Wood Stain And Seal Guide

Focusing on methods used by professionals for wood stains and seals, these techniques can be used on anything that has a natural wood surface.

Staining a natural wood surface produces a finish that accents and enhances the wood grain. Using the proper method to seal a stained wood surface will help to preserve its beauty for a long time. In this article we will look at some techniques that can be used to stain wood in order to bring out more of its character. We will also be looking at several methods of sealing a wood surface to protect and preserve the finish.

The first thing you will want to do when planning to apply stain to a wood surface is to select or identify the type of wood you will be staining. This is very important because different varieties and grades of wood will "˜accept' (absorb) the stain differently. Also the natural color of the wood will contribute to the final appearance of the work.

When we refer to a "˜type' of wood we mean the kind of tree from which it has been taken. Hardwoods, such as oak and hickory are very compact and dense and do not absorb liquids as readily as softer woods, such as pine. This means that you may need to adjust your color selection for the type of wood you chose, or you many need to apply more than one coat of stain to achieve the desired result.

The term "˜grade' refers to the quality of the wood. Higher grades of wood (such as #1 grade or "˜select') are usually stronger, and therefore, a bit more dense than their counterparts. So if you were to apply stain to a surface made of #2 grade Douglas Fir (a type of pine) and apply the same color stain to another surface made of "˜select structural' Douglas Fir, the #2 grade surface would probably appear a bit darker. The best way to estimate how the surface will appear after staining is to obtain a small piece of the same type and grade of wood that you plan to stain, or to apply a small amount to a hidden surface on the piece of work you are staining.

Grain orientation is also very important for you to pay attention to when trying to achieve a uniform color on a surface. There are basically three orientations that you will need to recognize: parallel surface, parallel end, and cross-grain.

In the parallel surface orientation you have a relatively smooth surface that is characterized by long runs of grain that curve together and meet at one end. This orientation is the least absorbent. The parallel end orientation is found along two of the edges of the parallel surface and is characterized by long parallel grain lines that do not meet at either end. This surface is a bit more absorbent that the parallel surface.

Cross-grain surfaces are located at the other two ends of the parallel surface and are characterized by a very porous texture. This surface occurs at location where the wood is cut perpendicular to the direction of the tree growth. Many cross-grain surfaces will turn a dark brown or almost black when stained because they absorb almost all of the stain pigment (color).

As the term implies, "˜natural wood' staining will only be effective on a natural, unfinished wood surface. Also, certain treatments such as oils and pressure treating will affect the wood's ability to accept the stain. There are two primary components in wood stain: pigment, vehicle.

"˜Pigment' is the material used for the color of the stain. Most of the sources for stain pigment are powders and will settle to the bottom of the can over time, so it will be important for you to stir the contents thoroughly before use. Check your stain periodically to be sure the contents are well blended. If the pigment begins to settle, you will get a lighter color on your wood surface, and the color will become darker as you get closer to the bottom of the container.

The "˜vehicle' is the liquid that makes up the majority of the contents of the stain. It is usually an oil or

oil blend that holds the pigment well and absorbs readily into wood. Some vehicles also include sealants. They are included in products known as stainer/sealers. These are good to use on homogenous surfaces (surfaces of the same wood, grade, and texture), but you must be cautious when

applying them. Once a stainer/sealer has dried the wood surface is sealed and will not absorb any more stain.

There are three basic steps necessary to stain and seal a wood surface: (1) surface preparation, (2) stain application, (3)sealant application. To prepare the surface you will need sandpaper or Emory cloth and a soft dust brush or lint-free cloth. If the wood surface is particularly rough or uneven you may chose to use a power sander, but you may eventually need to do the fine sanding by hand. It is important to sand in the direction of the grain because sanding causes tiny grooves in the wood. The stain will be absorbed into these grooves and will highlight their appearance. To obtain an extremely smooth finish you can use Emery cloth, which is a soft, durable cloth dusted with a fine coating of garnet or quartz. Once you have sanded the surface to the desired smoothness use a soft dust brush or lint-free cloth to remove all of the debris. Check your work carefully before proceeding because any imperfection in the wood will be highlighted by the stain when it is applied.

After making certain that the stain is thoroughly mixed you can apply it using a brush or lint-free cloth. The brush should be an all-purpose, Chinese bristle, or staining brush. Some plastic bristle brushes will not hold the stain well and may even be dissolved by the stain vehicle. Apply the stain in smooth, long strokes and brush or rub it out as evenly as possible onto the surface. Do not allow puddles or runs to form or those areas may show darker as the stain dries. If you need to apply

additional coats of stain, be sure to do so before sealing the wood.

Finally, you will need to seal the wood surface to preserve the wood and protect the finish you have created by staining. There are a number of substances that you can use to seal a stained wood surface, and we will briefly take a look at three of them: (1) oil, (2) oil and wax, (3) lacquer.

The application of oil to a natural wood surface preserves the original texture of the wood and helps to seal it from outside moisture. The best oil to use is boiled linseed oil which can be applied with a lint-

free cloth and will dry after being absorbed by the wood. You may need to apply more than one coat of oil to get a complete seal, and you should re-apply the oil about once a year to maintain the seal. Simply rub the oil into the wood grain and allow it to dry. Do not brush oil onto the surface or allow it to puddle or run. Excess oil can cake when drying producing unsightly blotches in the finish.

Another method that can be used to seal the wood surface employs the use of oil and paste wax. This will produce a hand-polished type of finish. Apply one or more coats of oil as described in the previous paragraph, and allow the surface to dry thoroughly. Then, using a separate lint-free cloth, evenly apply a coat of paste wax. It is a good idea to allow the paste wax container to remain at room temperature for a few hours if it is stored in a cool place, to let the wax soften for use. Once the first

coat of wax has hardened (allow at least 24 hours), gently use a very fine mesh steel wool pad to remove any excess wax. Repeat this process until you achieve the surface finish you desire. Using a wax-based spray polish on furniture that has been finished in this manner will help to maintain the handpolished look of the finish.

A third, and very common method to seal wood is with the use of a wood lacquer (shellac or varnish). These may be clear or tinted and are generally applied using a brush. When applying a laquer be absolutely certain that the surface is clean and free of debris or the lacquer will clump around it. Always use long stokes and brush in the same direction. Apply the laquer as smoothly and as evenly as possible and be careful to avoid runs. Most lacquers begin to dry quickly, so avoid going over areas

that have already been coated. If an imperfection develops, allow the surface to dry completely (24 - 48 hours), then use a fine-mesh steel wool pad to buff the surface.

With a bit of practice you will be able to use the methods discussed in this article to produce some very pleasant finishes on a variety of natural wood surfaces.

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