Does Pine Stain Well?

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While we have moved away somewhat from default staining our woodworking projects, turning instead to wood oils or products like Rubio Monocoat, we still will occasionally use a wood stain as part of finishing the project.  Stains come in a variety of colors, in three main types, and are fairly easy to use.

Key Points:

  • In a word, yes. Stain on pine works well, but with a caveat.  The prep steps, the type of stain you use, and the number of coats are important and will determine the right results and help avoid an uneven finish.
  • Your pine project will take any type of stain, but read on to understand the difference between working with oil-based stains, water-based stains, and gel stains on pine.
  • Expect some unevenness when staining pine, if for no other reason than the knots, and maybe the uneven grain pattern common to pine.  They will always be darker, so choose your dark stains wisely and test them on the wood first. 

Most beginner woodworkers will start with pine as their wood of choice.  It’s cheap, or at least cheaper than other woods, and it’s easy to work within the shop.  After gaining some woodworking experience, we tend to graduate to other woods, often hardwoods.

But pine was our first.

Putting the two together – pine and wood stain – was common, and sometimes they meet again in our shop.  How does pine do with stain?  What kind of stains work well on pine wood?  Good questions, especially for the beginner.  

Wood Stains

There is a wide range of stain colors, dark and light, and are akin to very thin oil or water-based paints. They can be applied by brush or wiped on by cloth, with any excess stain not absorbed into the wood pores wiped off.  We like to wipe stains on for that tactile pleasure and a sense of being close to the wood.  It sounds romanticized, but it’s true. 

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They are a type of paint used to color wood. Wood stains contain a colorant that has been dissolved or suspended in a medium or solvent. They seal off the wood and prevent it somewhat from absorbing water, although they do not waterproof the wood. Wood stains also offer protection from the sun’s UV rays which will damage wood fibers making them more prone to crack and deteriorate.

They contain pigments (the color), a volatile (the medium in which the pigments are dissolved or suspended), resins, and additives. The volatile will evaporate once the stain is applied, and this allows the stain to form a film over the wood surface.

Types of Wood Stains

There are three main types of stains and a lesser option beyond those three.  Each has its place and purpose, and what usually happens is a kinship with the first type of stain we use and that we generally return to regularly.

Oil-based wood stains. Oil-based stains penetrate the wood surface deep and are very durable. They have good adhesion to the wood surface and will offer a rich color to the wood. However, they do contain harmful chemicals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), requiring you to wear a respirator when applying them. Even after use, the chemicals and VOCs will linger in the air. If yours is an eco-conscious shop, you might want to choose the second type of stain.

Water-based wood stains. In the case of water-based stains, the “volatile” is water – the medium in which the pigments are dissolved or suspended. They are either very low in or contain no VOCs or noxious chemicals. Water-based stains are easy to clean up after (they are water, so…) and resist mold and mildew well. They are easy to work with, require no respirator or other safety precautions, and dry quickly.

Gel stains. Gel stains are a little different. There is still a colorant (pigment), of course, but gel stains are an oil-based varnish, like polyurethane, for instance, along with the colorant. While both water-based and oil-based stains are liquid, gel stains have a pudding-like consistency, much thicker, that will sit on the wood surface rather than penetrate it.

General Finishes Oil Base Gel Stain, 1 Quart, Java
  • This is the stain that has the most “finishing feel” of all General Finishes’ products
  • Woodworkers love the lustrous finish that shows up
  • Heavy-bodied, and so does not penetrate as deeply into the wood as liquid oil-base stains do

Gel stains are not absorbed into the wood like water-based and oil-based versions. Since it does not sink into the wood, a gel stain tends to provide an even color and allow the wood’s character and texture to shine through. Two coats of gel stain are generally not needed.

A Lesser Wood Colorant

A lesser option is a wood dye, and it’s exactly what the name implies. Wood dye is a liquid that is applied to wood to change its color. It is made up of small molecules that penetrate the wood rather than sitting on the surface like a stain. This means that wood dye can be used to create a more even and consistent color, and it can also be used to highlight the natural grain of the wood.

