Navigate the pitfalls of wood staining

There’s no substitute for the richness of stained wood, but as both amateur and professional woodworkers know - the process can be particularly intricate due to the varied properties of different types of timber.

The substrate of wood simply refers to the layers of its surface. Your timber will have a range of different properties and when it comes to staining, these will affect the way it absorbs the stain, how it will look when complete and the type of treatment that will be necessary prior to staining and afterwards.

When it comes to choosing the right colour, how the overall finish turns out will be influenced by a range of factors. However, when looking for advice on colour choice, a good start is to investigate the type of timber that will be used.

Properties of wood

There are several types of softwood that can often absorb stains too quickly or unevenly, most notably pine, fur and poplar. In cases like this, you’ll want to apply a light coat of wood sealer and allow this to dry before proceeding. To ensure the colour choice is correct, be sure to test your stain out on a hidden area before going ahead with the entire piece.

When it comes to dark woods like teak, sapele or types like oak, whose grain figure tends to stand out, you should opt for lighter stains. These tend to emphasise the natural colour of the wood, rather than radically transforming it.

Expect Lighter woods like birch to experience a significant colour change when stained. While this can work wonders in accentuating the vibrancy of a design project, beginners can be over-adventurous when it comes to their colours.

One key tip is to consider matching the surface of the timber with the natural shades of darker woods or use more vigorous colours.

Whether or not you choose to stain is a personal choice, but some woods typically look better when left with their natural colouring. When it comes to the likes of cherry, maple, mahogany, rosewood and even aged pine – serious consideration is recommend before going ahead. As a rule, if you are unsure whether staining would improve the look of your timber – simply steer clear.

In some cases, applying finish to the wood will darken its colour, bringing out the natural highlight of the grain. As such, it’s well worth applying finish to an inconspicuous zone to check if you like the way it looks without staining.

Choosing a stain

There’s a wealth of stains on offer and some are even combined with sealers to hasten the staining process, however, some are better than others and it is well worth expending some effort in the planning stages to prevent disasters.

The first step is to consider the finish that’ll be used. While most finishes and stains will play nice together, if you are using polyurethane varnish - you may encounter problems with certain stains. When it comes to staining, your choices are many and varied, but some of the most popular options include:

Pigmented oil stains are typically non-penetrating (which means they won’t work their way deep down into the substrate’s inner layers) and are made up of a mix of pigments and solvents. While they offer great value on the cost, they can often mask the grain pattern of woods that aren’t especially open or prominent.

Penetrating oil stains are probably the most popular option among beginners. They are a mix of solvents with dyes and are very easy to apply. However, in many cases, it can be difficult to ensure even penetration of the substrate and are best reserved for softwoods like pine or cases where you only want to slightly darken a close-grained hardwood.

Varnish stains are a mix of dyes with varnish and are great for the non-visible parts of your project. They are cheap and once applied, you won’t need to finish your wood any further.

Organic stains are crafted from organic bases, such as tobacco, roots, berries and even tea - and can be used to treat pine and other types of timber. Only the most experienced woodworkers are advised to use these stains. 



Comment here