How to Stain and Clearcoat Wood Doors, Moulding and Trim

Staining wood doors, moldings and trims provides wood with color to enhance the appearance of a room. Homeowners stain wood doors, molding or trim while the wood is in place or before installation. Wood stains come as liquids or gels in a wide range of natural tones or colors. Clear coating the wood molding, trims and doors offers a layer of protection against damage. Preparing the wood before adding color is necessary to a successful project.

Polyurethane offers a layer of protection over stain.
  1. Lay tarps or plastic sheets on the floor under the molding or trim to protect the floor from stain and polyurethane.

  2. Apply low-tack painter's tape on the wall next to molding and above and below trim to protect the wall from stain splashes and drips. Remove the door from its hinges, and lay it across two sawhorses.

  3. Inspect trim or molding for lifted nails, and hammer them back in place.

  4. Load an orbital palm sander with 100-grit sandpaper or insert 100-grit sandpaper into a sanding block. Sand the surface three times beginning with the 100-grit sandpaper. Change to 220-grit sandpaper and finally 320-grit sandpaper. Follow the grain of the wood with each sanding.

  5. Remove excess dust and debris from the floors and walls with a shop vacuum.

  6. Examine the trim, molding and door for signs of damage, including nail holes, nicks or scratches. Using a flexible putty knife, fill in the damage with wood putty in a color that matches the stain. Let the wood putty set and harden for one to two hours. Sand the surface of the wood putty repair with 320-grit sandpaper to make it flush with the surface.

  7. Wipe the wood door, trim or molding with a tack cloth to remove fine bits of wood sanding dust.

  8. Dip a clean rag into the gel stain of your choice or dip a high-quality, natural bristle paintbrush into liquid stain. Remove excess stain from the paintbrush on the side of the stain can. Place the rag or brush at the edge of the wood, and drag it toward the opposite edge of the door, molding or trim while following the wood grain. Dip the rag or brush back into the stain as necessary to apply stain to the wood surface. Avoid overlapping coats of stain to prevent lines on the wood surface. Let the wood stain dry for three to four hours.

  9. Insert 400-grit sandpaper into an orbital palm sander or a sanding block and lightly sand the stained surface, following the grain of the wood. Wipe the wood surface with a tack cloth.

  10. Apply second and subsequent coats based on the depth of desired color. Allow each to dry for three to four hours between applications. Sand each coat lightly with 400-grit sandpaper, and wipe the surface with a tack cloth before applying the next coat. The more coats of stain the deeper and darker the final color.

  11. Dip a high-quality natural bristle paintbrush into polyurethane. Brush the polyurethane onto the surface beginning at the edge and work toward the opposite edge of the molding, trim or door. Move the paintbrush in one direction. Continue to apply polyurethane until it covers the surface. Let the polyurethane dry for four to six hours. Turn the door over and repeat the process on the opposite side.


  • Wear protective eye wear and a dust mask when staining and clear coating trim, molding and doors.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area when applying stain and polyurethane.
  • Stir stain and polyurethane rather than shaking the can, as shaking results in air bubbles on the finish.
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