I have to admit that I paint almost everything. I love finding garage sale or thrift store finds like an old bookcase or table, and I always end up painting them. However, recently my husband hand-made me a cute little side table out of pine wood for our game room and I had this sudden urge to stain it. So, I stained it, and it looked so horrible! The stain turned into a blotchy mess that did not look good at all.
After panicking for a short time and almost picking up my trusty paintbrush to just paint over it, I decided to try to fix it. And after some time and some hard work, I found out that it is totally fixable! Thank goodness I tried because it turned out absolutely beautiful and made me want to stain more items.
If you have run into this problem, don’t panic as I did. Follow these steps and you are sure to be able to fix those blotchy spots.
Understand why this happens
If you are anything like me, you want to understand why this happens in the first place. To me, it made no sense that some woods stain up so well and look amazing right away and others turn out blotchy and don’t look anything like the others. Well, turns out there are logical reasons why pine and other woods can turn out blotchy and others do not.
Blotchy patches happen because woods like pine, maple, birch, and poplar have different areas of wood that vary in density. The same piece of wood could have very soft areas and also some hard areas mixed in. This means when the stain hits it, these areas will absorb the stain at different rates. For example, the softer more spongey areas of the wood will soak the stain up faster than the harder areas. This will cause the end color result to look different and blotchy.
Woods like walnut and oak soak are much harder woods and do not have near the number of inconsistencies in them. This means that the stain will absorb closer to the same rate. The final result is a much nicer-looking, more constant color that everyone wants and loves.
How to fix it
The good news is there is a way to fix it. The bad news is that it will require some hard work, a bit of time, and will probably make a little bit of a mess. However, it is completely worth it. The best way to fix this problem is to start over. I know that is not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it is the right answer.
After spending plenty of time on my project, I did not want to start over. However, the result helped convince me that this is the best way to do it.
The first thing you want to do is sand the wood very well to remove the old stain. This is the part that will make a bit of a mess and require some hard work and patience. It will feel like you are undoing all the work you have already done (because you are) but keep in mind that this needs to be done to fix the blotchiness and get that amazing stained look you want.
Start with a coarser grit like 80 or 120. Just make sure that you continue to sand using lighter grit sandpaper until you reach about a 220 grit. This step is important because you want to make sure it is as smooth as you can get it before prepping it for the stain. Leaving bigger marks from a high coarse sandpaper will also cause colors to look blotchy also. Here’s a list of sandpaper grades and their purposes.
Remember after sanding to clean up the wood by washing it off lightly with soap and water. Then finally finish up by wiping it down with a tack cloth.
Apply wood conditioner
After sanding it down, the next step is probably the most important. You want to apply a wood conditioner to the surface before trying to stain it again. Before this project, I didn’t even know that wood conditioner existed. I am so happy I found the nice older man in my local hardware store who told me about this wonder product. It is seriously the best!
This conditioner helps the wood absorb the stain more evenly by not allowing the stain to soak into the wood too deeply. There are many different brands and kinds of wood conditioner available, but they all work in the same way. Just make sure you read the instructions to ensure you are applying it correctly.
The conditioner I chose required me to sand it lightly about 30 minutes after applying it, so I used my 220 grit again to lightly sand over the conditioner. Then once again, I ran my tack cloth over it to remove any residue left over.
Wait the perfect amount of time
This might seem like a silly, unimportant step but it is quite the opposite. After researching wood conditioners, I learned that there is a perfect time to wait before applying the stain. Of course, you want to read the directions for your specific brand, but most conditioners will require you to wait at least 30 minutes but no longer than 2 hours. The timing allows the conditioner to have the perfect amount of time to soak into the wood and do its job.
Apply the stain
Now is finally the fun part! You can finally start applying the stain to your wood project, or, actually re-applying the stain. There are many different ways to apply the stain and you can use whichever way is most comfortable for you. Some of these application tools include regular brushes, foam brushes, bristle brushes, or cloths. Personally, I prefer the cloth method, but each of them works well.
When applying the stain, there are a few things to remember. First, you can wipe the stain in both grain directions to get the color in there good. Most people think you can only go in the direction of the grain, however sometimes it works well to work the stain in both directions.
Next, wait the right amount of time for the amount of color you would like. If you want the stain to be light, wipe off the excess pretty fast after applying it. If you want a darker, richer color then leave the stain on longer before wiping it off.
Last, apply multiple coats if needed. Don’t be afraid to put a little more on there if you decide you want a darker color.
Other things that can help
There are a couple of things you can do in addition to what I mentioned above to keep away the blotchy spots before they even show up.
One thing you want to do is make sure your sanding job is really good. As I have learned in my many years of DIYing, prep work is one of the most important parts. Sanding before staining falls into this category one hundred percent.
When sanding, always start with a coarser grit like 80 or 120. After that, you need to re-sand the surface with each grit until you reach about a 220 which will give you a nice smooth surface ready to stain.
Another thing that you can do is use a gel stain. Gel stains are much thicker than traditional stains, so they do not soak into the wood as fast or as far. Using a thicker stain on a softer wood like pine can help eliminate some of the blotchy spots you will get with a liquid stain. While this is not a guaranteed way to eliminate blotchy spots on pine or other softwood, it does sometimes work and is worth a try.