Table of Contents
- Don’t Use a Light Touch
- How Do You Apply Wood Stain Anyway?
- When Do You Sand the Pieces?
- This is Fantastic. But I Still Don’t Know How to Stain Small Pieces of Wood
I know. The title is a bit misleading. Am I going to explain how to stain small pieces of wood? Or, am I going to talk about how to stain wood?
Well, the answer is both. Kind of. As a newbie, I’ve learned I’ve got a lot to learn about how to stain small pieces of wood and how to stain wood. It kind of sucks, but let me explain.
My original plan for the Keeper’s House was to stain small pieces of wood trim. Like, the window box, the window trim, and so on. I thought about doing a batch dye job like you would for shingles, but, the more I looked into it, the less I liked that idea and ended up painting a bunch of it.
The biggest problem with batch dying is that you can end up with uneven stain. While I suppose that could happen with the shingles, shingle dye is designed for dying shingles. And, I suspect, the wood on the shingles has a different finish than the other pieces I’m thinking of dying. I don’t know if this is true yet. I’ll keep you posted.
But I didn’t really know much of anything about staining wood of any size. I’ve never done it! Thus, began the “how to stain small pieces of wood” quest. I soon discovered, though, that I was left with two options. I could batch dye my small pieces (like the shingles), or I could hand apply the stain to each piece.
I figured hand-applying the stain might be the better way to go with this. But first, I need to learn how to apply stain to wood. This will be a research/on the job thing (like this entire project). Here’s what I’ve got so far. I’ll update this post later (and probably write a new one as I go).
Don’t Use a Light Touch
The first thing I learned is that when I apply the stain, I should apply a heavy coat. I was a little surprised by this, given that all of my paint research (and eventually on the job learning) taught me that a light coat is the best way to go with paint.
I couldn’t really find an answer why heavy coats are better than light coats (when it comes to applying wood stain), though. My guess is that it’s to make sure the stain soaks into the wood and holds better. But, I’m not sure. The same thing happens with paint on an unfinished surface, so, we’ll see what happens!
What I find interesting about this heavy coat technique is that after you apply the thick coat of stain, you’re supposed to wipe it off!
This one has an explanation. No matter how you apply your stain, you’re going to apply it unevenly. Well, it’s not that you’re going to apply the stain unevenly, it’s that the wood will absorb it differently.
Different wood species have different densities, so they absorb the stain differently, as in, unevenly. When that happens, you end up with blotches and streaks because one part of the wood has more stain in it than another part.
Ah. That makes sense.
Of course, since I’m going to stain small pieces of wood, I’m going to bet blotching isn’t much of an issue. I could see it on something wide and flat like a door, though, so, that’s good advice. When I dye my stuff (if I dye it), I’ll keep an eye out for streaky, blotchy finishes.
How Do You Apply Wood Stain Anyway?
Excellent question! I had the same one myself. Not only did I need to learn how to stain small pieces of wood, but I also needed to learn how to get the stain on the wood! Since I decided that batch dying is out (maybe. We’ll see), I had to find another way to stain small pieces of wood. No, wait. Scratch that. I had to figure out how to get stain onto wood!
Before I discuss technique, I will point out that probably the biggest challenge in staining small pieces of wood is figuring out how to do it. And when I say “how” I mean, how do you hold the piece up? In your hand? Flat on a piece of paper? Stick in clay?
The answer, of course, is, I don’t know. Whatever works best for you. But I will say that in the course of my research, no one “best” answer emerged. Figuring out where to place the wood (or how to hold it) while you stain is easily the biggest problem here.
I’m going to experiment and will keep you posted! Now, on to technique!
Can I Use a Bristle Brush to Stain Small Pieces of Wood?
The first thing that jumped to mind is I could brush the wood stain on. That is, in fact, why I bought certain brushes. I figured I could use them for staining some of the wood. And most of the tutorials I came across when researching how to stain small pieces of wood showed everyone doing it with a brush, so clearly, I’m not in the minority. All though, the tutorials were for big pieces of wood, so that may make a difference.
Plus, I figured that even though stain isn’t a paint, it’s like paint so it can go on like paint, right?
Well, yes and no. You can use a bristle brush to apply stain to wood. However, there are a few reasons why you may not want to do this.
First, stain tends to be oil-based. And, if you know anything about oil-based stuff, it’s a pain to clean up. Plus, it’s really hard on bristle brushes.
