I am staining a wood table which I believe might be oak. The table has been sanded to 150 grit and pre-conditioned with water based Minwax product.

Last night we applied water based Minwax stain. The first quarter-section of the table run we stained was left on too long (~8 minutes). It was clumpy when wiping off the wet stain and it dried looking streaky and uneven. The remainder of the table we dried off quicker (~2 minutes) and that side looks fine.

Can anyone suggest the best way to correct the streaky uneven section? The stain has dried for about 8 hours. We are planning to add a second coat of stain to the good side for a darker tint.

  • Could I just apply more stain and wipe it off quicker? Will that even out the bad spots? Will the other side still blend okay?
  • Do you I need to sand it down and try again? Is is possible to remove all the stain down to bare wood? Do I need to sand only the bad section or the entire table?

Thank you

This is a refinishing job. The table was originally painted with chalk paint. I sanded away the paint with 60-grit sandpaper using 1/4-Inch Sheet sanding machine. When the paint was all gone I went over it again with 60-grit to ensure the top coat was also removed. Once at bare wood I sanded down to 150-grit. Then applied water based Minwax pre-conditioner and Minwax stain.

When I did the original sanding I was under the impression the wood is Oak, but commentors here say the wood looks like rubberwood. (Based on some reading, I think both are hardwoods). I had on hand 150 and 220 so I went with 150 grit for finishing sanding. I chose 150 base on this article, nortonabrasives.com/Barewoodsanding: "For hardwoods such as maple and oak, start with a 120 grit abrasive and finish sand no finer than 180 grit for water based stains".

UPDATE, 2019-12-02, Light sanding and re-staining:

I hoped that I could lightly sand the darker area, apply the stain again, and would get even results. As seen in the picture below this did not turn out with good results. The color looks nice. But the stain is uneven, there are splotches and streaks. I will note (as seen in the picture), when sanding the stained table the stain seems to have "peeled off" or "flaked".

We are planning to do a complete re-sanding down to bare wood. And then from there we haven't decided if we will try water based stain again (this time with a soaked cloth and quick application). Or we might try the gel stain (I currently don't know much about this option).

IMAGE: Streaky stain original

Streaky Stain Original

IMAGE: Streaky stain after light re-sanding

enter image description here

  • 1
    There are some Q&A that might already apply -- this is a pretty common question. So make sure you search the older Q&A. I will mention that 120-grit is pretty coarse. Even Minwax suggests this is a first sanding, not a finish sanding grit. – jdv Nov 26 '19 at 14:56
  • Hi and welcome to Woodworking. One detail that is missing from the Q is is this a refinishing job or are you staining from new? The localised patches of unstained wood seem to point to refinishing. Regardless you have little choice but to go back to the beginning and start again as those paler areas can't really be resolved by further staining. Did you have a definite reason for thinking you needed to use pre-stain? If the table had been oak (it isn't, see next Comment) it would actually have been contra-indicated. – Graphus Nov 27 '19 at 8:10
  • Your table isn't oak. Oak is a coarse-grained hardwood with a pronounced texture and some characteristic figure — 'silver figure' or 'ray flecks' — neither of which are evident in the pictures. The tabletop is a medium-grained hardwood, at a guess I'd say rubberwood, now a fairly common wood in the West due to its wide use in inexpensive and mid-range furniture that originates in Asia. If you look it up online you should be able to be more definitive. – Graphus Nov 27 '19 at 8:14
  • @jdv - I used started with 60-grit and finished with 150, not 120. I was under the impression this was Oak. I've updated the question with more notes about the finishing process. But one commentor says this looks more like rubberwood. – SherlockSpreadsheets Nov 27 '19 at 14:23
  • @GraphussupportsMonica - I have updated the Q to include the refinishing job process I applied. I found an article (homeguides.sfgate.com/stain-rubberwood-50705.html) which says "Sand rubberwood with a palm sander just as you would sand any hardwood. Use 80- to 100-grit sandpaper to remove splinters and other defects and 120- to 150-grit paper to open the grain and prepare the wood for stain." How would you suggest refinishing this peice? – SherlockSpreadsheets Nov 27 '19 at 14:26

TL;DR warning I guess....

The first quarter-section of the table run we stained was left on too long (~8 minutes). It was clumpy when wiping off the wet stain and it dried looking streaky and uneven.

Note this does not apply here, I'm including it for completeness. For future reference the ideal time to tackle streaking in a stain job is right then, not later when the stain has had a chance to fully penetrate, and dry. If you notice some streaks or other irregularities re-wetting the surface (either with water, or as some guides suggest with more stain) it's possible to improve the result markedly with only a little extra effort. One additional point worth mentioning now is that when staining, especially with waterbased and spirit-based dyes or stains, it's absolutely vital to stain each surface in one go, so you need a method to get the stain on in bulk quickly and efficiently. This is why brush application of these stains is a bad idea (fine for oil-based), and you should for example use a rag wet with plenty of the finish so you can get the whole surface wet in one shot.