Wood dye is available in a variety of colors, so you can find the perfect one to match your project. It is also available in different finishes, so you can choose whether you want a matte, satin, or glossy finish.

To use wood dye, simply apply it to the wood with a brush or roller. Be sure to apply it evenly and allow it to dry completely before applying a topcoat. A second coat of wood dye is generally not needed.

We wrote a blog post a while back on a comparison of wood stains vs. wood dyes if you are interested in more information.

Does Pine Wood Stain Well?

Stained Pine Board

Now that we know what stains are and how they work let’s turn to the wood we’ll be using the stain on – pine.

Pine wood can be stained well, but it is important to follow some tips to get a consistent finish. Pine is a softwood with a lot of natural variation in color, so it is important to sand the wood thoroughly before staining. This will help to create a smooth surface and help the stain to penetrate evenly.

It is also a good idea to use a pre-stain wood conditioner. We’ll get to pre-stain wood conditioners in a moment.

Once the wood is prepared, you can apply the stain. Be sure to apply the stain evenly and in thin coats. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. If you are using a water-based stain, be sure to wipe away any excess stain with a damp cloth.

With proper preparation and application, pine wood can be stained to produce a beautiful and finished product.

Here are some additional tips for staining pine wood:

  • Use a high-quality stain. This is generally true no matter which type of stain you are using or what type of wood you are staining.
  • Apply the stain in a well-ventilated area.  Whenever finishing wood, no matter the finish, well-ventilated is a rule in woodworking.
  • Wear gloves and a respirator to protect yourself from the fumes.  The gloves will save you scrubbing time – Oil-based or gel stains need to be removed with a solvent like white distilled vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or acetone.
  • Test the stain on an inconspicuous area of the wood before applying it to the entire project.  You should make sure you like the color before you stain the entire workpiece. 
  • Allow the stain to dry completely before you add the next coat of stain.  This is a rule for all wood finishing products, actually.
  • Seal the finished project with a clear coat to protect it from moisture and scratches.

Is It Easy To Stain Pine?

Pine Wood

Once you’ve chosen the type of stain you will use, there are a few prep steps to take for the best results.  They are common to all woodworking projects, though, and you already know them. 

It’s not difficult to stain, but it can be tricky to get a consistent finish. This is because pine wood is a softwood with a lot of natural variation in color. The knots in pine wood can also absorb stain differently than the rest of the wood, which can lead to blotching.

To get the best results when staining pine wood, it is important to follow these tips:

  • Sand the wood thoroughly. This will help to create a smooth surface and help the stain to penetrate evenly. A blotchy stain application might mean you have to begin again with a full sanding process to remove the stain and prep the wood for a new coat or two.  A 220-grit sandpaper will do well for you when working with pine.
  • The use of a pre-stain wood conditioner is highly recommended. It will help to seal the wood and prevent blotching.
  • Apply the stain evenly and in thin coats. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next coat.  As we mentioned earlier, you can brush the stain on (bristle or foam brush) or wipe it on, your choice.
  • Test the stain on an inconspicuous area of the wood before applying it to the entire project. This will help you to see how the stain will look on the wood and make sure that you are happy with the color.  We know this is a repeat suggestion, but it can save you a duplication of effort if, after staining an entire workpiece, you decide you don’t like the results.
  • Allow the stain to dry completely before sealing it with a clear coat. This will help to protect the wood from moisture and scratches.  Again, a repeat suggestion, but it’s important.

Why Should You Use a Pre-stain Conditioner?

A pre-stain conditioner is a liquid that is applied to wood before staining. It helps to even out the absorption of stain by the wood, which can prevent blotching and uneven color. Pre-stain conditioners are especially beneficial for softwoods, such as pine, which have a tendency to absorb stain unevenly.

