How to Prep Wood for Stain

Wood stain is applied to set your finished project. It protects wood from the elements (water and light) and will also keep insects and mold at bay.

For wood stain to work well on wood, you need to prepare the surface carefully using a few simple techniques.

This guide will show you how to prep wood for a coat of wood stain.

Preparing wood for staining

Get to know the different techniques to prepare wood for staining. After this brief tutorial, you will be able to stain wood successfully minus any chipping, shedding or cracking.

Things that you will need

  • Wood to work on
  • Sandpaper or power tools (#120 to #150 grit)
  • Sanding blocks
  • Tack cloth

Using sandpaper or power tools

One of the most important ways to prep wood for staining is by sanding. Sanding will remove ugly superficial marks, old and chipped paint as well as old varnish.

Take note that sandpaper comes in a variety of grits or grades and this is according to the number of sand granules per square inch of the paper.

The higher the grade, the finer the sandpaper is. Sandpaper with a lower number means that the surface is coarser. Usually medium to fine grades are used for refinishing furniture as well as fine antiques.

Coarser grades under #100 can damage a fine wood finish, therefore, it is not used for finished wood. Medium grits like #120 and #150 are perfect for removing old finish and may also be used to remove old finish or ugly marks and scratches.

You may use sandpaper with finer grits like #220 for final light sanding before applying a stain to the wood surface.

How to sand wood

Step #1

Take the appropriate sandpaper grit for your wood. Cut it into fourths and fold these into small pieces. The piece is just enough to be held with just three fingers.


Step #2

You can make a sanding tool by wrapping a piece of sandpaper around a block of wood. This will fit the palm of your hand making it easier to hold sandpaper for heavy sanding.


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Step #3

Instead of just any block of wood, you may also use a contoured sanding block. This is specially shaped to be held easily and will also let you attach and detach sandpaper.


Step #4

Always sand with the grain and never perpendicular to it. Look for the pattern of the wood grain by inspecting the piece of wood you are working on. Position the piece so that the surface that you are working on is horizontal. It should also be at a comfortable height.

For a clean finish, hold the sanding block flat and grasp it as you apply even pressure to move it back and forth towards the grain. Never exert so much pressure on the corners because this can result in ugly gouges or depressions on the wood surface.


Always remove dust


Dust is the number one enemy of staining and finishing wood. If you don’t get rid of dust and residue, these can fly about and land on the surface of your project. You can use dry rags and brushes but damp rags are best in removing dust. Always use a face mask when sanding and removing dust.

Remove dust using a tack cloth. This is a sticky piece of cloth that can remove dust easily. Take the tack cloth and fold this into a smaller piece of cloth. Use this to wipe across the wood surface. Soon the cloth will become filled with dust, hair, and residue. All you need to do is to fold it and wipe with the unused side.

After you have removed all dust and residue, you are ready to stain your wood. No matter what type of stain you use, test it on an inconspicuous area of the wood. If you are staining furniture, test it at the back of a leg. If you are staining wooden floors, test a small amount of stain on an area underneath a rug or furniture.

If the stain tests okay, you can now apply it on the piece. Take note that staining will permanently change the appearance of wood. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the stain and to take note of the drying times and if there are curing times.


Prepping wood for staining is a straightforward procedure that involves preparing the surface that you will work on by cleaning and sanding. The stain is applied to enhance the beauty of wood but at the same time protect it from the elements and from other factors as well.

  • August 27, 2019
  • DIY