norm abram
Photo: Michael Lewis

When in doubt, go lighter. Unlike paint, you can't cover up a dark stain with a light one. So if you're not sure if that chocolate-brown tone is really your thing, opt for a medium-brown one first.

Experiment with different application methods—a bristle brush, a foam brush, a sprayer, or even a rag. You can swab on stain with strokes that are parallel or perpendicular to the wood's grain. If using a rag, you can use light or heavy pressure, depending on how much color you want the wood to absorb. Which technique is best? "Whatever method gives you the look you want," says Norm. Keep notes on the techniques you use when making samples so that you can replicate the results when doing the project.

Always wipe off unabsorbed stain in the direction of the grain. Rubbing against the wood's grain or in circles could create uneven swirl marks or blotches. And never let unabsorbed stain dry on the wood, as it will just peel off once the solvent evaporates.

The longer stain sits on wood, the deeper the finish will be. You can also apply multiple coats of stain for the same effect, as Mauro did. To get a consistent look and color, use a timer to make sure you're wiping off the excess after the same interval for each area.

Use a stain and a finish with the same solvent. Oil-based finishes don't adhere to water-based stains if the moisture hasn't fully evaporated from the latter. Adding a water-based finish over an oil-based stain can work if the products are compatible, but it's better to leave this technique to a pro. Err on the safe side by choosing like solvents for both.
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