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Forum topic by woodrookiepatriot posted 07-29-2021 06:59 AM 303 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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16 posts in 83 days

07-29-2021 06:59 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question finishing

I have recently been testing different finishes on different types of wood scraps to get a decent “pallette” of colors. I am noticing that the stain/finish/clear-coats that I am experimenting with, look very different depending on how fine I have sanded the surface of the test piece of wood. Is there a general rule of sanding grit to prepare for stain? I am kind of getting a feeling that maybe I stain at a lower grit to get the wood to accept more color, and if I want the stain color to be more subtle, I can go with a smoother grit. I haven’t done much experimenting with sanding and finishing “after” staining. Is it something that’s done? Sanding after staining, to manage the color?

Sorry if this is a dumb question… still enjoying learning…

-- BAM

9 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

7196 posts in 3709 days

#1 posted 07-29-2021 10:30 AM

I’d say you figured it out (the incresaed/decreased color part). Stains have particles of pigment for the coloring (sometimes with some dye in the mix) and a coarser scratch pattern allows more particles to get trapped deepening the color. Stains typically have a “binder” that sets up and locks them in place, and after it cures I suppose you could sand it (I never have, but then I don’t use a lot of stain), but I wouldn’t do it in terms of adjusting the depth of the color. It can be hard to do, and use up a lot of paper….it would clog easily (I think) with the softness of the stain. I’ll also suggest you buy a copy of Bob Flexner's book. It’s very easy to read and packed with great info on such things. One last thing: congrats on trying this out as practice, too often folks try on a finished piece and wind up in deep do-do.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Redoak49's profile


5368 posts in 3204 days

#2 posted 07-29-2021 10:57 AM

Experimenting on scraps is an excellent way to learn. I always try out scraps before finishing a project

View Bob Gnann's profile

Bob Gnann

143 posts in 888 days

#3 posted 07-29-2021 11:15 AM

No, this is not a dumb question. In fact you have opened up an area of our little obsession that you, and countless others, will explore for perhaps the rest of our lives. Why? Because there is no one answer. Too many variables involved.
Very general rule of thumb, you want to sand to the smoothness of the finish you desire. This will depend greatly on the wood you are using. A more open grain wood (simple pine vs denser hardwood maple) will require sanding with another finer grit or two to achieve the same result. Also consider what type of finish you are using. A simple wipe on oil finish requires a much smoother surface to work effectively than say a polyurethane that tends to fill in micro abrasions. Remember too that any finish applied will change the final coloration. (As a final aside I’ll throw in using stains vs. dyes just to further confuse the discussion).
Your approach of using different scraps and colors and finishes is the tried and true way to find out what works, especially for a specific project. You are off to a good start thinking this through!

-- Bob Gnann. "Don't cloud the issue with facts.". Groucho Marx

View LittleShaver's profile


774 posts in 1835 days

#4 posted 07-29-2021 02:27 PM

While your palette is a great way to learn, your actual results on a project will vary. Always test your finish schedule on scraps from the project. How one board accepts a finish can be different from another of the same species. Its all part of the fun.

-- Sawdust Maker

View SMP's profile


4728 posts in 1121 days

#5 posted 07-29-2021 02:54 PM

While your palette is a great way to learn, your actual results on a project will vary. Always test your finish schedule on scraps from the project. How one board accepts a finish can be different from another of the same species. Its all part of the fun.

- LittleShaver

yep, test test test. in actual numbers i find that stains tend to work well at 150 grit(a good compromise in smoothness vs stainability)maybe 180 max. 220 grit on most woods won’t allow the stain to penetrate to the “advertised” color, so will be lighter. of course this is different for gel stains. for open grained woods like oak, 150 might be too rough for you, but you can sand to 150, stain, then use clear grain filler, then sand to higher and clear coat. again test test test to get what you are looking for

View CaptainKlutz's profile


4864 posts in 2710 days

#6 posted 07-29-2021 11:16 PM

+1 There are very few dumb questions when it comes to finishing. :-)
We have 1000 different ways to finish wood, and many work well.

+1 Stop at lower grits when adding color.

Like SMP: Tend to stop sanding with 150-180 grit when adding color to wood. Sanding with 220 on closed grain wood makes it really to add any dark/deep colors.
If you stop with 150, have to use light consistent pressure on ROS, or finish off by hand sanding with grain to avoid swirl marks from excess pressure, or residue from larger grits used prior.

IME – Coloring wood with large open grain some requires extra care. Water based stains/dyes have higher surface tension, and often will not penetrate into pores (leaving ‘white’ spots). Using a neutral water based grain filler (like Behlen’s or Timbermate), solves the wetting problem and helps make surface smoother with only 180 grit. The neutral fillers tend to absorb color similar to actual grain (I.E. get darker surface), or you can use a colored filler which does not absorb color as well and have some contrast.

Best Luck.

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

View BurlyBob's profile


9293 posts in 3481 days

#7 posted 07-29-2021 11:21 PM

Nothing but real good advice here. We’ve all gone thru the same process as you. I’m real big on prototypes and finish testing. Better screw up on a test piece than the Real McCoy.

View therealSteveN's profile


8656 posts in 1790 days

#8 posted 07-30-2021 04:28 AM

My mantra is always do tests on scrap wood directly from your project, and also prepped up to the exact same amount as the project. Otherwise tests only tell part of the tale.

So many do test scraps, sometimes on a different species, sometimes from the project, but rough as a cobb. Most just get in a hurry at the exact time they should slow down, and want to hurry up and get er dun….

As Tommy says on TOH, do your prep all the way through, don’t miss any grits.

If you do a natural finish, go wild and go up to 400 on some test pieces, just to see what you think. I think I like what 400 to 600 looks like. :-)

-- Think safe, be safe

View woodrookiepatriot's profile


16 posts in 83 days

#9 posted 07-30-2021 06:48 AM

Thank you guys once again for all the advice. I am really enjoying the process of learning as I go. I do understand the tendency to rush the finish at the end of building a project, but I’m finding myself spending more time finishing than I spent on the build. Go figure.. lol

@therealSteveN, I previously have sanded a couple pieces to 500 grit by hand, prior to assembly. That’s when I really noticed the staining process became unpredictable. Then I thought about it and assumed it was because I hadn’t sanded the test piece that fine, so the stain absorbed differently.

-- BAM

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