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Espresso Stain

June 11, 2012 |
posted by Ana White
Espresso Stain
Espresso Stain
Espresso Stain
Espresso Stain
Espresso Stain
Espresso Stain
Author Notes

One of the most frequent questions I receive from readers is “How do I get that espresso stain on pine?”

An espresso stain is hard to achieve on soft woods like pine without appearing blotchy and inconsistent. One can work with hardwood boards, but you will lose the rustic character and inexpensive cost that come with pine. 

But today, I am so excited to finally be able to answer this question.

I’ve teamed up with the kind folks over at Minwax to bring you a new series of tutorials, focused on how to finish your beautiful projects with stains. We’ll be doing 25 tutorials, ranging from simple stains to layered stain and paint finishes, over the next year, all in an effort to help you better your own home! 

For the first tutorial, I have listened to you and have created a step by step tutorial to help you get that espresso stain on your pine DIY furniture!

I took one of our most popular project plans – the rustic X
– that is indeed very rustic, and turned it into this beautiful
bench!  And in this tutorial, I’ll be
showing you step by step how to do the same!

So ... here we go!

Plans Used in Finish

What You Will Need

Shopping List: 

Minwax Gel Stain in Red Elm 

• Minwax Stain Brush 

• Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner 

• 220 Grit Sanding Block 

• Sand Paper in varying grits 

• Finishing/Buffing Pad 

• Rags 

Minwax Spray On Polycrylic 

• Stainable Wood Filler

Step 1

Espresso Stain

Prepare the Project

After you build your project, you will need to prepare it
for a finish.  Fill any screw holes or
pocket holes with stainable wood filler and let dry completely.  You may need to fill a second time as wood
filler tends to shrink as it dries.  

Then sand your project with coarse sandpaper, followed by
medium, and then fine.  

And then give your project a quick buffing with a super fine
sanding block.

Next, you must remove any sanding residue.  Use a brush to remove sanding residue, and
then wipe clean with a slightly damp rag.

Step 2
Espresso Stain

Apply First Coat

For the espresso stain, use Minwax Gel Stain in Red
Elm.  When you open the can, the stain
will look like jello.

Mix the stain until it looks like melted chocolate.

I find working with a slightly damp surface helps the stain
soak in faster and more evenly.  Gently
wipe the project with a damp rag or sponge.

For this project, you will want to use a stain brush.

Start at the inside, underside of your project – in the
hardest to reach place – and work your way outward.  Trust me on this one – if the underside is
hard to reach, it will be even harder to reach when the rest of the project is
covered in wet stain!

Apply the gel stain liberally, working in sections.  You will want to wipe off excess gel stain
after approximately 3 minutes.

So work fast, again over applying the stain 

And flip the project over and apply stain to top sides.

Approximately 3 minutes after applying gel stain – more or
less depending on humidity, temperature and wind – begin wiping off excess gel
stain.  If you have a larger project, it
is a good idea to have a second person wipe off excess gel stain while you are
still applying it.

Step 3
Espresso Stain

Let Dry

Here’s the hard part. 
Wait a full 8 hours – or more depending on weather – for the stain to be
completely dry.

May I suggest sandwich bags and hair ties for keeping the brushes from drying out between coats?

Step 4
Espresso Stain

Apply Second Coat

After the first coat of gel stain is completely dry, and
there are no tacky spots, we can add a second coat.

First mix your gel stain up again.

And then apply a second liberal coat over the first.  After a few minutes wipe off excess and allow
the project to dry.  For even deeper
color, you can add additional coats.

Let your project dry again.  Gel stain is different than regular stain - if little saw dust particles or dirt blows on the finish, it's sticking.  So make sure you protect your project until it dries to touch from dirt or debris - or bugs.

Step 5
Espresso Stain

Clean Stain Brush

While you are waiting for the final coat to dry, let’s take
care of cleaning the brush!  Brushes
clean well with mineral spirits or paint thinner.

Fill two small jars halfway up with mineral spirits.  Place brush in one jar and swish around.

Use a fork to comb through brush, working stain out of

Once brush is free of stain, rinse in second jar of mineral

The brush will be free of stain, but still needs to be washed.  

Wash brushes in soap and water.

And rinse until clean.

My Minwax stain brush recommends storing in original

Like brand new!

Take care of your brushes.

They will take care of you.

