How to stain wood garden furniture

I wanted to take a more detailed look at how to stain wood garden furniture. How to prep the wood, how to apply, share our experience…

After having recently blogged about how to oil wooden garden furniture, we wanted to take a more detailed look at how to stain garden furniture. How to prep the wood and how to apply, share the benefit of our experience.

Whilst here at Lazy Susan we don’t supply timber garden furniture, many of us have been in the industry for a number of years. I myself know the material very well having owned several timber pieces over the years and not being shy when it comes to a spot of DIY.

Now, of course, we would choose cast aluminium over wood, not because we are biased (we are), but because we like the look of it. We like that it is maintenance-free. And whilst we're happy to turn our hands to a spot of DIY, we can think of better things we’d like to be doing than sanding and staining outdoor furniture.

Wood, however, is an extremely desirable material for both indoor and outdoor furniture. I myself have a few pieces scattered around the garden. We have a beautiful garden bench that I stained a year or so ago and that is holding up to the elements exceptionally well. In fact, all I’ve had to do since I stained it is wipe off some tree sap and bird droppings.

It’s a shame I suppose, many people avoid wood due to the high level of maintenance. However, look after it and it not only looks great, it will last for many years. You just have to be prepared to get out the sandpaper and brushes every few years to protect it from moisture, sunlight and woodworm, etc. Timber needs that protective coating and it needs regular reapplying.

That said, both performance and durability can vary wildly from one type of wood to another. It is definitely a case of getting what you pay for in terms of the different types of timber…

Take Teak, for example, it requires virtually no maintenance. The natural oils will protect it sufficiently from the elements. However, it is a very rare timber, coupled with that ability to withstand extreme heat and moisture, and you have a pretty expensive piece of furniture.

Also, many of us actually want to stain it and freshen things up too. 

We prefer to stain our wood garden furniture

Whilst we would rather be doing other things, if that garden bench is looking a little tired, then you can get it looking like new after a few hours of light sanding and a fresh coat of stain. Plus, there’s always the option to change the finish.

Now, personally speaking, I like to just bring out the natural beauty of the wood, however, there are some fantastic products on the market that allow you to change it to any colour. With a little elbow grease, you can switch Rosewood to Plum Mahogany.

However, the great thing about wood stain is that it has a semi-transparent quality that even if you do change the colour, it will still enhance the wood grain, you’ll still get a beautiful natural finish and woodgrain.

Shop around for the right wood stain

When it comes to wood stains, there’s a wide variety of brands and different types.

Our advice would be to do a little research, shop around, read testimonials, and most importantly, try before you buy. Test it on the underside of a chair or table where it won’t be seen.

I prefer to use a water-based wood stain too…

You get a great colour/finish but there are no hazardous chemicals, solvents or additives. Makes it much safer to use, and the big advantage at this time of year is you can take it indoors to work. You’re not going to be using it, so get it sorted and ready for next summer.

They have a Low VOC, are odour free, easy to use and dry much faster. The stain itself will still penetrate deep into the timber and adhere to the wood fibres though.

The other good thing about water-based stains is that it is very easy to apply. You can use a lint-free cloth, brush, roller or even a paint sprayer.

How to apply wood stain

Before applying any type of wood stain, I always think it is best to make sure the surface is sanded and free from any previous paints, varnishes or stains. Many products will claim they are one coat, and cover all sins, but you get a much better finish if you spend time on the prep.

Any imperfections in the surface need to be addressed by sanding with fine/medium-grade sandpaper. The wood must then be cleaned, dried and dust free.

When it comes to the application of the stain itself, the method depends on two things:

  1. The manufacturer's guidelines
  2. Your personal preference

As I mentioned above, the majority of wood stains can all be applied by using a brush, roller, lint-free cloth or sponge. So, it really comes down to personal preference.

Brushes are great for getting into tight gaps, detail, etc. They are the cleaner option too but they can leave lines in the finish.

Sponges and cloths are messy to use but they are quicker to apply and deliver a nice smooth finish.

Rollers are the sort of middle ground I guess. Easy to apply, no streaks, less mess but impossible to get into any gaps between slats, etc.

Experiment, and use whichever you think you can achieve the best result. In past projects, I have used a combination of sponge, roller and brush.

The key to a good stained finish is to ensure whichever application method you use, always apply in the direction of the wood grain. 

Always test your wood stain before you apply

We also can’t stress how important it is to always test the colour before you commit and apply.

Personally, I find it best to do this on a part of the furniture which is hidden from normal view such as the underside of a table or chair.

A stain could look different on different types of wood so it is not like you can test on a scrap piece you might have to hand too.

You need to get a good idea of what the finished furniture pieces will look like. Apply to somewhere it won’t be seen, leave it to fully dry, and then decide/commit.

Lazy Susan's Wood stain application tips

Only apply small amounts of stain at a time and follow the direction of the wood grain.

If a second or third quote is required, then always leave it fully dry for at least 2 hours between coats.

If you accidentally apply too much stain, then keep a lint-free cloth to hand to wipe off the excess.

I always find an old tea towel is great for this job, any fabric that won’t leave any fibres behind really.

When it comes to purchasing your stain, make sure you buy a large enough quantity to cover all pieces in one go.

Colours can vary from tin to tin, even from the same manufacturer. It's not an issue as such, but just often requires additional coats to get a good ‘blend’.

As a rule of thumb, a litre of good quality stain should cover approximately 8 to 12 square meters of surface. In other words enough to do a 4-seater dining set or a large wooden garden bench.

You also want to try and purchase a product that has a quick drying time, and is easy to clean/wipe when finished.

We would always advise that once the stain is applied and fully dry that you apply a natural finish wax or oil too. It just adds some additional protection from the elements but will also help to make that newly stained colour and grain of the timber really pop.

Lazy Susan’s favourite how to stain wooden garden furniture videos

How to Apply Wood Stain: Wood stain tips by Cabot 

Learn how to properly apply wood stain to decks and other wood surfaces like a pro. Cabot provide some helpful wood stain techniques and tips so you can do it yourself.

How to Choose the Best Finish for Outdoor Projects by Woodworkers Journal

Want to know what the best outdoor finish is? In this video, Chris Marshall from the Woodworkers Journal explains your options and shows what he used on his mahogany porch swing project.

Biggest wood staining mistakes and misconceptions by Steve at Woodworking for Mere Mortals 

Achieving great results when staining wood is easy if you avoid a few common mistakes. If you are new to woodworking and don't know where to begin, then this is a great starting place.

Are Outdoor Finishes Useless? Refinishing My Patio Table by Steve at Woodworking for Mere Mortals

Another great video from Steve at Woodworking for Mere Mortals, where he takes a look at a redwood patio table he made. It's a great table with a sturdy design. However, the Spar Urethane finish he used on it turned out to be horrible. See how he brings it back to life!

How to paint garden furniture by Cuprinol 

And finally, I had to get one of the big boys on here. Cuprinol show you how you can give your garden furniture a new lease of life with their range of Garden Shades.

Share this article
Please enter these characters in the following text field.

The fields marked with * are required.