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I'm kind of embarrassed to ask, but I'm looking for a good how-to guide for finishing pine furniture. (Could also apply to baseboards and trim, so I'm hoping for an on-topic pass here.) I watched my dad do this dozens of time when I was a kid, but I never really paid that close attention.

Specific questions I have are:

  • I'm planning on using a random orbital sander for prepping the unfinished wood. Do I need to worry about grain direction?
  • What's the best method for applying the stain? A rag, brush, or sponge?
  • What grit of sandpaper should I use between coats of polyurethane? Is 180 high enough?

I found this article which outlines a general how-to. Does anyone see mistakes or improvements on it? Any other hints/tips/tricks would be appreciated as well.

Update:

Here's the finished product! I finally got around to taking pictures of it. Thanks for all the advice guys - it turned out really well. I used a Minwax wood conditioner first, then a gel stain and then three coats of high-gloss poly, lightly sanding with 220 grit after the first and second coats.

enter image description here

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+1 for the update and the pic! –  Alex Feinman Apr 15 '11 at 18:50
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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Pine is a difficult wood to stain under the best of situations. Pine has areas of different density, color, and resin (pitch) content. Using a product like Minwax prestain helps a bit. Follow the timing instructions carefully when using a pre-treatment. Little tips: i like to apply a liberal coat of oil based stain with a sponge brush. Let it set a few minutes, then rub it in and evenly distribute with a lint free rag. As one rag becomes saturated with stain, I use a second drier rag to finish the rub in. The wetter rag is great for distributing the color. You don't want any really wet stain remaining on your wood after the rub in. Once you get to the urethane, sand lightly between each coat with 220 grit paper to remove any dust bumps. Remove all sanding dust with a slightly damp cloth, let it dry and apply next coat. Again, I prefer a good grade sponge brush, but a good grade regular brush for oil/urethane works good for appling the urethane. Remember, thin coats, and sand between each coat.

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I'm going with the Minwax wood conditioner and a gel stain. Maybe I'll post some pictures when I'm finished and let ya'll know how it turned out. –  Doresoom Nov 15 '10 at 17:19
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Just a few odd comments -

I tend to use just a scrap of some old cotton clothing - old blue jeans or a sweat shirt works great. I'll cut them up for re-use in this way when my wife gets on my case too much about the holes in an item. Note that I am ALWAYS careful about how I dispose of a used piece of cloth after doing finishing with it. Oil finishes can heat up when they cure, in some cases may possibly catch fire. I like to lay it out flat on a cement floor until fully dry.

One problem with staining pine is blotching. So a sanding sealer will help to even out the absorption of stain. You can also use gel stains for this.

Random orbit sanders can still leave scratches. You will need to change grits to remove the scratches left behind from the previous grit. Personally, I like to use a hand held cabinet scraper, especially near a spot where the grain changes direction. A scraper with a fresh edge can peel off a beautifully thin layer of wood, and leave an absolutely perfect surface behind. This does take some practice, and watch out, a hand held scraper used vigorously can get quite hot.

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No kidding about staining pine. Even with a sanding sealer it is hard to avoid blotches with water based stains. I've also had better luck with gel stains, but I still can't remember a single job where I was staining pine that I was happy with the result. –  JohnFx Nov 9 '10 at 21:38
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Sanding sealers are not foolproof, on any 'blotchy' wood: pine, maple.

Finely sprayed DYE puts a minimum of colorant on the wood. Do NOT WIPE with this method. Light (320 +) sanding to knock down grain (if using water based dye, less needed if using alcohol based.

Dyes are available in powder form, but I prefer the concentrated liquid (will mix with either water or alcohol)

Once happy with saturation, a sealer coat of unwaxed shellac will lock down the dye.

Further tuning can be done by adding the dye to the shellac or using the gel stains as glazes.

Dyes

Video about dyes

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