And it will save you $$$$ .... so you can buy more lumber ....  and build more projects!

Step 6
Espresso Stain

Prepare for Top Coat

Now back to the project. Let it dry.

Completely dry. 

 Let there be not one tacky spot. 

 Not one.

Once dry, I use a damp finishing pad to prepare for the
final top coat.  This is a gentle way of removing any rough patches, bugs that might have thought my bench was indeed as deliciously choclately as it looks, or removing any dust or debris.

I love distressed edges, so I used the finishing pad to
expose the edges.  But this is purely

Distressed Edges = Going to happen anyway (in my house)

Might as well do it on purpose!  

The project is then wiped completely clean and is dry.

Step 7
Espresso Stain

Apply Top Coat

Now we've worked so hard to get this beautiful Espresso Finish on Pine ... okay, not that hard ... but we want to make sure the finish stays beautiful and is easy to wipe clean.  We will need to apply a top coat.

Top coat also can add a sheen, enhancing the color of your project.  For a matte finish, use satin, as I am.  For a glossy, rich finish full of luster, use gloss.

I love using spray on Minwax Spray On Polycrylic because it goes on very
smooth and even, and then I don’t have to wash another brush!  You will want to be outdoors here and be
aware of overspray and wind direction. 
Spray in light, even strokes, applying several coats rather than one
goopy drippy one.  Let the polycrylic dry
between coats. 


On the final coat, allow project to dry a full day before

Enjoy your beautiful Espresso Finished Project!

Special thanks to the kind people at Minwax for bringing you this finishing tutorial!  



I've been wondering how to get that espresso finish, too. Never attempted it. Thanks so much for these finishing tutorials. I find myself going back to the pieces I built when I started last year and refinishing them, b/c I really had no idea what I was doing then. I learn even more that I didn't know before through these posts. I have the larger X-bench in the works for the end of my farmhouse bed I'm refinishing. This finish is just what I wanted. Thank you so much. You are really awesome and I feel like this girly girl can do and build anything with what I learn from you and other awesome mommy bloggers!

Marion B.

posted by mebohn | on Mon, 2012-06-11 15:19

It looks great. I will do one

It looks great. I will do one too. I found many useful tips for decorating on your site. Thank you for sharing with us your amazing ideas.

posted by nicolae | on Sun, 2013-03-10 14:58

Great Tutorial

This was a great step-by-step which some of us need! I really liked using the fork to clean your brush; I'm going to try that next time!

posted by LisaT | on Mon, 2012-06-11 22:28
birdsandsoap's picture

Nice Tute!

(and now I'm laughing because I just read that) I thought it was impossible to get a dark, even stain on pine. Who knew gel stain could make it happen? thanks!

posted by birdsandsoap | on Tue, 2012-06-12 01:07

Gel Stain

I've always been too intimidated by the gel stain...now I'm going to have to give it a go!

posted by mariarose7 (not verified) | on Tue, 2012-06-12 09:08

finish request?

Can we make finish requests? I'd love to know how to come close to Pottery Barn's new(er) Tuscan Finish- it was so popular we had to wait 3 months for my son's new bed. It's obviously more complicated than "buy the brown closest to the color".... and I'd like to know how to do it so I can make a nightstand and desk to match- without paying PB 1500$!

posted by TiffanyGJD (not verified) | on Tue, 2012-06-12 12:33
Ana White's picture

Request noted! Thank you

Request noted! Thank you everyone!

posted by Ana White | on Fri, 2012-06-15 16:21
judym's picture

Perfect timing ... again!

I'm just about to start putting together a bed frame and was debating whether I should stick with a natural stain or go for the espresso stain (which I much prefer). Thanks for helping me to make the decision!

posted by judym | on Tue, 2012-06-12 21:39
tracysmith's picture

Wow, your timing is perfect!

I have been staining with Minwax from the beginning. I love their stains and I've tried both the water based and oil based stains. One huge pet peeve of mine is getting my brushes cleaned. I have a paint can (you can get one at Home Depot or Lowe's with a lid that has NEVER had anything else in it) and I use it to keep mineral spirits in it so I can clean my brushes. I have done the whole swishing until it's pretty clear off the brush and have used dish detergent to clean it afterward, but STILL my brushes are completely stiff and hard. Makes them unusable. Do you have any suggestions on keeping this from happening???? I'd appreciate it greatly!!!!!


posted by tracysmith | on Thu, 2012-06-14 03:16

Softening Hard Brushes

Hi Tracy. Check out this article from This Old House.
Yay for vinegar! Hope this helps.

posted by hjewls10 | on Fri, 2012-10-05 09:35

question about touching up stain

I am so excited to hear you are going to do tutorials on staining. I've been wanting to learn how to stain wood pieces.