1 qt Minwax 61500 Clear Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
  • PRE-STAIN TREATMENT FOR ALL WOOD – Ensure wood projects look great with Minwax Pre-Stain Wood…
  • PREVENT BLOTCHES – By Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner prior to staining with oil-based wood…
  • ASSURES EVEN STAIN PENETRATION – Wood is porous, and tends to absorb stain unevenly. But this wood…

Here are some of the benefits of using a pre-stain conditioner on wood:

  • Prevents blotching and uneven color. When wood absorbs stain unevenly, it can lead to blotchy and uneven color. A pre-stain conditioner helps to even out the absorption of stain, which can prevent these problems.
  • Creates a more uniform finish. A pre-stain conditioner can help to create a more uniform finish by evening out the color of the wood. This is especially beneficial for softwoods, which can have a lot of natural variation in color.  Pine tends to take stain in an uneven way – knots will be darker, and general grain might not match that darkness.  It is a softwood, with a Janka rating of 420 for white pine, 380 for Eastern white pine, and even southern yellow pine, the hardest of the pine woods, is only 870.  By comparison, oak (a hardwood) ranges between 1290 and 1360
  • Protects the wood. A pre-stain conditioner can help to protect the wood from the effects of stain. This is because the conditioner helps to seal the wood and prevent the stain from penetrating too deeply.

If you are staining wood, it is a good idea to use a pre-stain conditioner. It is a simple and inexpensive step that can make a big difference in the final results.

How Many Coats of Stain Should You Apply on Pine?

The number of coats of stain you should apply to pine will depend on the desired color and finish. For a light color, one coat may be sufficient. For a darker color, you may need to apply two or more coats. Again, it is important to allow the stain to dry completely between coats.

Here are some additional things to consider when staining pine wood:

  • The type of stain you use will affect the number of coats you need to apply. Oil-based stains will typically require more coats than water-based stains.
  • The wood grain of the pine will also affect the number of coats you need to apply. Pine with a lot of knots will typically require more coats than pine with a smooth grain.  You’ll notice, also, that the knots will tend to be darker than the general wood grain, so judge accordingly both the number of coats and the stain color you choose.
  • The desired finish will also affect the number of coats you need to apply. A light finish will typically require fewer coats than a dark finish.

What Causes Blotching in Stain Applications?

Stained Pine Boards

Blotching will happen when the wood surface densities vary, and more stain is absorbed in some areas but not in others. This produces an uneven and spotty appearance that takes much away from the wood grain’s beauty.

Darker colors will appear between lighter colors and create a patchy appearance, something you weren’t looking for, and it’s the darker color on the wooden surface caused by greater absorption of the stain we want to avoid.

Raw woods like oak and walnut will absorb liquid stains more evenly. However, softer woods like pine, poplar, maple, and birch will have spongy areas that will take in too much color than denser areas on the wood surface.

You can mitigate against this to an extent with proper prepping. Start with an even sanding with a fine-grit sandpaper, something like 180-grit paper, on the wood’s face grain and 220-grit paper on end grain. When you’ve used a random orbital sander, be sure to still follow up with hand sanding using those same grit papers.

Does Stain Protect Pine and Other Woods From Water and Insects?

Stain does not protect wood from water and insects. It only changes the color of the wood. To protect wood from water and insects, you need to use a wood sealer or a water-based paint.

Stain is a liquid that is applied to wood to change its color. It does not provide any protection from water or insects. Wood sealer is a clear liquid that is applied to wood to protect it from water and insects.

It forms a barrier on the surface of the wood that prevents water and insects from penetrating. Water-based paint is a paint that is made with water as a solvent. It is water-resistant and can provide some protection from insects.

If you are looking to protect your wood from water and insects, it is best to use a wood sealer or a water-based paint. Stain will not provide the same level of protection.

Video Demo

We offer a four-fer video for you today.  You get to see the difference when using a pre-stain wood conditioner, as well as the difference between brushing stain on and wiping stain on.  

Seeing is believing, as the old saying does.  The words describe, but the demo displays.  The combination of using the pre-stain wood conditioner and hand-wiping the stain on with a rag offers the best results, and we lean this way ourselves.  He wasn’t wearing gloves, but, well – he should have read this article first.

None of these tips and suggestions will add measurably to the task of staining pine.  But, they will give you a good result, so take them to heart.

Last update on 2024-02-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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