8 Easy Staining Tips: How To Prep Your Cabinet Doors For Stain

July 15, 2021

Whether you're an experienced finisher or just starting out, applying stain can be a frustrating task.

But we have a secret. A secret that will make staining wood 10x easier.

Are you ready for it? Here it is: The most critical part of staining is before you even open the can of stain. It's all in the prep work.

Prepping the wood before you start staining is what separates a professional from an amateur. It's what gives you the amazing results everybody looks for with a stain.

So what does prep work really entail? We put together our top 8 prepping tips to get the absolute best staining results. Let's go.

1.) Always sample

Before you even start prepping, you need to sample and test your whole process on the wood species you want to use.

And we mean the whole process. Including the top coat.

Even though most top coats are clear, they can effect the overall look of the workpiece. They make your stain richer, more vibrant, and can even pull out certain hues. And sometimes, they have a yellowing effect depending on the type you use.

Testing the whole process is important especially if you're color matching. You could match your stain perfectly, apply that top coat, and then boom. That perfect color match ain't so perfect anymore.

2.) Make sure the surface is clean and free from dirt and oils

This tip isn't revolutionary or anything, but sometimes when we're moving fast we forget to do the most simplest things.

We recommend removing dust with an air hose, damp cloth, or tack cloth. Try to avoid dry rags or brushes since they aren't the most effective at removing everything.

3.) Start sanding with medium grit

We can't stress this enough: Sanding is, hands-down, the most important step for stain.

To start, it's always best to sand with medium grit sandpaper and then progressively use finer grits. This will give you a smooth surface altogether.

Generally speaking, we suggest starting with 120 grit and work your way up to 220.

But the grit you use also depends on the wood species. With hard woods like maple and oak, it's best to start with 120 and finish with no finer than 180. We put together a guide to help with this:

Keep in mind, the finer the sandpaper used, the lighter the stain color will be. The coarser the sandpaper, the darker the stain will be.

4.) Sand with the grain

Always sand in the direction of the grain. Do not do perpendicular or at an angle.

Going against the grain will result in unattractive scratches that will only be emphasized with the stain.

Position the wood so that the surface being sanded is horizontal. Next, firmly apply pressure while moving back and forth in the same direction as the grain. Try to avoid using a lot of pressure because it can cause unwanted depressions in the wood.

Also, let the sandpaper do the work. Sometimes when you're in a rush, it might seem easier and quicker to sand faster. But in this case, slower is faster. Take your time and move slowly to get the best results.

5.) Sand end grain with higher grit

End grains are extremely porous and have a tendency to absorb more stain. So to get a consistent color throughout your workpiece, we suggest sanding the end grain with a higher grit than the rest of the wood. Take it one step higher. For example, if you're sanding your wood with 180 grit, then go in on the end grain with 220.

The end grain of wood absorbs more stain than the rest of the wood.

6.) Use wood conditioner or a pre-stain treatment

Not too many shops want to use these mediums on every piece they finish, but it's extremely important when you're working with more porous woods.

When applying stain to woods like maple, birch, cherry, and alder, the stain often soaks into the deeper grains. Applying a wood conditioner or pre-stain treatment helps to even out the rate of absorption and reduce those splotches.

source: woodworking.stackexchange.com

It penetrates and temporarily seals the wood, allowing the stain to apply evenly.

To use, apply a liberal coat of the pre-stain conditioner with a brush or cloth. Just like with stain, apply in the same direction as the grain. Let the conditioner absorb into the wood for about 5 to 15 minutes, and then wipe off. Instructions on the can will advise you on how long until you can apply the stain - it varies depending on brand.

7.) Stir the can thoroughly

Sometimes the color pigments will settle at the bottom of the can, so make sure you stir to evenly distribute everything.

And when we say stir, we mean stir. It may take a few minutes of stirring to make sure all the contents are thoroughly mixed. And don't forget to stir every time you open it, too.

8.) Keep a journal

One of the best tips for staining is to keep a journal.

Write down all the steps you took for the prep work and the actual staining process. It'll come in handy and give you something to reference if you need to do a remake or if you want similar results with another job.

Little things like keeping the stain on for 2 seconds vs. 10 seconds makes all the difference. So it's best to write that down.

We also strongly recommend having the same person staining the same job throughout the entire process. It helps keep things more consistent.

Staining doesn't have to be complicated

Staining is not rocket science, but there is a science to it. And the best way to have a smooth and easy process with stain is to prep, prep, prep. It's almost more important than the actual staining.

You'll be glad you went ahead and put in that extra effort because most people won't. Even though it might be tedious and annoying, it sets your work apart and takes it to the next level.

And P.S. we're here to help.

If you ever want a break from spraying, we can help with that. We have the equipment and materials to make finishing a breeze (see us in action here). And a dedicated finishing department that cares about your doors just as much as you.

Paint? Stains? Primed doors? You name it. Check out our finishing page to see what we can do.

Wanna know more about finishing? Read more about it here:

The doors are ready when you are.

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