I was wondering if you had tips/recommendations on how to touch up stained pieces. I have two pieces, a bistro table and a coffee table, where the stain has started to chip away on the tops of the tables. (We are pretty tough on our furniture.) I believe they are both particle board pieces. Is there a way to touch up the stain with out having to re-stain the entire piece?

posted by Karen Parker (not verified) | on Sun, 2012-06-17 00:29

Newbie Question

I'm just about to start my very-first-ever project (your $10 ledges!) and was wondering whether I should stain the wood beforrre I put it all together or wait until it's completely constructed? Obviously you stained it after for this tutorial, but I had just assumed it was better to do it before (no cracks to deal with) . Any insight would be appreciated, thanks!! :)

posted by AmandaD (not verified) | on Tue, 2012-06-26 09:32
birdsandsoap's picture

I built the ten dollar ledges

I built the ten dollar ledges and stained them after assembly. Simply because I had all of the nail holes that needed filling and wanted to stain them evenly with the board. The cracks aren't that big of a deal, but the kicker was making sure to wipe off ANY wood glue. Wood glue won't stain, so if you have any drips that dry on your wood, it will be noticeable. Make sure to use a damp cloth as you go and wipe them immediately. I thought I did a pretty good job until I started staining and the parts with dried glue stuck out like a sore thumb. Good luck!

posted by birdsandsoap | on Sun, 2012-07-15 00:29

Oh, Ana! You inspire us all

Oh, Ana! You inspire us all to greatness.

While I am not much of a woodworker (yet!), I love finishing wood projects. Your step by step directions with photos are excellent as always.

Thanks for sharing with us.

posted by Mugsy42 (not verified) | on Sun, 2012-07-08 08:55

Cleaning up?

What do you do with the used mineral spirits? Do you let them evaporate? Or dump them out? I'd love to clean and reuse my brushes, but I don't know what to do with all the chemicals afterwards and don't want to be running to the hazardous waste disposal site all the time.

posted by Kirstin (not verified) | on Tue, 2012-07-10 09:48
birdsandsoap's picture

Pam the Goatherd left this

Pam the Goatherd left this comment on another stain post (weathered gray jewelry cabinet). She had a great idea for getting rid of paint thinner:

"I bought a bunch of paint thinner in plastic containers when I found it on sale one time and stored it in my garage. Now, a few years later, I have found that some of the unopened jugs are almost empty due to evaporation through the plastic. At that point a light bulb went off in my head. I have started cleaning my brushes with paint thinner in a plastic coffee can. Once the paint solids settle to the bottom of the can I pour off the clean paint thinner into another more permanent container and leave the goop in the bottom of the coffee can to evaporate and dry out. Once it's dried out I toss it in the trash."

sounds like a plan to me!

posted by birdsandsoap | on Sun, 2012-07-15 03:15

paint and thinner disposal

Kirstin, if you live in the USA, your only legal option is to take them to your local hazardous waste disposal center. If you think that's a big fuss, you can let paint evaporate. Just leave the cans open. Depending on the amount of paint, it will dry from 3 to 7 days. Once completely dry, they can be tossed in the garbage. The thinner can be reused, but if you want to get rid of it, I suggest mixing it with the paint and leave them to dry together.

posted by hazardous waste disposal los angeles (not verified) | on Sun, 2012-07-15 02:41
kendikat's picture

I don't know how you get that

I don't know how you get that rich, dark, chocolate brown! We just did a desktop with the red elm gel stain, and it is a deep dark brown, but it also has a really deep, dark purple tone to it. It still looks nice, but it's not quite the espresso color other furniture has. Our desktop was bare birch plywood with a pre-stain conditioner applied first. On our test piece (about 12x6 inches from the same sheet of plywood), it came out very brown with some red undertones, but on the large desktop it took on more of a dark purple hue. Just wanted to post up a comment in case anyone else is thinking about being in the same situation. Make sure to test all the colors on a scrap piece first to decide what you like :)

On another note, I would looooove to see a tutorial for the dark brown, very slightly redish, swiped/rubbed-on-looking finish that you find on a lot of World Market (and even Pottery Barn) furniture. For example, the Verona line: http://www.worldmarket.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3557652 :) :) :)

posted by kendikat | on Thu, 2012-08-09 15:57

Mine came out the exact same

Mine came out the exact same way. Wish I would have tested it first.

posted by Bigverm23 | on Sun, 2012-10-07 07:44

Thank you...

