How to Refinish a Dark Wood Stain to a Lighter Wood Stain Color

By Edwin Thomas

Lightening the color of wood paneling, furniture, floor boards or fixtures might figure prominently in any redecoration or remodeling plan. The problem is that wood stain is a little like paint, in the sense that you can usually put something darker on top, but almost never something lighter. Refinishing a dark wood stain to a lighter wood stain therefore almost always involves sanding down to raw wood and starting over.

List of Items Needed

  • Floor sander with coarse, medium and fine sandpaper (floors only)
  • Hand orbital sander with coarse, medium and fine sandpaper
  • Oscillating tool with wood sandpaper accessory pack
  • Hand sanding block with coarse, medium and fine sandpaper
  • Rag
  • Broom (floors only)
  • Bowl
  • Sponge
  • Wood stain
  • Paint brush(es)
  • Sealant
  1. Remove the top layer of sealant and stained wood from the wood object by sanding with a coarse-grit sandpaper, such as 60-grit. Use a floor sander for the bulk of a floor, or a hand orbital sander for the flat, open spaces of most other objects. Employ an oscillating tool for corners, edges and hard-to-reach places. Do not sand embellishments, curved surfaces, carvings and designs at this stage.

  2. Sand the wood to a middling, transitory state using a medium-grit sandpaper, such as 120-grit. Employ the same combination of tools as used in Step 1 and over the same surfaces.

  3. Bring the wood to a smooth, well-prepared state by sanding it with fine-grit sandpaper, such as 240-grit. Use the same combination of power tools on the same surfaces as in Steps 1 and 2.

  4. Sand curved surfaces, carvings and fine details by hand, using a hand sanding block and/or ordinary sandpaper. Use 180-grit sandpaper for this purpose. Using manual labor instead of power tools avoids taking off too much wood from the finer points of the object.

  5. Wipe the wood object down to eliminate any sawdust. In the case of floors, sweep up.

  6. Dip a sponge in a bowl of clean, warm water and wet the wood surface. This will open up the wood fibers, permitting deeper penetration of the wood stain. Wait for the wood to visibly dry before continuing.

  7. Apply your lighter choice of wood stain with a paint brush, using small, even strokes. Wait as directed by the instructions before proceeding.

  8. Apply your sealant, such as polyurethane, with a clean paint brush using short, even strokes. Allow this to dry as directed, and then apply at least a second coat. Depending on the project, such as refinishing a floor, you may wish to apply a third.

Tips and Warnings

  • Sand with the grain at all times
  • Avoid pressing down on the sander or oscillating tool. Any powered sanding tool should be doing all the work, so if you must press down to achieve the desired effect, you should change the sandpaper.
  • Always wear safety goggles and a respirator mask when working with power sanders.

© Demand Media 2011