HomeProductsThe Great Stain Guide: How Much Stain Do You Need for Your Woodwork Project?

The Great Stain Guide: How Much Stain Do You Need for Your Woodwork Project?

Staining can be a pretty tough process during woodwork. Choosing the right stain, not knowing how much would be enough for doing the finish, and then processing the finish. Wood stains can do wonders by making new wood look like old wood and old wood look like a very rare wood. The calculations can be quite a hassle as more amount could ruin the work or cost you a lot more money than required to spend. For your project including wood, or requiring a nice and glossy finish, you may require a good amount of stain and paint to make it look like the product you think in your mind. Now, the biggest question arises: How much stain do I need?

Go through this detailed guide, to find out how much stain do you need and how the stain is better for finishing than anything else.

What is Stain & how much stain do I need?

Starting with, the Wood stain is a type of paint used to color wood that is made up of colorants that have been dissolved and/or suspended in a ‘vehicle’ or solvent.

The term “vehicle” is preferred because the contents of a stain may not be completely dissolved in the vehicle, but rather suspended, and thus the vehicle may not be a true solvent. Common vehicles are water, alcohol, petroleum distillate, or a finishing agent such as shellac, lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane. Colored or stained finishes do not usually penetrate deeply into the pores of the wood and may fade away completely when the finish deteriorates or is removed.

how to stain wood
A man staining wood. Courtesy: HGTV

Most commercial stains contain both dyes and pigments, albeit in varying colors and ratios (to each other) depending on the desired coloration effect. Furthermore, the extent to which a stain will color a specific wood may be dependent on the length of time it is left on the wood, with longer exposure times achieving deeper coloration.

A ‘transparent’ stain will typically accentuate the wood grain (because it is transparent), whereas a more solid stain will tend to obscure the wood grain (because it is more opaque, similar to what we would call ‘paint’). Pigments, regardless of suspension agent, will not color dense woods very well, but will deeply color woods with large pores (e.g. pine).

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How is it different from the wood finish?

There is a very simple difference between a wood finish and wood stain, and that relies on their application and results. Wood stains add color to natural wood, whereas finishes seal and protect the wood from moisture. You know when you’re looking for furniture and you come across a table with a finish so pristine it still looks wet? To achieve the still-wet appearance, the wood has been stained a specific color and then coated with a polyurethane or lacquer. While wood finishes keep moisture out of the wood and keep it from swelling and cracking.

Nonetheless, both are required for your wood and doing finishing after staining is highly recommended.

Type of stains

types of stains
Different types of stains affect the white oak wood piece.
Courtesy: Chris Loves Julia

There are different strains available in the market, depending on the usability and the type of solvent used in it.

  1. Oil-based: An oil-based stain is the most commonly used wood stain. It is due to its high penetration and durability. Linseed oil and varnish are commonly used in oil stains. Linseed oil is a natural, non-toxic oil that works well as a preservative for any wood finish or wood paint. An oil-based stain, on the other hand, is easily identified due to its thinning by mineral spirits.
  2. Water-based: Water-based stains are less harmful to the environment and contain fewer polluted particles. Water-based stains emit no volatile organic compounds. These stains contain high-quality pigments that complement the grain of the wood. Water-based stains are frequently difficult to apply because they dry quickly. Woodworkers divide this application into short time segments to apply it evenly on a large surface.
  3. Gel stain: Gel stains are high-viscosity liquids that are popular due to their thickened pigments. These pigments can be found in jelly form. However, due to their thixotropic nature, gel stains frequently have very limited penetrating capability. The thixotropic liquid is defined as one that does not flow.
  4. Water-soluble dye stain: Because these stains are always in powder form, they are very easy to identify. Before the invention of metal complex dyes, these stains were very popular. However, they are still widely used due to their various color options and richness. They were first used for textiles in the late nineteenth century and are commonly referred to as aniline dyes. Simply combine the water-soluble dye stain with water to create a liquid form. In one quart of water, dissolve one ounce of powder. This is the standard proportion. Add more powder to the mixture to achieve a more intense color.

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Factors to Consider

measuring wood
Measuring wood to be stained later. Courtesy: Dissolve. in

Before you dive in to calculate the stain needed, first look through the factors you should consider while calculating how much stain do you need.

1. Area

Calculate the area you want to color. If the surface is rectangular or square, you can calculate the square footage or square meters by multiplying the long and short sides by each other.

2. The type of stains

Depending on the durability and finish, choosing the right gel becomes very important. There are many types of stains, so choose wisely. Oil-based stains are most common, while water-based are environment friendly.

3. Number of coats

For most interior applications, one coat of stain is sufficient. However, if desired, a second coat can be used to intensify the shade or darken the surface. The second coat of exterior stain is frequently recommended. Consider a long-lasting topcoat (e.g., polyurethane) for exterior wood, such as decks, fences, and furniture. How much color do you need, depends on how many coats you are going to apply.

4. Units

Stains can be available in the units of gallons, liters, ounces, and quartz. Choose the right unit to get the right amount of stain you need to buy from the market.

5. Wood Age

Aged wood will generally take up more color than new or ‘green wood’. You may go through your stain more quickly than expected if working with aged wood.

6. End Grain

When you apply color to the end grain, it absorbs a lot more stain than other parts of the wood. End grain is very porous, making it difficult to apply the stain evenly. If your wood piece has a log of end grain sections, plan on using more color than usual.

How much stain do I need?

stained furniture
A fully stained dining table and chairs. Courtesy: James+James

You’ll need two measurements to figure out how much stain you’ll need for your next project. To begin, determine the area of the object or structure that you want to stain. The coverage of your chosen stain is the second measurement you’ll need.

To figure out how much stain to buy, divide the square footage of the room or floor you want to stain by the manufacturer’s coverage estimate.

Here are some examples as an estimate for you to understand how much stain do you need for a certain wood or furniture piece.

For a deck

The average deck measures 16 feet wide by 16 feet long, for a total area of 256 square feet. After two coats of stain, the total area to be covered is 512 square feet. If you want to stain 200 square feet per gallon, you’ll need two gallons and a pint.

For a Dining table

Dining tables are typically 36 inches wide, or 3 feet long. A table for eight people is typically 80 inches long, or nearly seven feet. This results in a 21-square-foot area. Of course, you’ll want to stain both the top and bottom of the table, so double that amount for a total of 42 square feet. A quart of stain should be more than enough to cover this size tabletop. If you’re staining a wood, such as plywood, you may need more because it absorbs the stain more quickly.

For a Fence

One gallon of stain in any transparency will suffice for a small fence of up to 175 square feet. If your fence is larger than 550 square feet, you will need to purchase two gallons of stain. For very large fences of up to 700 square feet, 3 to 4 gallons of stain will be required to complete the project.

For Floor

The average bedroom size in the United States is 11 feet by 12 feet or 132 square feet. So, one gallon of stain should be enough to cover 200 square feet, right? Only if you don’t intend to wear multiple coats. While some stains claim to cover in one coat, it’s usually best to plan on two or three coats.

Reminder, all these examples above are mostly estimated, if you wish to calculate how much stain you need, use a stain calculator for accurate measure.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a wood color used for?

Wood color is used for changing the color of wood, staining it with the specified wood color, and giving it a glossy finish.

2. Is the wood stain permanent?

Wood color is permanent, this is why you should consider how much stain do you need for your specific project. Estimating the closest amount will lead to a full finish.

3. how much stain do i need on woods?

Penetrating wood stains are not meant to be used as a surface finish. They will not dry properly if applied too thickly and will remain tacky to the touch.

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