Home » Blog » Staining different woods to match

Staining different woods to match

When finishing furniture, one often finds that the piece may be made from several different types of wood, so staining different woods to match becomes a challenge.  Because woods take stain differently, it is helpful to know a few techniques that allow you to color the wood (across different species) and achieve a uniform and pleasing color.   Additionally, not all projects can be made from mahogany and walnut.  However, just because you have a piece made from pine you are not prevented from creating a dark wood, fine finish similar to what you might find on a more formal piece.    See the steps below which were adapted using techniques and materials readily available to the DIY person.

Display table

This is the wood before finishing.    Notice how the poplar has green throughout and other variations in shade.  When following the steps outlined below much of this can be removed and a great looking finish developed.


DSCF0497Color variations in wood

1.) Start sanding the bare wood with 150 grit sandpaper, progressing through to 220 grit sandpaper.   You want to remove all the scratches and rough spots on the natural wood.  This step is where you apply the elbow grease and the work you put in here pays dividends later in the project.

2.) Brush on light coat of Zinsser’s seal coat shellac (available in quarts at your home improvement store).  Let dry for an hour.    This is an important first step when dealing with pine and poplar.  This seal coat will fill some of the more open pores in the wood and allow the base color stain to absorb more evenly.   Without doing this the wood can appear splotchy with very dark areas and spots.

3.) Lightly sand the surface with 220 grit sandpaper, sanding with the grain. This removes most of the “fuzz” that settles into the seal coat while drying.  It also removes some of the shellac from the surface while leaving it in the more open pores, thereby reducing splotchiness described in step 2.

4.) Wipe on a base coat of stain, let settle for a few minutes then wipe down the entire piece with clean dry cotton cloth.  The wiping down removes any excess stain not absorbed into the wood.  I chose a dark mission brown color.   This first base coat neutralizes most of the green in the poplar and provides the entire piece with a dull brown base color that is the starting point to build the ultimate color you desire.  You can use any of the pigment stains in your home improvement store, Minwax for example.  Read the label on the can for drying time before next coat.

5.) Spray on first coat of lacquer.  While I use professional spray equipment, the DIY person can purchase spray lacquer in aerosol cans at their local home improvement store.  When using an aerosol lacquer can it is applied in a manner similar to spray paint.  However, apply light coats.  (Think of fogging a mirror with your breath).

Note to more experienced finishers:  I use a vinyl sealer for a few coats prior to pre cat lacquer.

6.) Lightly sand the surface with 220 grit sandpaper.  This is an important step and will be repeated throughout the finishing process.  When sanding between coats you are trying to achieve a light gray uniform haze over the surface.  Don’t confuse this between coat sanding with the sanding that is done in step 1.   This between coat sanding is simply to level the coat of lacquer you just applied and remove impurities (like dust and grit) from the surface. No elbow grease required; the technique is very light touch sanding – with  the grain.  Be careful not to sand so much that you sand through the lacquer into the previous coat of stain.

7.). Pick your favorite color in a pigment Glaze.  (Glaze can be purchased at your local paint store). When applying glaze think of a color sandwich.  Glaze is simply a colorant that lies between two coats of finish.  (Lacquer – Glaze – Lacquer).  A little glaze goes a long way.  For this step I may have used a tablespoon of glaze on the whole small piece.  Simply brush it on and buff/spread it around the piece with your paintbrush.   Applying glaze is where you begin to achieve the desired color and create color uniformity across the piece.  Read the label on the can and note that glaze typically needs to be coated with a topcoat of finish (in this example lacquer) within a certain amount of time. (Generally no longer than 8 hours)

8.) Spray coat of lacquer. See step 5.  Let dry recommended time on label.

9.) Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.

10.). If more color is desired, apply more glaze. Note that you can apply glaze only in particular areas of the piece helping to create a uniform color/shade across the entire piece.

11.) Spray coat of lacquer.

12.)  Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.

13.)  Once you achieve the desired color with glaze (typically 2-3 layers) topcoat the glaze with 3 coats of lacquer.  I don’t sand after the last coat of lacquer as I want the sheen that comes off the spray gun/can.

Uniform colored finish