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Forum topic by Devereauxrf posted 02-23-2020 07:45 PM 483 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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14 posts in 645 days

02-23-2020 07:45 PM

Topic tags/keywords: staining

Am building a bookcase for my son. It is roughly 3’ wide by 5’ tall with 5 shelves. Was wondering if you guys had any tips on how to go about staining something that large. Most of my previous projects have been much smaller. I used quartersawn red oak on it if that make a difference in suggestions. Thanks is advance for the help.

21 replies so far

View MrUnix's profile


7845 posts in 2880 days

#1 posted 02-23-2020 07:59 PM

For that red oak, I’d leave it alone and not stain it at all. A couple coats of poly or other similar finish will darken it slightly anyway.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View Walker's profile


267 posts in 1153 days

#2 posted 02-23-2020 08:37 PM

If you plan carefully, you can apply the finish to the pieces before final assembly. Or just a few of the pieces like any interior shelves or dividers, leaving the exterior for after assembly. This way can make it easier to get into the corners. If you plan to use wood glue for assembly, use painters tape to mask off the surfaces where glue will go. Also make sure everything is completely dry before clamping on it.

-- ~Walker

View LesB's profile (online now)


2423 posts in 4124 days

#3 posted 02-23-2020 10:04 PM

Oak is fairly forgiving when it comes to applying stain but as you will see frequently mentioned on this site, do a test piece first. Generally with oil based stains and most alcohol based dyes you can brush on a generous coat wait a few minutes and wipe off the extra and let it dry. Follow instructions on container. I often use paper towels to wipe the excess off but be careful to dispose of them properly to avoid spontaneous combustion. Mine go in the wood stove to dry. For darker colors you may want to apply a second coat….again make a test piece. The wood should be carefully sanded down to 320 grit before before assembly. On almost all projects I sand the surfaces before assembly. If the stain/dye raises the wood grain sand it lightly with 320 or 400 sand paper.

From there you can apply your top coat. I like to use water based varathane. One reason for water based is that you can readily see the drips and runs (they are milky white) so brush them out before they dry, but if you miss some just scrape them down with a razor and sand if needed and put on the next coat. Again sand between coats and 3 coats should do it.

Because it appears you may be new to woodworking I’m going to ask if the shelves will have a back panel or how you are bracing them for lateral movement. Also It might be convenient to make the middle shelf permanent and the other shelves adjustable using shelf pins. Just a thought.

-- Les B, Oregon

View CaptainKlutz's profile


2702 posts in 2175 days

#4 posted 02-24-2020 01:22 AM

+1 Apply finish to all interior surfaces before assembly.

My large meat hooks and antique eye balls make hand finishing interior of large cabinets/book cases zero fun. When using spray finishes, fluid dynamics prevent getting a even film in the closed corners. Finishing interior parts before assembly is a great solution. Granted using tape to mask joinery adds a little labor to the project, but straight lines are quick/easy. The process also prevents those annoying rubs/drips inside the cabinet due less than perfect joinery wicking finish into cracks, and the releasing it as solvent escapes.

Once finish has cured, can place masking tape along glue joint, and prevent squeeze out from sticking to finish. Make interior clean up fast/easy.

Will also be pleasantly surprised the 1st time you do this to learn just how little time is needed to finish the outside .vs. inside of bookcase.


-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View Devereauxrf's profile


14 posts in 645 days

#5 posted 02-24-2020 01:23 AM

I should have been a little more specific. I am about complete with the bookshelf. It has 5 fixed shelves, a 1/4” back and a face frame on the front. So we are past applying stain before assembly. I guess I was after any trick or techniques on staining something that big and keeping the color consistent throughout it. And how to deal with having to stain on the inside with the sides and the underside of the shelf all at the same time. Not sure if it would be better to break it down into portions or just kind of tackle the whole thing at once.

Brad, I guess I never though of just using poly. I will do a test piece but I think that maybe the route I end up going for the look I’m after and the ease of skipping the staining step.

Thanks for the replies and help.