Using a bristle brush is fine, just make sure it’s a natural bristle brush. If you don’t, you’ll kill your brush. And what I mean by that is you’ll likely have bristles falling out of the brush while you stain and you’ll end up with hairy stain. Sure, you’re going to sand the wood (more on that in a minute), but if it’s the final coat, you won’t sand. Then you’ve got to pick the bristle out, probably mess up the finish, and so on.
Not sure what I’m talking about. Here’s an example:
If that doesn’t sway you (and, it may not), woodworking experts say don’t use any bristle brush to apply stain. Not only does it take forever to apply the stain, you’re far more likely to end up with blotchy, streaky stain. I guess, depending on your dollhouse, that could be OK. But I’m betting it’s not.
That said, I will say this in favor of bristle brushes. One advantage is that you can stick the wood piece into the brush, so the bristles surround the piece. You probably have to do more coats, but that may not be a big deal.
(Update: I used a bristle brush to paint the clapboard of the Keeper’s House. I was right! It is easy to shove the brush wherever you need and surround the wood. But I also lost bristles. That might have been because I used a cheap brush but maybe not.)
Should I Use a Foam Brush to Stain Small Pieces of Wood?
So, assuming I’ve talked you out of using a bristle brush, and you don’t want to batch dye, what’s another option?
A foam brush might be a better choice for staining small pieces of wood. Or, frankly, any wood. A foam brush doesn’t have bristles, so there’s no “hair” to get on the piece. And, the foam soaks up the stain pretty well so you can get a good, thick coat on the brush then on to the wood.
Also, foam brushes are cheap. So, when you kill the brush with the stain, it’s not a big deal to toss it. You can buy a big bag of foam brushes for a fraction of what you might pay for a single bristle brush.
Foam brushes are also great for getting stain into corners or other hard to reach areas. You can really cram a foam brush into a corner and get the stain or paint on the wood. Since it’s a solid piece (unlike bristles), you don’t run the risk of missing a spot.
There are, of course, a few concerns with using a foam brush. First, while they don’t have bristle to break off, really cheap foam can break into large chunks. And small ones. So, as you stain, you still need to watch for “stuff” in your finish.
Also, while it’s true that the stain can really soak into the brush, it can also drip. Be careful when you’re staining small corners or hard to reach areas. You may end up with stain where you don’t want it.
Update: I tried dying wood with a foam brush. It was a big piece. TLDR: Using a foam brush is not my favorite technique for staining wood of any size.
Can I Use a Sponge to Stain Small Pieces of Wood?
A sponge is like a foam brush, but not on a stick!
They are also cheap (usually) and great for getting into tight spaces. Plus, I mean, they’re sponges. They love to soak up liquid!
Because the sponge isn’t on the end of a stick, they can be a little easier to control. You can use your finger to help guide the sponge wherever it needs to go. And, if it’s too big, you can cut the sponge down to size to work in that space.
The drawback to a sponge is that it’s not on the end of a stick. There’s a good chance you’re going to end up with stained hands. Obviously, rubber gloves will protect your hands. Just don’t use a favorite pair because the gloves are going to end up trashed.
Here’s what happens when you don’t wear gloves:
When Do You Sand the Pieces?
I don’t know.
Well, that’s not true. I do know. You sand the wood between stain coats. So, for small wood pieces, my guess is that you do it between coats just like any other stain job. The whole reason you sand is to smooth out the wood between coats. So, there’s no reason to think that it’s any different for a small piece of wood.
But, again, we’ll see what happens.
This is Fantastic. But I Still Don’t Know How to Stain Small Pieces of Wood
Thanks! I love sharing what I’ve learned. Also, neither do I.
That’s because I haven’t done it yet. I did, however, batch dye balsa wood strips for the floor. If you’re thinking, “That’s just word play,” you’re kind of right and kind of not. In my experience, wood stains are thicker than dyes, so you can’t really use the batch dye method for any kind of wood. It’s kind of in the name “batch dye.“
The short version is, I liked how the sticks came out but they warped a bunch. That’s partly because it’s balsa wood and also because I didn’t weight the strips down as the dye dried. I only found out about that crucial step after they dried.
What’s your experience with learning how to stain small pieces of wood? Have you done any of these? All of these? What happened?
Image credit: Canva