How To Stain A Wooden Floor LIKE A PRO
There are 2 ways to do this, one way is with a colored finish, such as browned lacquer, a floor paint or white oil, for example. In this case the color stays in the finish on top of the wood.
The other way is to use a stain or wood dye, which is a liquid (usually water or solvent based) that contains a pigment which soaks into the wood.
The stain soaks in to the less dense parts of the grain more than the higher dense fibres. This means it works with the wood, exaggerating the patterns in the grain. It’s the latter that I will be addressing on this page.
Here’s what you need:
UPDATE: This list has been edited to include Amazon links to products I recommend.
- Dust free latex gloves
- Carbon filter dust mask (suitable for blocking fumes)
- Paint kettle (or equivalent)
- Paint brush
- Decorator/stocking rag
At the moment I’m not in a position to make a recommendation on what stain to buy. The market is moving toward more water based stains and away from the solvent based. These water based stains are becoming higher and higher quality and are a good bet to go with.
I personally like the solvent stains, purely because I have been using them for a decade.
One thing you must do is check how many square meters of floor the stain covers per liter and make sure you get enough + 10-15%. I’m traumatized by the number of times I thought I had enough, used more than the coverage indicated on the tin and ended up running out! Traumatised!
This is not a situation you want to find yourself in, as it may mean you need to re-sand, as leaving it to dry while driving out to buy more will mean a nasty join line when you resume the staining.
I buy rag in large rolls and cut off as much as I need for a particular floor. For a floor of anything up to 20 square meters, I just need 2 rags, 1 for ragging on, and 1 for ragging off.
The good old fashioned “wax on wax off” technique. Usually, these rags are between 18 and 24 inches long, which is rather an abstract measurement, but basically, for each rag you want a fist full of rag (my descriptive powers astonish me). Any larger than 20 square metres and you begin to need more rags. I’ll explain why below.
Staining Hardwood Floors
The first thing you need to do is shake your can of stain thoroughly before pouring it out into your paint kettle. When pouring make sure you are doing it in a way that won’t splash!
All self-explanatory so far. So here is a hiccup that people often run into. If you had to buy 2 or more cans of stain to cover the area, mix all of the cans of stain together. If this is slightly too much for your paint kettle then mix it in a bucket and either use that or refill your paint kettle as and when you need to.
These stains are produced in batches and one batch can vary to the next, says the disclaimer. In reality, every single batch varies slightly in color. I learned this the hard way a few years ago when the paint kettle wasn’t quite big enough to mix all the cans needed for the floor. I stained 70% of the floor then added the final can. This last can had a hint of blue in it. Even the slightest difference can stand out like a sore thumb.
You can’t patch-repair this stuff. If you get it wrong, you have to resand (though it’s a much easier, finer sand). Staining hardwood floors is easy, as long as you are aware of these hurdles.
Your gloves and mask are on, you’ve poured out and stirred your stain. It’s time to start staining, but before you start there’s one thing you need to remember; time is of the essence.
That doesn’t mean I want you to rush and get flustered. It just means once you start, you don’t stop until it’s done. So no taking calls halfway through.
You want to start staining at the far end of the room from the exit. You are going to stain a number of boards in 1 go, moving from one end of the room to the other.
The number of boards you stain should not make you have to stretch your arm out, and maybe even less on the first few boards, as the first run will be slower because you are having to brush against the back wall. The less boards you stain the faster you can move.
Start brushing the stain into the edge of the floor along the back wall about a metre to a metre and a half, from the corner out, then down the other wall along the ends of the boards, pictured below. You then want to swiftly load up (dip it into the stain, allowing a moment for the stain to poor off before moving it out from over the bucket) your “ragging on rag” and rub the stain into those boards only so far as you have brushed against the back wall. Then you want to dry off the surface with your “ragging off rag.”
You then want to move along and brush against the wall for another metre to a metre and a half and repeat the rag on, rag off process. Once you reach the end of the room with the 2 or 3 or 4 boards you are staining, go back to the other side of the room and start again with the next few boards.
Before long you will find yourself with barely enough boards to shuffle down, leading back to the door. At this point you need to to the same as before, but you are not going to be staining such large areas before ragging off. Again, you just want to stain no more than your arm can reach, rag off the excess, move back, stain, rag off, move back, stain, rag off. All the while brushing against the wall. Until you’re finished.
Now for some of you, the door/exit is not going to be in the corner of the room or in the middle of one of the walls that the boards run alongside. This means that you have to work back to the middle from both sides. Ideally you would get another person to help you with another bucket, brush and rags. But in the case that you don’t have someone to help you, here’s what I do. Lets say the exit is directly in the middle of the floor. I would stain 2 boards along one side, then 2 along the other side. Then just keep going back and for until you are in the middle where you work your way backwards towards the door.
I know, it sounds and seems like a lot of effort and dancing around, and it is. Hopefully one day there will be a product that is so forgiving that you can stain a bit 1 day, then stain another bit another day, and it won’t cause a problem. Until then you have to be fairly swift and never leave an edge to dry for too long.
So here’s why you need more rags when the floor gets over 15-20 metres. Infact you may need a third rag at 10 square metres. The reason is you want to replace the drying off rag at the point that it gets completely sodden. Infact you want to replace it before then. If you don’t this can lead to problems and longer drying times. Whew! That took a lot of effort, it’s really difficult to explain this. Hope it makes sense and gives you confidence in staining your floor!
UPDATE March 2016: I have updated my free eBook to include recommended stains for our US readers. You can download it here.
Staining Hardwood Floors Without Sanding
Is staining hardwood floors without resanding possible? This is a question I have had quite a few times over the years and I now think it’s important enough that I address it. I recently received a call from a Boutique shop owner that was having problems with her floor. When I walked in the door, my feet were sticking to the floor, you could hear as I peeled each one of my feet off the floor.
To save money they wanted to refinish their floors themselves and without sanding. What’s more is they wanted to refresh the color of their stained floors. The problem with refinishing wood floors without sanding is you never know what the floor was finished with before. Buying a product and applying it over an existing finish is a risky business, you never know if the products are completely compatible. Actually lets back up for a second…
I first want to get some definitions straight. What is a stain? A stain or dye, is made to color something. It is made to soak into whatever it’s being applied to change the color. In the case of stains for wood or wood floors. These are liquids with a very fine dusty pigment in it. If you apply these stains to a waterproof sealed wood floor, its not going to soak in properly and it’s going to be messy. What’s more is that if the previous finish is worn off in areas, the stain WILL soak in and those areas will stand out like a sore thumb.
So when a floor is being stained, it is usually sanded back to bare wood and the stain is then applied. Typically the floor will then be sealed with some sort of lacquer or varnish to lock in the color and protect the floor.
This doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to get a bit of color back into your floor. The goal here is staining hardwood floors without resanding right? So here’s my solution; instead of ‘staining’ the floor, use a ‘coloured lacquer.’ That is, a lacquer that will actually protect your floor once applied, that has a color within it. That way you don’t have to worry about the stain soaking in to get the desired colour.
These lacquers should be applied in the same way described in the “How to lacquer a floor.” You may want to put the coats down a little thicker than usual. This will give it time to level out before it dries, any lumps and bumps will be darker than the rest of the floor so this is important.
Other things to consider, is the previous finish an Oil? If so there are a litany of different colored oils you can use. Be sure to contact the manufacturer to find out of the product is generally cross compatible.
I hope this article has helped. If so, please leave a comment below or share this article! Any questions also please leave below.