Applying an even stain: ah, therein lies the rub


December 25, 1993|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

Do-it-yourselfers who attempt to finish or refinish furniture often have the most difficulty with stains, which are used to add tone to bland or lightly colored woods.

Woods that have little natural color -- pine, poplar, maple and birch -- can be given the color of walnut, oak or other woods by using stains.

Popular oil-based liquid stains give fine results in the hands of skilled, experienced wood finishers, but beginners can find them tricky and messy to apply.

Liquid stains are generally applied with a brush. Excess stain is wiped off with rags after some stain has penetrated into the wood. Virtually all liquid stains require protective coats of a clear finish such as varnish, which also adds sheen.

Gel stains give much greater control over color and are easier to use. They are sold at some home centers, paint stores and woodworking-supply stores, as well as by mail.

Gels are excellent for staining new, unfinished furniture or furniture that has been stripped of a previous finish.

Gels are applied with a soft cloth or pad and wiped over the surface of the wood. Extra rubbing lightens areas where the stain gives a darker-than-desired tone and helps eliminate splotchy look that sometimes results when liquid stains are used.

It is easier to get a smoother tone with gels than liquids because gels penetrate more evenly and less deeply. This is especially important when staining ends of boards.

For a deeper tone with gel stains, let the first coat dry and wipe on a second coat of gel.

Some gels are being touted as complete finishing systems that require no protective topcoat. An example is Minwax's Wood-Sheen gel, described as a "stain and finish." Wood-Sheen, which is available in wood tones such as walnut, plus clear and pastel colors, gives a low-luster finish.

Various brands of gel stains have different consistencies, ranging from a syrup to a thick paste. Some gel stains are sold in plastic squeeze bottles, others in cans. Most gels have a petroleum-solvent base and some contain polyurethane.

Instructions and cautions for gel stains, printed on the container, should be read carefully. Gel stains that contain petroleum-based solvents are flammable. Some also have a strong odor, so they should be used in well-ventilated areas. Wear rubber or plastic gloves when applying gel stains.

It pays to test any stain, gel or liquid on an inconspicuous area of the furniture being stained, such as the bottom of a table top. This allows the finisher to determine whether the stain's effect is satisfactory.

Additional depth and luster can be given to some gel stains, such as Bartley and Minwax gels, by following the staining coats with one or more coats of the manufacturer's clear gel.

Do-it-yourselfers who can't find gel stains at stores can order Bartley gel stains by phone or mail from Constantine, 2050 Eastchester Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10461 (800) 223-8087; or the Woodworkers' Store, 21801 Industrial Blvd., Rogers, Minn. 55374 279-4441.

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