Wood Staining Techniques: How to turn that chunky old stain into a finish you can use. A client of mine dropped a large suitcase down her stairs and snapped a spindle on the railing. I was confident the spindle was a stock item at a home store, but I needed to match the stain and sheen perfectly or the new spindle would stick out like a sore thumb. When I picked up the broken spindle, I asked her if the previous owners had left any stain when they moved out. ‘You’re in luck,’ she said as she emerged from the basement handing me the stain. This job would be a breeze! or so I thought.
I picked up a spindle at the home store on my way back to my shop, but was disappointed to find a firm crust on top of the stain when I opened the can. I paid a visit to the local hardware store that carried the finish, but they had discontinued their stain line! What was I going to do? I punctured the crust inside the can of stain and found a goopy mess. But using the exact pigment, even with the chunky stain, would be easier than trying to match the stain from scratch.
Photo 1. I brush my first coat despite the chunks and gunk. My goal is to get as much pigment sticking to the light colored spindle as possible.
Put most simply, there are three components to any stain; pigment, binder, and solvent. I needed to take advantage of the exact pigment, despite the lack of solvent, which had evaporated years ago. Staining lighter wood to a dark tone is difficult so I decided to brush a thick, goopy first coat to get a ton of pigment on the spindle.
Photo 2. I sand gently between coats to remove chunks and bits, attempting to remove most of the bumps without cutting through to the bare wood.
Once the stain dried, I sanded off the thick chunks. I brushed a second coat, just as I did the first. A deep base is essential when applying dark stains to lighter wood.
Photo 3. I add solvent to the stain and vigorously stir. I let the solvent sit in the can for an hour or so to soften up the lumps. My goal is to activate any of the remaining liquid stain and separate it from the chunks and bumps inside the can.
To prepare for my final coat, I added a small amount of solvent to the can of dried stain, (about 5 – 10%) and let it sit for an hour.
Photo 4. I strain the stain through a cone filter and pour only as much as I need for the project. I never know when my client might drop a suitcase again.
I mixed and stirred like crazy to dredge every little bit of pigment off the bottom of the can. Then I poured this mix through a cone strainer for a perfectly smooth stain.
Photo 5. I brush the strained stain in the traditional manner. The final coat both deepens the color and dries with a glossy finish. When installed, it will be impossible to pick this spindle out from the others.
To my delight, when I applied a final coat to the spindle, it went on silky smooth. I couldn’t wait to install the spindle, knowing that it would be impossible for my client to identify it from the rest.
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