Remove all drawers and doors from the furniture if it has any. Remove all knobs from the drawers and doors as well. Place these pieces on a clean work table in a standing position.
Lightly sand the furniture with an electric hand sander and 220-grit sandpaper. Always sand in the direction of the grain to avoid scratches, which will be very noticeable once the stain is applied. Do not do a heavy sanding since rustic furniture is meant to look natural--you just want to smooth out any raised grain and rough edges so that they are not a danger.
Wipe the furniture clean with a tack cloth. The tack cloth will lift the sawdust off the wood.
Shake and stir the stain extremely well. Most of the pigment (the coloring) settles at the bottom of the can during shipping and while it is sitting on the shelves at the store, so it is crucial that this pigment is stirred back into the formula of the stain.
Apply the stain onto the furniture using a soft-bristle brush. Apply it in the direction of the grain; this will allow the stain to penetrate properly into the wood. Allow the stain to sit on the wood for three to five minutes. The longer you let the stain sit, the darker the color will be. Be careful not to let the stain sit for more than five minutes because it will begin to dry, making it difficult to remove. If the color is not as dark as you want it, apply a second coat after the first coat has dried.
Wipe the stain off using an old white t-shirt. (Again, wipe in the direction of the grain.) Wipe the stain off completely; leave no pools or streaks of stain behind. Allow the stain to dry for 24 hours.
Apply a second coat of stain if desired. Allow that coat to dry for 24 hours.
Apply a thin coat of matte polyurethane (Matte is a no-sheen top coat.) using a soft bristle brush. (Do not use the same one you used for staining.) Do not apply a thick coat since polyurethane drips easily and will leave visible drip marks which are difficult to remove. Allow the polyurethane to dry for 24 hours.
Lightly buff the furniture once the polyurethane has completely dried. Wipe it clean with a tack cloth.
Apply a second thin coat of polyurethane. Allow it to dry for 24 hours.
Buff and wipe clean.