However from what we can see in the photos no tricks would have gotten you the smooth result you were going for because the wood wasn't prepped sufficiently for staining to commence. So let's back up a bit and talk about what should have been done before the stain went on.

Six-P rule
When preparing wood for refinishing — not just when staining, but especially when you are — it's important to check for any areas of remaining finish (and possibly for glue contamination from the glue-up in the factory) before going to the next step. As I say in the Comments above, stubborn patches like this are very common (regardless of the method used to remove the old finish, including when stripping). Visual inspection in a raking light is one good way to spot these as you may be able to see marked differences in surface gloss, but the ideal method is to wet the wood.

And when planning to use a waterbased stain you want to pre-wet the wood anyway for other reasons1, so this is no longer an extra step.

When you wet a piece that's being refinished any area which still has finish or glue on it will stay light in colour while the bare wood will go significantly darker and you can immediately spot any problem areas. Even areas that only have a trace of finish or glue left in the grain or surface fibres show up and now is the time to find them and deal with them.

What now?
You really have only two choices here, actually three if you include repainting :-)

If you don't repaint2 and you want to stick with your original strategy you have no real choice but to take the tabletop back to bare wood and begin again as waterbased stains require a pristine bare-wood surface to work as intended. This is going to require sanding and lots of it, which is another argument in favour of not sanding old finish off in the first place since this is now two rounds of heavy sanding, increasing the chance of damage or alteration of appearance3.

The other option is to switch colouring products and go with a coloured overcoat, specifically "gel stain". This is not stain despite the name, it's thickened coloured varnish. "Gel stain" doesn't rely on penetrating the wood since it's a surface coating. But you would need to go a lot darker for it to possibly hide the current light patches so you may want to sand back all or part way for this too. However it's still worth considering as getting an even colour on a large surface is far easier with "gel stain" than it is with waterbased stains.

A note on pre-stain
Pre-stain treatments including commercial products such as "wood conditioner" and "blotch control" are useful, sometimes vital, to good results4. But anything like this should only be used where it's required and never otherwise. Wood species that don't require them (and this is the majority of hardwoods) will be partially sealed, greatly limiting how much stain they can absorb and therefore how dark the wood can go.

If you'll be doing more refinishing jobs I strongly recommend you switch methods for removing the previous finish and primarily rely on chemical strippers instead of sanding, and where they can't be used doing as much scraping as you can. Some sanding is inevitable and necessary, but as covered in numerous previous Answers of mine sanding is the worst way to remove old finish and it should never be thought of as the primary means to do it.

1 You're raising the grain ahead of time so that the stain doesn't do this, but in fact you may actually want to dampen the wood slightly just before the stain goes on (in addition to these previous wettings) to ensure a good result.

2 And jokes aside I would suggest you give the idea some consideration as it would require far less time, effort and cost — you can go straight to this option after a light sanding.

3 Edges and corners are susceptible to damage when sanding even by hand, but much more so when using power sanders. And any heavy sanding risks ruining the appearance of edge treatments like chamfers and roundovers. There's even the chance of visibly thinning a panel that's not particularly thick to begin with.

4 Note however that most are nothing more than diluted finish, which you can of course make yourself at home and at a significant saving. In the past, before such products were available, 'size' (watered-down glue) and heavily thinned shellac 'washcoats' were used when needed and can still be relied on for this purpose.

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  • Please see the updated picture I posted in the Question. I tried making it look better but it is still not as desired. We are planning to do a complete re-sanding down to bare wood. And then from there we haven't decided if we will try water based stain again (this time with a soaked cloth and quick application). Or we might try the gel stain (I currently don't know much about this option). Can you offer any suggestions or new information with the update? – SherlockSpreadsheets Dec 3 '19 at 22:18

I would apply a gentle paint stripper and take stain off with a putty knife. Then remove excess stain with steel wool (gentle grade not to scratch wood). Reapply stripper if needed. Wipe table down to remove all stripper after stain is removed. Leave bare wood to dry for 24 hours. Wipe table with mineral spirits to remove all residue. Allow one hour to dry. Seal your wood as it may be too dry or porous and that is why the stain clings in some places and not others. Sand table with 400 grade, wipe clean. Reapply stain in long sweeps along grain of wood. Back and forth moving the stain evenly over the wood. Allow stain to dry overnight, then restrain if needed.

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  • Welcome to SE Debra. FYI paint strippers don't have a great effect on removing stains, and waterbased stains in particular (which are typically wood dyes) soak into the wood fibres and aren't really stuck to the surface. This is more typical of an oil-based stain, where strippers can have some useful effect. – Graphus May 13 at 12:26

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