How to Apply Wood Stain

Stains are designed to enhance the natural color of wood. The key is to put a stain on evenly and to keep your work area free of dust and other contaminants.

  1. Set out a layer of newspapers to protect the work area.

  2. Set the temperature in the room between 70 and 75 degrees F. If it's too cold or too hot, the stain's drying time will be affected.

  3. Sand the wood smooth and vacuum or brush off debris. Oil-based stains in particular will look patchy if the wood isn't smooth.

  4. Wet the wood slightly with a wide, clean paintbrush. This helps the stain spread more evenly.

  5. Make sure that you have enough stain on hand for the job. If you have to buy more, it may come from a slightly different color lot.

  6. Apply stain with a clean rag or paintbrush. Brushes are better for staining ornate carvings, molding and other irregularly shaped areas. Rags hold more stain and are easier to use on flat surfaces.

  7. Use a spray gun to apply quick-drying alcohol-based stains (or dip the object in a stain bath for 5 minutes if a sprayer is too big or unable to reach fine details).

  8. Wipe off excess stain with a paper towel.

  9. Let the stain dry and then apply another coat if there are patchy areas.

  10. Finish the project with varnish, shellac or wood polish to preserve the stain (see 'eHow to Apply Varnish').

  11. Dispose of rags per instructions on the stain can.


  • Be cautious with stains - they can be flammable. Use them in well-ventilated areas, and wear gloves and a face mask when applying them.