View Walker's profile


267 posts in 1153 days

#6 posted 02-24-2020 03:08 AM

In that (book)case…best thing would be to resist the temptation to work on vertical or down facing surfaces. It will take many steps and lots of patience, but I would stand it upright, finish all the horizontal surfaces, turn on side, do the now horizontal surfaces, etc. Taping and/or covering completed surfaces as you go to avoid stray drips. (after waiting to dry of course) Thin cardboard and tape is good for this. Like a cut up cereal box.

Ah…who am I kidding. I wouldn’t do that at all. I don’t have that kind of patience. I’d get some gel stain (runs less), and slap it on all at once. Try to make light coats to avoid drips. Skipping the stain and just going with clear would be more forgiving. I like using the disposable foam brushes, for more control getting into those inside corners.

Of course, my stuff never looks that great. The impatient me is always at odds with the perfectionist me. I guess I’m not really a perfectionist!

-- ~Walker

View Walker's profile


267 posts in 1153 days

#7 posted 02-24-2020 03:19 AM

You could do what the guy on the American Woodshop TV show does…stick to the building and let your wife do all the finish work.

-- ~Walker

View CaptainKlutz's profile


2702 posts in 2175 days

#8 posted 02-24-2020 03:26 AM

For large projects, I like to use spray/wipe method using NGR dye stain from Mohawk/Behlen. Will dilute the dye stain and it allows me to spray on more color as needed to get desired balance, as I wipe and blend (and repeat) the panel color; one section at a time. Too much color is solved with clean rag damp with reducing solvent (acetone/alcohol). Then top coat with spray lacquer, or poly.

If you don’t have experience with spraying finishes, nor with dye stains, and it’s already assembled; not many options. Just get-r-done how ever you are comfortable. :-)

TBH – unless bookcase will be used for trophy’s where you want better looking interior finish, inside surfaces don’t need to be perfect. When full of books, could paint with poke-dots and no one would care. LOL.

PS – Always test ideas on scraps before finishing the project.

Best Luck.

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View therealSteveN's profile


5203 posts in 1255 days

#9 posted 02-24-2020 06:18 AM

For that red oak, I d leave it alone and not stain it at all. A couple coats of poly or other similar finish will darken it slightly anyway.


- MrUnix

On QSRO I like the natural finish too, makes those ray flecks pop with a bit of Arm R Seal.

-- Think safe, be safe

View jbmaine's profile


108 posts in 151 days

#10 posted 02-24-2020 10:39 AM

My absolute favorite finish for red oak is water based aniline dye followed by several coats of gel varnish. I’ve had no problem finishing larger projects all at once. This was the last ” larger” project I did.

View JCamp's profile


1076 posts in 1232 days

#11 posted 02-24-2020 11:43 AM

The last two craft tables I did for my wife I took a old hplv spray gun and sprayed minwax stain on and wiped off with a rag. Cut the finishing time WAY down. I even used a water base semi gloss ploy and sprayed it. Both tables turned out well and was so much easier than brushing it on

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View sara08's profile


2 posts in 43 days

#12 posted 02-24-2020 12:11 PM

oh, no, I didn’t have projects with that size, but I trust that you are doing great!

View ChefHDAN's profile


1558 posts in 3531 days

#13 posted 02-24-2020 12:48 PM

+1 for a water based dye. Very easy to control color and it’s super simple to add more color or take some away if you get any unevenness in the color. I’ve had great results with this brand of dye's you simply mix the powder with water and then apply. Shop around, sometimes they’re on amazon and you can get a better price.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View OSU55's profile


2603 posts in 2671 days

#14 posted 02-24-2020 05:40 PM

Red oak has lots of deep pores to trap pigment stain, ok if you are after a lot of contrast. Pigment stain will also show any tool marks or poor sanding. Dye is more foregiving, however water or ngr dye will not color the pores in red oak. A gel stain might be the easiest way for a newb.

If you plan to use poly (ars is poly) a great method is to thin it 1:1 and mix dye directly in. Apply like danish oil, flood on keep wet 10-20 min, wipe off. 2 coats, can wet sand either or both coats. Top coat with wipe on or brush. Read here. I have examples in my projects page, mostly turnings but have done furniture the same way. Very foregiving for the newb. These days furniture gets sprayed with precat lacquer.

View Robert's profile


3663 posts in 2162 days

#15 posted 02-24-2020 07:13 PM

I also think a dye stain works well with oak.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

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