Messy, messy, messy. That being said, staining is probably the easiest step, minus the messy factor. Let's get to it.
I have a tragic story for you. Once upon a time, a certain DIY kinda girl went to Home Depot. She looked at the sample swatches of Minwax stain, made her choice and bought a gallon of that just perfect stain. She took it home, and proceeded to stain ALL of her cabinet bases. And then she cried.
So let us learn from this story. Here is what I recommend:
- Pick out your stain. Buy 8 ounces rather than a gallon. (My first time around, I used Minwax Red Oak. It was only slightly red and very dark on my wood. In a word, UGLY. But maybe it would look nice on yours...)
- Take it home, and get out two of your nicely sanded drawer fronts. Use the wood conditioner first, then put one coat of stain ON THE BACK of one drawer front, and two coats of stain ON THE BACK of the other drawer front (very simple and straightforward instructions on the back of the can).
- Once dry, take those drawer fronts into your kitchen in the morning, and leave them there all day, with your proposed paint chips. Take note of how it all looks at different times of the day. If that stain is a winner, then go buy a gallon! If it's not, go buy another quart (or take a gamble and buy a gallon of something else). (This should also help you choose your paint color as well.)
After crying, ranting, raving and throwing a tantrum somewhat reminiscent of my one year old prima donna, my husband took me to dinner (with a much needed dessert, of course) and then to Lowe's. We bought another gallon of stain, this time Minwax in Gunstock. And a whole lot of sandpaper. Even with both of us wielding a hand sander, we were up until 3 o' clock in the morning sanding off the ugly. It was awful. And my arms were tingly for days afterwards (my Physical Therapist little sister told me it was just my nerves responding to the constant vibration and nothing was seriously wrong...just in case you were worried).
And then I stained again. Much better results this time around.
A few things of note for the staining process:
- Wear grubbies, for heavens' sake! I ruined 3 pairs of jeans and a pair of jammies because I thought I could just step out real quick to do that next coat and I'd be sooooo careful. Bah.
- Make sure you have that mask and adequate ventilation!!! And wear gloves.
- Clean the surface! I used the brush attachment on my vacuum first. Then wipe down your nicely sanded surfaces with a damp cloth. I recommend doing two rounds of this, just to make sure. Then let it dry (shouldn't be that wet though) before you start staining.
- Now is the time to use el cheapo brushes. It really doesn't matter with the wood conditioner and stain. I would wrap my brush in one of the wiping rags between coats, but even if the brush gets crunchy, just push it against the ground (on newspaper or the sheet), etc., to get it loose enough to stain again. If it's too crunchy, just get out a new one. The beauty of cheap brushes.
- Don't use newspaper as a drop cloth. It will just stick to everything and ruin your project (and sanity). I used an old sheet. Worked like a charm. Be advised, however, stain WILL seep through, so if that is a problem (I didn't care about my garage floor, frankly), you'll need to put plastic sheeting or something like unto it underneath. For the cabinet bases, I used painter's tape, newspaper and plastic sheeting.
- Don't forget to use the wood conditioner first. It helps.
- That being said, I didn't bother with it on the backs of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Lazy and cheap, I guess.
- STIR your stain with a paint stirring stick thing before every coat.
- Don't skimp on the rags. I went through a pound easily. Start with that, but keep a watchful eye and run to the store BEFORE you run out if you need more.
- I personally wanted my stain nice and deep, so I left each coat on for 20 minutes before wiping off the excess.
- Rub the leftover stain off in the direction of the grain.
- I used a similar system with staining as I did with stripping. In this case, I did the wood conditioner, then the first coat of stain on the fronts. Waited two hours, then came out and flipped them over and did a coat on the backs. Two more hours, and flipped them again to do the second coat on the fronts. Two more hours, then flipped them again to do the second coat on the backs. Two more hours, then flipped them to do the third coat on the fronts. (Only did two coats on the backs.) Let them dry overnight, and they were ready for polyurethane in the morning. Obviously, the number of coats you do depends on your personal preference.
- If you are staining your doors and drawer fronts in the garage, as I did, remember the lighting in there stinketh, and not to judge the color of the stain in there.
- If you get stain on something you shouldn't have, you have a couple options for clean-up. If you can catch it almost immediately, then get a rag wet and add a few drops of dish soap on it. Dish soap is designed to cut grease, so it cleans up oil based stain pretty well. (Which means if you get stain on your hands, wash them with a liberal amount of dish soap. Works great.) Rub the dish soap right over the wall, tile, or appliance (the things I got stain on accidently), and most of it will likely come off. If it has had the chance to dry, get out the mineral spirits (and keep your mask on, despite their claims, that stuff ain't odorless). Put some on a rag, and rub it over the splatter, or whatever. DON'T LET IT DRY FOR LONGER THAN 24 HOURS BEFORE YOU TRY TO CLEAN IT UP! It may not come up so well...believe me. And if it's fabric you got it on, well, you could try these methods and see if it works. It's already ruined, so it won't hurt, right? :)
And that's about it! Easy, right? Well, comparatively.....
Now just a recap of our shopping list for this step:
Paint stirring stick
Drop cloth of some kind
Next up, Step Four: Polyurethane...