How to Re-Stain Wood

Wood is stained to change its color while retaining the beauty of the grain. Re-staining becomes necessary in time, and can vastly improve the look of old wood. Items that may benefit from a new coat of stain may include front doors, interior doors, wood windows, trim, cabinets and even furniture. Hardware and home improvements stores stock a large selection of staining and wood-finishing products for the professional and non-professional, and their representatives are trained to give expert advice.

Wood stains are designed to change the character of the wood.

Step 1

Choose the new stain. Decide if you want to use an oil, water-based or gel stain. Water-based stain dries quickly, but is only recommended for small projects. Oil-based stains dry slowly but are easier to apply. Gel stains are the easiest to apply on veneer, plywood or fiberglass. The color may not look like you expect it to, so stain a scrap piece of wood before starting and let it dry completely.

Step 2

Strip off the old coatings. If there is a thick coat of polyurethane or varnish it is quicker to use paint stripper. Your local hardware store customer service representative should be able to give advice on the brand and type of stripper best suited to your project. Paint it on and scrape or wipe the old chemicals off when they soften and blister. Wipe with a clean cloth and plenty of water when done to remove the paint stripper completely. Allow the wood to dry.

Step 3

Sand the wood. Use an electric sander to go over the surface of the wood. Start with coarse grain sandpaper and work your way down to very fine grain. If the wood has an existing dark stain and you want to make it lighter, you will have to sand all the old stain off. If you are applying a darker stain or the same color as the existing stain, you may not have to sand it quite as thoroughly. You will have to sand molded portions by hand. The wood should be very smooth and evenly colored when you are done.

Step 4

Apply the stain. Wood stains can be applied with a brush, or wiped on with a pad or rag. Wipe in the direction of the grain with a white cotton rag or foam pad or cut a piece of the sheepskin off a paint roller. Alternatively, you can use a bristle brush with an oil based stain or a nylon brush for a water based stain. For larger areas, the stain can be sprayed on.

Step 5

Allow the stain to soak in, then use a clean cloth to wipe off excess stain. If the stain is too dark or has dark patches, use the cloth to lift some of it off.

Step 6

Apply a protective coat of clear varnish or polyurethane coat once the stain is dry.


  • Do not let any of the chemicals remain on your skin for any length of time.