norm abram
Photo: David Carmack

Norm's Top Tips for Staining Interior Woodwork
Follow these rules of thumb when experimenting, and you'll achieve a perfect finish every time

Remove hardware, such as knobs and hinges, before starting. A stain might change the color of the metal, and, unlike paint, you can't just peel it off when it's dry.

Make sure your workspace is well ventilated and relatively dry. Hot, humid days are not ideal for staining, as the airborne moisture interferes with drying. Use a fan or open a window to keep air circulating; if the weather's right, you can work outdoors. When using oil-based products, wear a respirator to avoid inhaling harmful fumes.

Know how water-based and oil-based stains differ. The right pick for your project is largely a matter of preference. Water-based stains are low in odor, clean up with soap and water, and dry a lot faster, so if you're not careful, they can leave lap marks or streaks from application. Plus, you'll need to lightly sand the wood between coats to knock back the grain. Oil-based stains have a longer working time, giving you more control over the finished look, but they release fumes and must be cleaned up with solvents. Both types have to be topped with a protective clear coat to safeguard the wood and the finish.

Always test first. The same stain-and-finish combo can look very different when applied to woods of different species and colors—and even to woods that are prepped with sandpaper of varying grits. "It's a trial-and-error process," says Norm. Test either in a small, unobtrusive area of your project, or make samples of the same species so that you can try out different options side by side. Use the same prep technique on your project and your samples.
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