Top 6 Staining and Finishing Mistakes

Staining and finishing

Whether you're working on a piece of furniture or the woodwork surrounding a doorway, staining and finishing can bring a beautiful touch to any area. While the basic principles sound (and are) rather simple, staining and finishing is a project which presents many potential mistakes.

Depending on the particular error, these mistakes can be annoying, costly and even hazardous to your health. Here, we'll review the most common mistakes made by homeowners when tackling staining and finishing projects. We'll also let you know how to avoid these mistakes, saving yourself headaches and excess costs.

1. Not Sanding Properly

Sanding the piece of wood you're working on is one of the first and most important steps in staining and finishing. The grit of sandpaper you'll need depends in part on the type of wood you're working on. Ask a knowledgeable home center employee to ensure that you're using the right kind. Using a grit which is too coarse on a very soft wood, for example, can result in gouging and scarring which will only show up more once you apply stain.

Once you have the proper sandpaper, you'll need to sand a minimum of two times. The first sanding is to remove any surface imperfections and give you a smooth surface. The second sanding is to smooth out roughness created by the first sanding, leaving you with the smoothest possible surface for stain application.

In between and after sanding, it's essential to remove grit and buildup from your project. If you sand a piece of wood with particles all over it, you run the risk of grinding those particles into the wood and creating gouges. Once the sanding is done, if you begin to apply stain without removing all sanding dust, you will trap that dust and particle debris in the finish, which doesn't look very good.

You can use pretty much anything handy to remove sanding dust. For intricately carved pieces of furniture, a stiff brush is best for reaching into crevices. For a broad, wide piece such as a door, you can use a larger brush or a rag. Run your hand over the surface to ensure that no particles remain, and go over it a few times after you think you're done, just to be on the safe side. If you end up with trapped particles in your finish, you'll need to strip, sand and refinish the entire piece, so taking a few extra moments to ensure all particles are good will pay off down the road.

2. Starting Too Big

If you've never attempted staining and finishing before, it's generally a bad idea to tackle a huge project. For example, staining and finishing all the trim in your living room with no prior experience is more likely to leave you frustrated than proud of your work, and will also probably lead to costly and time-consuming fixes.

Starting small is the best way to go. If you have a large project which needs to get done in a hurry, you have two options. You can practice until you feel you're ready for a bigger job, or you can call in a professional. If you're really in a time crunch, a pro job might be your best bet. Yes, you'll pay more. However, when you consider the time and materials involved in having to re-do an unsatisfactory project, that initial payout doesn't seem quite so high.

If you have enough time to practice, do it until you're comfortable. Grab some old pieces of scrap wood and make them beautiful. Practice proper sanding, staining and finishing techniques. If at all possible, practice on the same type of wood you'll be working on in your actual project.

Staining and finishing is like many other home improvement jobs. It looks very simple and easy when you watch experts do it on television or online videos. However, it's important to remember that they are, after all, experts. They started out just like you making mistakes, then correcting and learning from those mistakes until they got it right. One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make during staining and finishing projects is biting off more then they can chew. You can avoid this by planning carefully and practicing until you feel completely comfortable.

3. Not Following Safety Precautions

When dealing with any type of stain, paint, finish or other chemical compound, proper ventilation is essential. In addition, the large amounts of dust generated by sanding should not be inhaled. Many homeowners make themselves sick by ignoring some very basic safety precautions, but there's no need for you to make this dangerous mistake.

Ideally, sanding, staining and finishing should be done outside. Try to pick a clear day with little to no wind - the last thing you want is a flying leaf stuck in your finish. If you can't wait for a perfect day, then you need to take some indoor precautions.

Regardless of whether you're working inside your house or in a garage or shed, ventilation is key. Open every single window you can, and leave the door open in sheds and garages. If you're working indoors, you don't want to expose other household members to fumes.

Once the windows are open, set up fans. Fans will direct the toxic vapors away from you, minimizing the amount you actually breathe in. Direct the fans toward open windows and doors to vent the fumes outside.

Wearing a mask is another important factor that many homeowners ignore. There's no reason for you to make this mistake; masks are inexpensive and available at any hardware store or home center. Try to find masks designed for painting use; they've been designed to filter out fumes. You can use these same masks while sanding, as they do a fine job of keeping out dust particles. Homemade “masks” such as a bandanna tied around your face will suffice when you're sanding, but they won't help you much when staining and finishing.

If you get any stain, finish or solvent on your hands, wipe it off and rinse the area as soon as you can. While you may not react, certain individuals react very strongly to these chemicals. This depends on the individual and also on what types of products you're using.

4. Ignoring Easy Steps

The basic steps of staining and finishing are sand, stain, finish. However, there are many simple and easy “tricks” which you can use to help create better results. Ignoring these mistakes simply because you're new at staining and finishing is a common mistake, but you can easily avoid it just by reading up on different techniques.

A great example of one of these tricks is applying a wash-coat. A wash-coat is generally a diluted coat of shellac applied before stain. This wash-coat creates a more even surface for the stain, and it can be great for creating a more even coat of color. This is an especially helpful trick when working on woods which are more likely to blotch, which include pine, cherry, maple, birch and alder wood.

5. Ignoring Individual Manufacturer Instructions

While the instructions that you read and hear in your research are good general guidelines, you must always pay attention to the instructions on the products you're using. One stain can vary a great deal in chemical makeup from a different brand. This is true of all staining and finishing chemicals, including paint strippers, finishes and varnishes.

There are two major reasons for following manufacturer instructions. The manufacturer has created those instructions based on the chemicals and ingredients they've used, and they've written the instructions after careful safety testing. Ignoring these instructions can be extremely dangerous, especially if you accidentally end up using two products which, for example, create toxic fumes when combined. In addition to the potential safety hazards, failure to pay attention to manufacturer instructions can give you some radically different results from those you were expecting. Play it safe, and read the instructions on every product before you make your final purchases.

6. Failure to Strip Thoroughly

If your project involves stripping, be certain to strip fully and thoroughly. Far too many homeowners make the mistake of stripping old paint or finish partially, leaving a few blotches or faded spots. They typically assume that these spots will be covered up by the new stain, but this is never the case.

If you're stripping using a sander or sandpaper, simply sand down to bare wood. If you're using a chemical stripper, carefully check over the wood once you've completed the process, checking for any spots which didn't get fully removed. If you spot any, either spot-strip those areas or simply sand them down.

Failure to thoroughly remove all old paint or stain is a common mistake, and unfortunately it's one that can literally ruin the appearance of your finished project. Thankfully, however, simply paying attention will allow you to avoid this annoying error.

The Basics

As you can see, staining and finishing is a simple process, but it's one that still requires knowledge and skill in order to be done right. Educate yourself thoroughly before beginning a staining and finishing project to help ensure the best results possible. Enlist professional help if you really need it for time reasons. Remember to always follow safety precautions, and don't rush. If you follow a few simple guidelines, it can mean the difference between a blotchy, rough job that needs to be refinished and a beautiful, lustrous finish you can enjoy for years to come!

Posted by: Diane Sheppard
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