Applying stain and polyurethane

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menzies's picture
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Joined: 2013-04-29 01:24
Applying stain and polyurethane
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I'm starting to finish my project (a nightstand), and just finished the first coat of stain (it is drying right now). I have some beginner questions, please bear with me!

1) Is stain applied to the finished, built project, or do you stain all the cut pieces and then assemble later? I've been applying it to the individual pieces and then assembling, because I wanted to make sure the stain was even, but it took a long time and I wonder if it might be faster to stain the finished piece. Should I worry about uneven staining in the nooks and crevices of my piece?
2) I have similar questions for polyurethane. I'm applying a water-based polyurethane using a brush. Do I poly the pieces individually, or do I poly the finished piece?
3) I've seen Ana describe that she does the finished piece, but how do you do all the surfaces? If I apply poly to the whole thing and letting it dry, wouldn't that lead to runs or drips on the vertical surfaces?
4) On the other hand, it seems too much trouble to poly the horizontal surfaces first, wait for it to dry, and then flip before applying poly to another horizontal surface. That would take 6 days to finish applying one coat!

Sorry if these are silly questions, hopefully I can get some answers!

Thanks in advance! This site is awesome!

ReclaimedBuilder's picture
Joined: 2013-05-01 13:19
Great Questions

1) Depending on the complexity of the project you can do either. If it will be used outdoors I like to pre-stain pieces and then assemble and then finish. Indoors I usually assemble and then stain and then finish. As for the nooks and deep spots this is the trick of staining. Using a pre-stain can help open the grain evenly and can lessen the likelihood of uneven staining. Also applying the stain can be tricky, you can use a bristle brush, a foam brush or a rag. I like a foam brush and sometimes a rag if i want a LOT of control of the amount of stain. I would experiment on a scrap piece first, tape of sections and label them so you can see the differences.

2)Indoors or out I poly everything after assembly. This way all edges of joints and lips get sealed together. Good choice on the water based, easy cleanup. if it is a high traffic item like a coffee table or dinner table oil based is best because of high use and also water rings from glasses!

3)Finishing can take as long as it did to build a project or sometimes 3 times longer. You MUST have patience. I have spent 7 days applying finish to a piece before. With that said, with the nightstand upright, you can finish all the sides at once (except the bottom) You want a THIN layer of poly and with water based you want 2-3 coats on sides back/front and usually 3-4 on the top - water based is very thin and not as durable as oil based but easier cleanup and less smell. Sand with 320 grit sandpaper in between coats SUPER lightly, one pass or so over everything, remove dust and then apply another coat. Water based usually lets you do another coat every couple of hours sometimes one hour.

I hope I helped you out a little. Good luck!

The Reclaimed Builder