There are many reasons why you might want to stain furniture before putting on the final coat. It may be to give some color and character to the wood or to achieve the mellowness of aged wood. Or, to make one kind of wood appear to be another kind. Or, to coordinate the piece with others already in the room.
Whatever the reason, it’s not a bad idea to apply the stain to scrap wood, let it stand overnight and then put on the top coat. That’s because the final color depends in large degree on the stain plus the topcoat. Only in that way can you be sure of the precise result, although the scrap wood should be of the same type as the furniture itself to get a true reading.
Different kinds of wood absorb stains differently. When the proper kind of scrap wood is not available, try testing on a part of the furniture that won’t be seen.
If you put on stain and it seems lighter than expected, let it stay on the wood a bit longer before wiping. Wait just a bit longer, since waiting too long makes it difficult to get the desired result.
Another way to make the stain darker is to put on another coat after the first one has dried. The end grain of wood usually will absorb the stain much faster than the rest so wipe it off very quickly. When stain is darker than expected, it can be lightened by diluting with the solvent recommended on the label of the container.
During the test of color, don’t rely on your memory. As soon as you find the right combination, write it down. Such a memo might read: “Apply lightly with clean rag. Wipe off after 12 seconds.” Remember, stain will not hide imperfections in the wood, and usually will accentuate them. Some stain manufacturers may advise you whether a sealer should be applied to the wood before the stain. When no such advice is given, it is wise to apply a sealer both before and after the stain is put on. The “before” application helps make the stain “take” evenly. The “after” application helps keep it that way.
There are many different kinds of stain, including oil, water-based, penetrating and others. All have their advantages and disadvantages, but most of the time you can get good results with any of them provided you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Some final finishes already have the stain as one of the ingredients. Furniture waxes of various kinds also abound and can impart a protective finish to the wood.
There are a number of tinting products on the market to achieve the desired stain color. You also can get the result you want by mixing one color of stain with another, although you should always stick to the same type of stain when making such a mixture.
It is especially important that a sealer be applied under and over stain if the wood has been bleached following the removal of the old finish. Wait a day or two after the bleaching before lightly sanding the wood and applying sealer and the stain.