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Like all painting and finishing jobs, wood staining works best if you spend some time preparing the surface before you brush on any color.
First step: Cleaning. Vacuum and dust the room where you’ll do the work. Dust sticks like crazy to wet polyurethane, so make your room as dust-free as you can. Clean the wood, too, with a cloth that will leave behind no residue.
Second step: Testing. Don’t apply a drop of finish to your door, trim, furniture or floor before testing the color on a wood scrap or an inconspicuous area of the piece. Like paint swatches, stains will look different in your home than they do in a brightly lighted paint store. Even if you’ve chosen a clear stain, test it before committing it to your whole piece.
Third step: Sanding. This will minimize scratches and imperfections in the wood and smooth the surface so it takes the stain or paint more evenly. Tips:

  • Sand with the grain, not against it.
  • If you can’t reach an area with your electric sander, like around curves and near edges, hand-sand them. Don’t leave any area unsanded.
  • Sand twice: once with coarse sandpaper to remove the obvious flaws, and then again with fine sandpaper to smooth everything out.
  • Clear the area of dust again after you finish sanding.

Fourth step: Conditioning. Wood surfaces often absorb stain unevenly, which can leave some areas darker than others. Applying a light coat of wood conditioner before staining can help even out absorption.
Fifth step: Staining. Use a paint brush, not a roller, when finishing or painting most wood. If you’re working on an extra-large surface, consider using a paint pad instead of a brush.
More tips:

  • After you apply each coat of stain or paint, let the wood dry and then lightly sand again. Use a light touch and brush away all dust before applying the next coat.
  • If you’re finishing a piece of carved wood, use a soft cloth rather than a brush to apply the finish.

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