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I am planning to put wood beams on my tall ceilings and I don't have much time to do both a stain AND a finish on the beams. If I just stain the beams, will this be acceptable? Or do I have to coat it with a clear finish as well? Or is there a better solution to stain the wood that will also keep it protected? Unlike furniture, these will not be touched very often, if ever, so I'm not worried about protecting them from dings.

NOTE: The wood beams will not be solid beams. I will be using solid wood planks and joining them with a special router bit. Also, the temperature that the stain/finish would be exposed to during the drying time may be around 45°F (~7°C).

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  • Acceptable to whom? If it's your house, your opinion is the one that matters.
    – Caleb
    Jul 31 '18 at 18:36
  • @Caleb I'm referring to the "acceptability" in terms of quality/functionality, not in terms of look or feel. I may think it's acceptable to only use stain but someone else could have more experience and know that there could be legitimate and functional reasons why it may not be acceptable.
    – Programmer
    Aug 2 '18 at 12:52
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    In that case using only stain might be acceptable to you but not to the expert. The point here is that acceptability is subjective. Some people might want to apply a finish that protects against water stains, for example, in case there's ever a leak in the roof that affects the ceiling, while others might feel that if that comes to pass, you're going to have to repair the ceiling anyway. A better way to phrase the question might be: Are there any reasons why these beams might need the protection that a finish would provide?
    – Caleb
    Aug 2 '18 at 13:09
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It depends on what you mean by stain.

Unfortunately the finishing world is full of proprietary product names, irregular use of similar/the same words, and to be plain, sometimes deliberately misleading terminology*.

Stain conventionally refers to a product that colours the wood and nothing else.

Today however many products that use the word stain in the name are coloured finishes (possibly the best known being "gel stain" which is a jellied coloured varnish).

If you're planning on using one of the latter then yes you can use it as a standalone finish. If you were planning on using the former then no, it's not advisable.

Also, the temperature that the stain/finish would be exposed to during the drying time may be around 45°F (~7°C).

This is a bit low for a lot of products used in wood finishing. Many different products quote a minimum figure of 50°F or 10°C during application and when drying, and ideally higher.

45°F is not excessively low though, so instead of preventing proper drying it could mean only that you can expect extended drying periods (e.g. 4-5 days instead of 1-2). It's important to note though that some product simply won't dry properly when applied in colder conditions.

So obviously the exact product you eventually go with will make all the difference here — check product literature for guidance and if in any doubt do a test in the finished setting on a scrap of the project wood, and be guided by the results.


*The infamous "Tung Oil Finish" is perhaps the best example of this, since it contains no tung oil and never has. Other choice ones include "feed and wax" (wood doesn't need 'feeding'), "Danish oil" (not made from Danish people) and "teak oil" (not made from teak and not specifically intended for finishing only teak).

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  • I typically use a stain from Minwax or Varathane and then put something like Lacquer over it. What do you think of Minwax Polyshade? Is there a rub on version of stain that would have some protective properties as well?
    – Programmer
    Jul 31 '18 at 14:04
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    I'm not in the US so have no direct experience, but the product description for Minwax Polyshades makes it plain that it's a coloured poly — "an oil based one-step stain and polyurethane finish". So it's an example of the second thing I refer to above, and can be used as a standalone finish. And just like with standard polyurethane it can be diluted if you want to apply it like wiping varnish.
    – Graphus
    Aug 1 '18 at 11:26
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Stain is not the same as a finish, so on the surface the answer to your question, "Is stain an acceptable final finish?" is "no."

However, I would challenge the whole assumption that you need a finish at all here. As I see it, finishes serve two purposes: to protect the wood (from physical damage, chemical discolorations, and UV) and to alter its appearance (sheen, luster, coloration).

Since this is in a location where it will never be touched, never have any water or other chemicals on it, and never exposed to the elements I don't see why it would need protection from anything. And if the stain gets you the look you want there's no need to do anything else to change the appearance.

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