...for the inspiration!

I have been following your blog, drooling over your amazing work for a while now, but this post did it. I have just begun my first DIY furniture piece! Not fully DIY -- but it's a start! I am currently in the staining process of pine bunk beds! Can't wait to see how it looks - and if it works out well, I'll share. :) Love your work and blog! Thanks again!!

posted by KellyAnn (not verified) | on Tue, 2012-09-25 09:48

No Need to Use Mineral Spirits...

Instead of using mineral spirits to clean oil based products use vegetable oil. Soak your brush in vegetable oil then wash with warm soap and water. Repeat if necessary. I know it sounds weird but it really works and it's nontoxic - bonus! Plus it keeps your brush soft and conditioned.

On another note, if you have a problem with old paint brushes getting hard then soak in warm vinegar for 30 minutes. Wash with warm soap and water and let dry. They'll be good as new. Hope this helps everyone!

posted by hjewls10 | on Fri, 2012-10-05 09:52

Red elm coming out red?

So I just stained my newly built rustic x end table with two coats of red elm gel stain.....and appears to be much more red than espresso. What did I do wrong?

posted by Bigverm23 | on Sat, 2012-10-06 19:16

Great website!

Thanks for sharing all your great plans, and ideas....Awesome!
So glad I found this!

posted by Lynda Draper (not verified) | on Thu, 2012-10-18 18:23

Oil and water-based stain and top coat

I have a question/comment. I am getting ready to stain my first project, so I have been searching the internet for as much staining advice as I could find. I bought the Gel Stain and Polycrylic, but then found out from Minwax and at least one other source that you are not supposed to use a water based topcoat with an oil based stain?

posted by Saved By Grace (not verified) | on Sun, 2012-11-11 09:16

Nevermind :)

I just read that you can use polycrylic over oil-based stain if you let the oil-based stain dry for at least 24 hours. :)

posted by Saved By Grace (not verified) | on Sun, 2012-11-11 17:50

Building the queen bed

This will be my first attempt to building a bed, but I love a challenge and I need a bed and this will be the ideal one for me. The directions seem relatively easy and if I get stuck I will be emailing you for my next step. This bed is beautiful. Thank you

posted by benita (not verified) | on Sun, 2012-12-23 16:24

The espresso bench, wood you

The espresso bench, wood you get the same looking color using maple wood. Also, does it look espresso brown, or does it look brown with a tint of red. Would this project work for a fireplace and a staircase? Thanks

posted by Tannis (not verified) | on Sat, 2013-01-12 09:26

I have been assigned to do a

I have been assigned to do a report for our school newspaper on this subject, and your post has been beneficial. Can you please add more reference to this topic, thanks.

posted by mukrtarbi | on Sat, 2013-02-09 02:11

Your article tells me you

Your article tells me you must have a lot of background in this topic. Can you direct me to other articles about this? I will recommend this article to my friends as well. Thanks

posted by phil19ipps | on Tue, 2013-04-02 03:10
darkjuan's picture

the color I wanted!!!

Thank you Ana for this tutorial.
I was running around with my head off trying to find a espresso color for future home projects to impress my wife (hint hint) hehee.

posted by darkjuan | on Tue, 2013-08-13 09:55
nashiakhanem1's picture

really great decorate home

really great decorate home with sensible and i have little reservation but almost satisfied due to great work and designing and i think so order essay online must be use during contractions

posted by nashiakhanem1 | on Tue, 2013-09-17 15:15
heromark's picture

Great job.

The woodwork for stain is very tough for everyone, and anyone can’t do that. I have read many of your projects on this website, you did is very nice. You just not give a color to this table; you have changed the use of this table in the house.

Dallas Mid West Folding tables

posted by heromark | on Wed, 2013-09-11 03:00

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