Stain Projects

Enhance the natural beauty of wood with stain. Get inspired by these unique projects, plus learn the tips and tricks for staining success.

Start off any staining project with these must-know tricks in your back pocket. We'll tell you how to pick the right stain, achieve the perfect finish, and more.

Stained Dresser

Transform unfinished furniture with wood-stained drawers, a defined patchwork design, and gorgeous hues. Simply go to the full stained dresser how-to and start staining. 

Stained Art

Turn a piece of plywood into a work of art in just a few steps with water-base wiping stain. Begin by lightly sanding the birch plywood with 180-grit sandpaper and wiping with tack cloth. Use painter's tape to create a design. Press down edges firmly to prevent stain from bleeding under the tape. Wearing gloves, squirt a small amount of stain on a section of wood and use a cloth to rub with the grain (we used Minwax Express Color in Indigo and Walnut). If desired, repeat with another color. Let dry for one hour. Remove painter's tape, and use a cloth to rub clear coat over the entire surface for additional protection. It goes on milky but dries clear. Let dry overnight.

Stained Tray

Use water-base stain (which comes in a variety of colors) to give a plain wood tray a little zing. Although this product doesn't require wood conditioner and is a stain and sealer in one, you'll need to apply an additional clear coat to the inside of the tray to protect the unstained wood. It's hard to get crisp lines when stenciling with stain, so avoid intricate patterns.

To stencil the tray: Lightly sand the tray with 180-grit sandpaper, and remove dust with tack cloth. Tape off the inside bottom of tray with painter's tape, trimming corners with a crafts knife. Apply stain to tray sides with a synthetic-bristle brush. Cut stencil to fit, and coat the back of stencil with a thin layer of repositionable spray adhesive. Remove painter's tape and position stencil on the tray. Press the edges down. Dip a natural sea sponge in stain, blot excess on a paper towel, and stencil using a pouncing motion. Repeat with other colors as desired. Let dry for 2-1/2 hours. Remove the stencil. Allow stain to dry before repositioning stencil to avoid smearing. Finally, use a synthetic-bristle brush to seal the entire tray with a clear finish. (For this project, we used Cabot Premium wood finish in Lilac, Citrus, and Fruit Punch.)

Stained Map Art

Create art reminiscent of a vintage classroom with this fun staining project that starts with a decal. On it's own, the piece is sleek and simple, but you could dress it up by marking significant locations with tacks, stickers, or paint. 


Must-Know Stain Project Tips

How to Prep Properly:

  • Bring wood to room temperature before staining.
  • After sanding, consider applying a wood conditioner, especially on soft woods such as pine or poplar, to help the wood absorb the stain.
  • Different types of wood take stain colors differently. Test stain on the back of a piece first.


Oil vs. Water

How to Use Oil-Base Stain: 

  • Long dry times make oil-base stain good for furniture and other large projects.
  • Use in a well-ventilated area.
  • Apply with a cloth, foam brush, or natural bristle brush.
  • Clean brushes with mineral spirits or paint thinner.
  • Store used cloths, which are potentially flammable, in a metal container filled with water, and follow local regulations for disposal.

How to Use Water-Base Stain:

  • Fast dry times and a large selection of vibrant colors (in addition to wood tones) make water-base stain ideal for small projects.
  • Unlike paint, bright stain allows the wood grain to show.
  • Little odor emitted.
  • Apply with a synthetic bristle brush.
  • Clean with soap and water.

Finishing a Staining Project

  • Stain gives wood color, not protection. Seal stained wood with a clear finish, choosing from satin, semigloss, or glossy sheens.
  • The key to a smooth finish is to let the finish flow from the brush to the piece, "gently stroking it across the surface," says Suzette Bojarski, product manager for Cabot.
  • Don't rush. If you brush the finish on too quickly, you will create air bubbles.
  • Lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper, and wipe clean between finish coats. 

Restoring Wood Furniture

If you want to revive a stained piece, consider these tips from Bruce E. Johnson, author of The Weekend Refinisher and The Wood Finisher.

  • Before you start, have an antique appraised. Refinishing may affect its value.
  • Wipe away dust with a damp cloth, then use a wood cleaner.
  • If the finish still looks dull after cleaning, use a wipe-on polyurethane.

Tricks to Know

The longer you leave the stain on the wood, the more it will soak into the grain and the deeper the color will be. Always wipe off excess stain or it won't dry properly.

"Sanding is not optional. It removes dents and scratches and opens up the pores of the wood that absorb the stain." -- Bruce E. Johnson, spokesperson for Minwax

"The key to successful staining is to take your time preparing the wood. Staining lets its natural beauty shine through." -- Andrea Cooley, project designer


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