Wood Staining Techniques: Stretch That Stain

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

Photos By Mike Krivit

Discussion
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12 Responses to “Wood Staining Techniques: Stretch That Stain”
  1. Mike McCall

    I’m just wondering why you wouldn’t try to add the solvent in the beginning. I’m in this situation right now with a large piece that I am trying to match to another one I did a year ago with a custom mix that of course I can’t remember how I made and I’m trying to reconstitute to the largest volume possible.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      The author tried using the stain at its “full strength” initially to give the best chance at matching the original color without diluting the stain.
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
      • Joe

        Stain is designed to be thin so that it will penetrate the wood grain. Using a ‘thick’ stain seems like you are actually painting the wood, since you do not get the proper penetration which is also a factor in the refinishing process.

        Reply
  2. Steven Zawalick

    Too bad that stain was not stored properly with Bloxygen. The heavy inert gas would have protected the leftover finish and this job would have been much easier.

    Reply
  3. René Saenz

    I have walnut vaneer on some old speakers one is pretty bad how hard wood it be to restore them

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Rene. Unfortunately I have never attempted this before so I don’t have a good response for you. I believe it will be a challenging project. My tendency would be to build new speaker boxes from scratch.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
  4. Maureen Witkiewicz

    My daughter bought Cabot Australian deck stain but it may have frozen over the winter. It looks all cakie like rice pudding. She has stirred and stirred. Anything she can do to fix this?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Maureen. I doubt that it can be saved if it looks like rice pudding, but I would suggest contacting Cabot customer support to see if they have any ideas.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
  5. Jessica Cockerell

    I have some old dark walnut stain and mixed/shook really well but the “darkest” part of stain is remaining at the bottom of can. So if I use, it looks like an oak stain as the dark chunky wont break down to even mix it in. Any suggestions… anything around the house I can use? THANK YOU

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Jessica. I would suggest using a stir stick and continuing to work it until it mixes in. Normally you can get it to mix in if you stick with it. If it is a lost cause I would suggest buying a new can.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply