Before we proceed on how to DIY stain and varnish, let’s talk about the common staining mistakes that often lead to staining issues. Understanding the main causes will allow you to make preventive measures in future.

Poor Sanding and Preparation
If done improperly this can hinder the timber’s ability to absorb the wood stain. The finish is only as good as the preparation. Ensure to remove all imperfections before staining.

Working on a Large Scale Project
If you’re not an expert in sanding, then it’s best to take on projects on a smaller scale. For the big ones, it’s advisable to seek help from Timber staining professionals.

Incorrect or Insufficient Stripping
If you are planning on timber restoration – not stripping the timber properly is another cause for poor timber stain absorption. Be sure to remove any coat present on the timber’s surface before applying the timber stain.

The Things You’ll Need
While the machinery may differ depending on the size of the job, having the right tools is going to save you significant time and energy, and will ensure the best results.

  • Drop sheet
  • Masking tape
  • Vacuum
  • Hammer/nail punch
  • Scraper
  • Timber filler
  • Dust mask
  • Orbital or belt sander
  • Detail Sander
  • Sandpaper (we recommend 150, 180, 240 grit)
  • Various sized brushes for stain application
  • Stain and varnish of colour choice (we recommend water based products for ease of use)
  • Clear varnish (select from gloss or satin finish)


Now that you know the common staining mistakes, and you’ve got all the necessary equipment with you, it’s time to get down to business.

Step 1. Prepare work area
Tape up any glass, skirting boards, walls or tiles. Vacuum the work area to prevent stones or dust from scratching the timber. Use drop sheets to cover surrounding floors or any furniture, everything is about to get very dusty.

Step 2. Prepare timber
Hole punch any protruding nails or screws. Bog any holes or cracks with timber filler. We recommend using a timber filler that matches the colour of the timber rather than the stain. Sand the surfaces with an orbital or rotary sander using 150 grit sand paper. On areas that are touched i,e, handrails use a 180 grit sandpaper. It is best to use a sander that has dust extraction or an attached catchment bag. This reduces the amount of cleanup and prevents dust from spreading throughout the house. If there are hard to reach areas use an multi tool or select a smaller head-piece on the rotary sander. Always sand in the direction of the grain of the wood. Sanding cross-ways can leave excessive scratch marks that will not be hidden by the stain.

If there is stain or paint in very small areas a scraper or pull back tool can be used to remove. Vacuum once more to remove dust particles.

Step 3. First coat
Stir stain and varnish well. Pour into a smaller bucket for ease of use. Select brush size depending on the area. Decide on the first surface to coat, work in sections, completing the entire section before moving on to the next. Start applying the stain by saturating the brush and applying to the edge of the timber,  it’s best to work from left to right or right to left. If you don’t start at the edge you will be left with a line where stain has dried. Work quickly to coat the entire surface, once the surface has been coated finish with long sweeping brushstrokes in the direction of the grain.

Step 4. Second coat
Once the first coat is completely dry (1-2 hours depending on weather) give each surface a very light  hand sand with a 240 grit sand paper. This helps to even out the colour and take away any rough areas of timber. Once the area is sanded vacuum all surfaces very well. The second coat of stain and vanish can now be applied. Use the same method as step three.

Step 5. Safety
Once the second coat has dried complete mix up a solution of non-slip powder and clear varnish. Use a roller to lightly cover the tops of treads, this will help to prevent slipping.

Step 6. Clear
Once the non-slip coating has dried completely use a clean brush to apply clear coat to all areas. TIP: clear coat has a tendency to run so it is best to apply very lightly and give a second if desired. Wait 2-4 hours (depending on weather) until completely dry to touch before removing tape and standing on area.

Although applying timber stain can be done by anyone, it’s still advisable to get a professional to do the task. They have the experience, the knowledge, and have all of the necessary tools with them so you can sit back and relax knowing the job is going to be completed to a high standard.

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