floor, it should be clear of any and all impediments. Careful of your ventilation – if possible, do your staining outside, but at the very least make sure the air circulation in your space (especially if you’re doing a floor) is adequate. We don’t want anyone breathing any fumes here!
You’re armed and ready, your surface stripped and sanded. Time to transform!
WARM IT UP - CONDITION!
The key to getting a really good stain is making sure the wood pores are nice and open. Applying a pre-stain conditioner will help your surface accept the stain so the pigment penetrates deeply, and it’ll help even out the rate of absorption, too. Since wood is a natural material, its density and porosity can vary across the surface. The conditioner will help equalize this so you can avoid streaks and blotches.
Match your conditioner to your stain: water-based conditioner for water-based stain, and the same goes for oil-based. Apply it with a brush or a cloth, going back and forth in the direction of the grain. Allow it to penetrate for 10 minutes or so, then wipe it off, after which you should give the surface about 15 minutes before you proceed with staining. Careful not to let it sit for TOO long - most stains recommend you move forward with staining within two hours.
TIME TO STAIN
Give your can of stain a good stir - heavier pigments can settle at the bottom and that will result in an inconsistent coat. And then, the way you would with a new hair dye - do a test strip. Choose a not-too-obvious spot and take the stain for a whirl to make sure the color will come out the way you want.
And then it’s time to stain! Choose your fighter carefully. A brush or a roller might seem like the natural choice, since you’re applying something akin to paint, but it might not be the way you want to go, for several reasons. Stain is significantly thinner than paint, so pouring it into and maneuvering it out of a large tray will likely be messier than it will be effective. Brush bristles can leave unfortunate patterns on your surface, and don’t apply as evenly as some other tools - plus, they can’t deposit color inside little grooves and other inconsistencies.
Consider instead a combination of a rag and a sponge brush. A thoroughly saturated rag should be your main stain-depositing tool - be meticulous in ensuring that it’s very wet with stain. When applying, go with the grain, back and forth across it, the same way you did with the conditioner. Going with the grain helps the stain to penetrate more deeply and also enhances the natural textures. Take your time to make sure it gets in any small indents or knots, working in small sections so it stays even. For corners and edges, you might need a bit of extra help, and this is where a sponge (especially one on a brush!) can come in handy.
The stain needs to sit for a short while to penetrate the surface, but not long enough that it begins to dry. It needs to be wiped off the surface while it’s still damp: letting excess stain sit for too long will give you a patchy look and a sticky surface. Once you’ve wiped your surface, you’ll need to let it dry out; overnight is best. If you want an even more saturated color, you can go back in for a second coat, repeating the same steps as you did the first time. Beware: if your environment is especially cold or damp, allow for extra drying time, even if it feels dry to the touch! Reapplying to soon could ruin all your hard prep work.
TOP COAT: PROTECTING THAT GORGEOUS STAIN
You might think that your work is over once your stain is dry, but think again. Stain just deposits color - you need a top coat to seal it in and prevent the wood from drying out. It also adds a luster to the surface and protects it from spills and stains. You’ve got a few options in terms of what top coat will work best for you - you already know the drill, you’ll want to match it to your conditioner and your stain - and beyond that, it depends on the nature of your project.
You’ve got a few options: shellac, polyurethane, varnish, or oil.
Oils are becoming increasingly more popular, with different options to suit different surfaces. Natural oils, like our whole roster of Osmo stains and finishes, are highly favorable for their good safety ratings and superior absorption. Food-safe oils are the only choice for surfaces on which you’ll be working with food - butcher blocks and wooden countertops. We also offer oils that protect outdoor surfaces from UV rays and weather damage.
Shellac is a quick and easy top coat, more natural than many other options, and speedy to apply and dry. It’s food safe, which means it’s a good choice for things like toys; it’s not the most protective top coat on the surface, so it’s not recommended for high traffic areas or furniture. It’s great for sealing sanding in and for compound use with polyurethane, which we’ll cover next. A head’s up - shellac isn’t vegan, or cruelty free, so if that is something that’s important to you, definitely keep on reading.
Polyurethane is basically a plastic in liquid form. It’s low toxicity without much odor, so it’s easy to apply, and it dries quickly. Standard polyurethane is similar to shellac in that it doesn’t stand up super well to heat and chemicals, so low-traffic surfaces are a perfect fit. Reinforced polyurethane rated for floors is the best top coat option for flooring, so just make sure to check the rating carefully when you’re making your choice!
Varnish is a high-solid finish that offers UV protection, which makes it perfectly suited for outdoor usage. It’s naturally glossy, without any color of its own, and forms a hard but flexible surface, making it a great choice for softer woods. It’s very thin, so it can take longer to dry than other topcoats, and might need several coats before you achieve your desired effect.
In all of these cases, take your time in applying (likely with a natural bristle brush or a rag), take care not to apply too much (or you’ll get bubbles in your finish) and allow as much time as necessary for the finish to dry between coats. If you’re applying outdoors, be sure your surface is protected from the elements - and that you’re finishing on a clear day!
After your top coat is dried - you’ve done it! You’ve conquered staining and you have something concrete and gorgeous to remind you of your DIY prowess. Make sure your materials are carefully put away (because they could come in handy for fixing up spots) and that your natural bristle brushes (if you used one) are carefully cleaned, to preserve your investment. If you have anything toxic to dispose of - stripped materials, for example - check your local disposal regulations and make sure you abide by them.
Staining is a skill set that will come in absolutely clutch if you’re an avid thrifter and DIY-er. It opens up a ton of possibility in terms of what you can do with any wood object you come across - as long as it’s in good shape, it doesn’t matter what the paint job looks like. You can make it suit your space with some elbow grease and some care. It also gives you a ton of flexibility; you’ll be able to update any piece to fit in with changes you make to your space and your aesthetic. We’re huge fans of refinishing because it’s such a sustainable activity, keeping things local as well as out of the landfill.We’re looking forward to bringing more DIYs like this to you - and if you have any ideas you’d like us to work on for you, let us know in the comments, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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