To Stain or Not To Stain
If you are thinking of using wood stain as a finishing for your floor then you should be aware that woodstain is in fact one of the most difficult finishes to apply. Unfortunately stain is the only finishing that initiates a complete colour change to the wood, but it is notoriously difficult to apply if you have limited experience in this type of DIY.
This blog has been written to make the DIY-er aware of the pitfalls and to consider stain carefully before going ahead, not to dissuade any enthusiastic soul from trying their hand at floor staining!
Whilst varnish, lacquer and oils must also be applied with care, wood stain is very exacting – dare we say pernickety – work. This is primarily because stain, unlike other finishing products, is used to bring either a lightening or a darkening to the original wood colour and consequently the result can be devilishly unpredictable. This is especially true if your floor is new (to you) and you do not have the maintenance history of it.
In the main wood stain can easily go wrong. Not that this fact alone should dissuade you from staining if staining is what you feel your floor sanding requires, but being aware of the drawbacks before forging ahead would be a good plan here.
What type of wood are you trying to stain?
Wood stain can lighten and darken the natural hue of wood but there are certain types of wood which do not accept wood stain well. These include maple, birch, fir and pine. This is because this type of wood is close grained and the pores within the wood are small and randomly spaced. This makes it ‘porous-unfriendly’. Those parts of the planking which do house some pores are also unevenly spaced, which will make the resulting stain uneven and patchy across the floor. If you are unsure what type of wood you have then you should get professional advice before going a step further.
If you do decide to stain and it goes wrong then the only thing to do is to either live with an ugly and badly stained floor (not an acceptable option!), or re-sand and start over from scratch (not good but definitely the preferred choice). To avoid pulling your hair out and for the sake of your blood pressure, be sure that stain is really the finishing you want before opening that tin.
Enlarging every flaw
Wood stain will enlarge every little sanding flaw. Small blemishes which would normally disappear under a coat of clear varnish will rise to the surface when coated with wood stain. It might be helpful to know that wood stain will secrete into small bevels and miniscule depressions in the wood surface, so even the tiniest scratch can cause a globule of stain to pool and result in a patchy finish.
In other words, flaws attract stain and make that area darker than its surroundings. The amateur sander will likely leave scuffs, scratches and dips in the wood, which will attract a concentration of stain. By far the worse example is stain which has found its way into a series of sanding scratches which runs across the wood’s natural grain, which is why you should always sand along the board, never across the grain!
A delicate touch
Wood stain should always be applied sparingly and with a soft cloth. The secret is to work on small areas at a time, and use a delicate touch. Rub the stain on and immediately take it off again. This is because even the most porous wood can only absorb so much stain at a time. You will not be able to rush the process by applying the stain thickly because if you do you will end up with ‘bleedback’, which is an eyesore and occurs when stain seeps between the boards and wicks back up, causing ugly dark lines between the boards.
Now you may be forgiven for thinking the purpose of this blog is to put you off staining your floor, but this is not the case. Staining a wooden floor is the final part of the refurbishment process and as such should be the crowning glory of the floor. Many people underestimate the difficulty in staining a wood floor repair correctly and if you are unsure of any part of the process choose an alternative finishing such as lacquer or varnish to avoid your previous hard work being spoiled.