When I started my maverick DIY project of the year, The Complete Staircase Makeover, or as it is now known, “Project Stairway”, I had little to no knowledge of wood stains. The next two months would take me on a Do It Yourself whirlwind journey into learning a TON about not only remodeling a staircase, but also selecting the right products to do so. That being said, compared to a master craftsman, I think I have only scratched the surface (pun intended)
As I read up on stains and tweeted back and forth with major manufactures like MinWax and Olympic Stain, I was surprised at their quick responses to my questions and the amount of educational resources at my disposal via the web. Always cross check your information with a reputable source. In my findings, there is about as much bad information as good information floating around.
So I suppose Tip 1 is :
Do your homework from visiting your local retailer to contacting the manufactures directly. There are a gazzilion DIY Home Improvement Youtube videos, DIY blogs and DIY websites from both professional product companies and the weekend craft warrior Average Joe or Jane, many reviews and tutorials are product, technique and tool specific.
Consider Your Workspace. The two most popular types of stain on the market are water based and oil based / Indoor and Outdoor stains. They have their pros and cons. For my specific application, I couldn’t remove the stairs so they had to remain in the house. This ruled out using any oil based stain and most water based stains because of the off gassing and odor. Depending on your stain the odor is anywhere from annoying to harmful, so you will want to use it in a well ventilated area and possibly use a respirator that’s rated for stain and solvents, I use the 3M respirators available at Home Depot – They do work pretty well, just make sure you pick up the right one for the job. I opted for an aqua floor resin floor coating stain from Bioshield it is far less toxic in terms of VOC‘s. The stain looks beautiful, was easy to apply, clean up and I applied it before I went to bed at night and left all the windows open. The odor was hardly noticeable but the results definitely were.
Type of Wood: Sanding the wood with nothing greater than 100 grit sandpaper on a Ryobi Pad Sander left my wood porous enough to really soak up the water based aqua resin stain evenly. My wood was pine, so it was pretty forgiving. Different types of wood will require different types of sanding, especially between coats, where I personally used 320 very lightly. Here is a great article from the DIY Network regarding Sanding and Preparing Wood Before Staining
Consider The Surface Of The Wood: Some woods will require a conditioner solution, Since my stairs had been indoors and covered by carpet for 35+ years, they only required heavy sanding to get off old paint and carpet gunk. An easy way to test to see if your wood is ready to stain is to put a drop of water on it, if it beads, chances are it will not stain evenly. Well conditioned wood should absorb a drop of water, research the characteristics of your wood.
The Quality of your Application tool: It could be easy to blame a crappy staining job on crappy stain, but that’s not the only point of failure. When I started my first coat I used a less expensive bristled stain brush. Thankfully I had a forgiving Stain that flowed well, because the brush made things pretty streaky. I then purchased a higher quality Purdy brand brush at about $14 bucks from Home Depot. While it sounds expensive, it’s not, the results are very noticeable and it lasted the duration of the job.
How Many Coats of Stain: I experimented with two different colors of floor resin stain on the Pine. One was an Ebony and the other a Walnut. With the Ebony one coat was almost totally black when I tested on a piece of the Pine. The Walnut color was far more forgiving and allowed me the ability to darken just a tad with each new coat. Depending on your stain and type of wood, it will vary greatly. I suggest testing on an area that is UN-noticeable. In my case, I had to test and then sand it off since everything is noticeable on floating stairs, at least in my OCD eyes.
Try Before You Buy: I may have been lucky but I was able to get a few free samples of my preferred choices of stain prior to ordering a larger quantity. This is the beauty of buying from a Mom and Pops shop, they respect and earn your business, They love DIY and the craftsman / woman. I don’t think I’ve seen free samples at the large stores. I was able to test the product and confirm that I liked it. It can be as easy as just picking up the phone and talking to the right person to get samples and product knowledge.
Follow The Directions: If you are like me, I am too A.D.D. to read directions, but stain is just that, it’s permanent. The application method of a stain may vary greatly from product to product, in this very rare instance, I am glad I read the directions. I got the best bang for my buck and taking a few minutes to educate myself saved me from making potentially permanent mistakes.
Leave Yourself Enough Time: To do the job right. Stain is tricky, done right it can be beautiful, last a long time and add value to any project. Leave yourself ample time to do the detail work that stain requires. Taping off edges, getting the right brushes, having the right weather conditions and testing samples.
A Clean Work Space: Stain likes dust and dust likes Stain, it’s an abusive relationship. The Bioshield Aqua Floor Resin Stain I worked with recently is pretty sticky upon application, it dries in about 4 hours, but keeping a well ventilated area free of dust, especially living on a golf course is tricky to say the least. I found applying it at night with ample lighting to be the most effective, the wind was calmer, the dog was asleep ( actually she’s always asleep) and dust was minimal.