Staining up a Storm

This is post 2 of a 3 part series.  Scroll down or simply click here to read post 1 of this series.  Expect the final installment in another couple weeks or so.  And no, this is not a paid endorsement for Minwax; I just enjoy blogging about high quality products.

Just in time for Halloween, the cuticles around my fingernails look better than those of a real live movie zombie, which can only mean one thing:  (no, I’m not preparing for a breakout role in the flick ZombieLand II: Small Town Takeover).  I’ve been getting Minwax manicures while applying the stain to my Roadside Redo two door cabinet.  As promised, I am going to walk through the entire staining process, but first I want to talk about how I prepared the cabinet for staining.

At the end of the first post of this project I had finished reassembling the cabinet.  Before reassembling, I sanded the old varnish off with 60 and then 80 grit sandpaper on my orbital sander.  After reassembling I had so many nail holes, brad holes, and seams to fill with wood putty.  Because I knew I wanted a dark cabinet, I used a stainable wood filler I have had positive results with in the past.


This is where I have to insert a warning about cheap wood putty; although suitable for painted projects or naturally finished wood, they often don’t absorb dark or even medium stain very well.  Just ask the kitchen cabinets I refinished about that.

Using a putty knife I filled all the necessary areas with wood filler and allowed it to dry for several hours, as per the instructions.  I first sanded the entire piece with 120 grit and finished with 220 grit sandpaper, leaving the piece exceptionally smooth.  Before staining it is crucial to make sure your furniture piece and working area is dust free; getting dust in your stain or finish can be disastrous, leaving a rough surface or imperfections in the finish sheen.  I prefer to use a lightly dampened rag to collect the majority of the sanding dust, but always use a tack cloth over the entire furniture piece immediately before applying stain.  Now onto the stain I chose.

I knew I wanted a rich, dark brown color; I felt a dark stain would not only look good in the room I intend this piece for, but would help even out the grain pattern and minimize the appearance of knots.  From past experience, however, I also knew that a dark stain would be a risky challenge as I am fairly certain this cabinet is yellow pine.  Yellow pine does not always accept dark stain well or evenly.  I tested every stain I already have from previous projects on the underneath side of the cabinet, but none gave me a deep chocolate color.  After a quick trip to my local hardware store, I knew one of the two stain colors I purchased would be the one (but which one…?).  Off the Minwax interior wood stain chart, I chose both Jacobean 2750 and Ebony 2718.  If Jacobean proved uneven or not dark enough, I would trade deep chocolate for dark chocolate.   I ventured to first open only the can I thought would be the most likely successful stain.  If I was correct, I would have only opened one and could return the unopened can to the store.  Much to my satisfaction, Jacobean proved to be very close to the deep chocolate color I had in mind.  No need to even open Ebony (although I am really curious to see how it would have looked, I would rather return it and get my $7.99 back).

Also learned during a previous project, when staining any soft woods (pine, yellow pine, fir, and maple among a few others), it doesn’t hurt to use a pre-stain wood conditioner.  Once again I rely on a Minwax product, but I know there are other successful manufacturers.  As with any wood filler, stain, varnish, etc, I like to stick with products I have had positive results with in the past.  Using the conditioner helps the wood to absorb the stain evenly and prevents dark blotches or streaks from occurring.  Just apply it like you would stain, allow to penetrate for 5 – 15 minutes, then wipe off any excess and you’re ready for stain.

For this cabinet I used a clean soft cotton cloth to apply both the conditioner and stain, rubbing the color into the wood but in the direction of the grain.  I applied the stain heavily, letting it soak no longer than 5 minutes, then buffed off the excess with another clean absorptive cloth.  When completed, the stain was not as dark as I would have hoped in certain spots; I also quickly realized there were more than 1 type of wood in this cabinet as the two side frames stained exceptionally dark (and stand out a bit…hmm).  I waited a full 24 hours and reapplied a second coat of stain, letting it soak a few minutes again before wiping off the excess.  This darkened and evened out the stain a bit, but as with any furniture piece composed of multiple woods, there will always be color variations that make the piece unique.

Above is a photo of the drawer front as a sneak peek of how the cabinet will look.  In the final posts of this series I will elaborate on varnishing the cabinet, fastening the glass into the doors, and securing all the hardware.  Hopefully you will read all about that and see the final completed piece soon.  Be on the lookout for the Big Finish & Reveal post!

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  1. If you’re gonna do it, « Up and Adam [Ries]

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