My bathroom vanity was not properly stained. It is not even. The edges are still showing the original light maple color. There are paint-like drips everywhere. I doubt that it has been sealed because it feels rough.

stained wood

What would be the best way to fix this without buying a whole new vanity? My original plan was going for IKEA style dark chocolate and still be able to see a little bit of the grain. The chocolate wood in the following photo illustrates my goal.

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Edit: I found the stain in the shed that is most likely to be used by the previous guy:

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2 Answers 2


There are several stain-like finishes for wood:

  1. Penetrating stain - can only be used on unfinished wood. Several coats can be used to even the tone and make it slightly darker. Once the wood has a finish coat, it will only sit on the surface, and usually looks bad. (Most are solvent based, but there are also water based stains)
  2. Varnish/poly stain - this is stain mixed with a finish coat, such as varnish or polyurethane. It mostly sits on the surface and can be darkened somewhat by adding more coats.
  3. Pigmented stains - these are mostly used outdoors on decks and outdoor furniture. They are more like thinned down paint than true stains. The penetrate slightly, but mostly sit on the surface. They are not especially well suited to indoor furniture.
  4. Colored glazes - these are somewhere between paints and stains, with a thick body that can be brushed or wiped on, then partially removed to give a glaze, a partially transparent color and finish. Often used to give an antique look. Often they are rubbed off at edges to let contrasting under layers show through.

Your furniture looks like it may have been done with varnish/poly stain. If this is so, more stain will not penetrate. If you sand off the excess, there will still be some areas that are effectively sealed because of the finish part of the coating. You might be able to add more of the same and get a more even coating. However, you may need to sand most of it off and effectively start again.

Surface stains are more prone to have lighter edges because they do not penetrate, and as you brush them out, very little stain and color is left on the edge.

When you say see a little bit of the grain do you mean texture or color variations. If texture, you are talking about a thinned paint-like finish, a type of glaze, rather than a true stain. Your cabinets are made of wood that has very little surface texture. if you mean slight color variations, either penetrating stain or varnish/poly stain can do this if carefully applied.

  • I added a photo of the stain that was used. Seems like a penetrating stain. The original maple wood was light brown and had a glossy seal. Does that mean "finished"? If so, then a penetrating stain was completely the wrong type to change the color?
    – JoJo
    Nov 4, 2013 at 0:16
  • By "grain" I mean the natural lines in the wood usually appear darker than the smooth parts. I want to still see that natural grain, so I wouldn't want to use a paint that just makes the color completely homogenous. However, the differentiation in color should not look man-made, as seen in my first photo - those differences were caused some weird application technique.
    – JoJo
    Nov 4, 2013 at 0:40
  • If thenwood had any kind of seal, penetrating stain was the wrong way to go. It just sits on top unevenly. Two choices - sand lightly and put a varnish stain on top; or sand deeply and use a penetrating stain followed by a poly finish.
    – bib
    Nov 4, 2013 at 2:07

Sand off the gooey bits, and redo it with several thin coats instead of one thick coat.

  • Is there a reason why the edges didn't pick up the stain very well?
    – JoJo
    Nov 3, 2013 at 1:50
  • @JoJo: Probably because of the brushing technique. They were deeper in the brush and the brush tips did not cover them.
    – wallyk
    Nov 3, 2013 at 3:44

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