Staining Wood

{before. photo from the Givits FB page}

When I moved into a place with a kitchen larger than what I’m used to, I realized that I needed some type of an island. I heard about the DIY dresser island but felt like unless it’s done right, it looks awful and the last thing I wanted was a dresser in my kitchen.

So I waited.

One day Givits posted a picture of a work table slash something that could totally work as an island and I was there before the owner had the chance to sell it to anybody else. She gave me an awesome deal, as she always does, and I walked away with the perfect makeshift kitchen island for $15. My friends Shanie and Jenny helped me bring it into the kitchen and Jenny suggested that I stain it rather than paint it to match my cabinets. I’ve never stained anything before and I went into it thinking it was exactly like painting without listening to Shanie and doing research as she suggested.

If you don’t want to read the entire post about the drama in staining this thing, here’s the short version:

Staining wood is not like painting at all
Don’t skip the sanding!!!
I don’t care what anyone says, don’t buy gel stain. Ever.
When they say use a thin coat, use a thin coat
Wiping down as you stain isn’t as scary and weird as you think it will be
Don’t stain in humid weather
Be extremely patient
Mineral spirits is miracle in a bottle sent from above

If you like drama, read the rest of this post.

The basics & what you need to know about staining:

There’s oil based stain and gel stain. They say you can use gel stain on fake wood, metal etc. The top clear protective finish is called polyurethane. There’s also a pre-conditioning product and pre-staining product but I didn’t use those. Staining is not like painting. You want the wood to absorb the stain while maintaining the natural look of the wood. So when they say use thin coats and wipe the excess stain as you apply it, that’s why.

What I used:

Minwax oil based stain
A foam brush
Polyurethane protective finish
200 grit sand paper
{notice the difference between sanding and not sanding. Left: not sanded. Right: sanded}

The biggest mistake: Thick layers and Gel Stain

The first round I piled on the layers of the oil based stain without sanding the island and it looked beautiful, rich, and dark. I was patting myself on the back for doing such a great job without doing any research. The next morning the island wasn’t dry and hours later it still wouldn’t dry. Turns out my layers were way too thick. I went back to Home Depot and picked up some Mineral Spirits. I figured that I would be returning here quite often so I checked online and found a Home Depot promo code I was able to use to keep the cost down – after all, who doesn’t love a great saving like that? Mineral spirits is your best friend when staining. It’s like magic and removes the wood stain very easily. I decided to remove my sticky thick layer and try again. The Mineral Spirits took it right off and this time I sanded it and applied super thin layers, wiping the excess stain off with a paper towel. I’ll admit, it look a while to get the sticky layer off and sandpaper was too weak. I remembered that a belt sander is powerful but I didn’t have one. I just have to persevere with my paper and hope for the best. It did work out in the end but took me a lot longer than I had anticipated.
So things are going along just fine and I’m staining with thin layers and it looks good but not as good as the time I piled on the layers because it’s still light and needs additional coats. I let it dry overnight and it still would not dry. I thought it was because I was doing something wrong but really it’s because it was too humid in my house and it needed extra time to dry. They say it takes up to 8 hours to dry and that’s such a lie. Even when you do it right it needs up to 48 hours to fully dry. This is where you need to be patient. Just because it’s not dry doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing something wrong, it just means it needs more time to dry. Give it up to 2 days in a well ventilated area and if it’s not dry, then use mineral spirits and try again…something is wrong. It could be that you didn’t sand off all of the old stain or it’s too thick of a coat or most likely, it’s the temperature.
So what do I do, I watch some stupid video online and they say “use gel stain for fake wood!” and I’m thinking “well this is why it won’t dry! I should be using Gel Stain!” When really, I just needed to be patient. So I went back to Home Depot and bought some gel stain and removed the oil based stain. It’s awful. The worst thing I’ve ever used. It was basically like slathering chocolate pudding everywhere. You have to work extremely fast and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to avoid streaks and an uneven stain job. I wish I would have taken a picture of it. I was too pissed off to even bother.

The solution:

I removed all of the gel stain with Mineral Spirits, curse the moment I watched that video and try again with the oil based stain. It’s going on a little streaky but at this point I stopped caring and just let it dry for 2 days outside. Once it was completely dry and not tacky at all, I applied a layer of the polyutherane and let that dry for another day. In the end it looks good but not as good as the first round because it’s a little streaky but I don’t mind that much because I kind of like the imperfect wood look.
{a little streaky but I don’t mind it}
I don’t want to discourage you from using wood stain because it has the potential to look absolutely beautiful. If you stain in a well ventilated area, apply thin coats, wipe the excess stain as you go along, and let it dry completely before applying a second coat you’re good to go!
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