How To: Stain Pine Wood.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

pine wood stain

So if you've ever tried to stain pine, a soft wood, you know that it never looks quite right.  It looks dull and ruddy and washed out and it's entirely frustrating.  Well!  Today I am here to tell you that I have solved this quandary!

As I mentioned last time, I'm starting on the main stair.  Finally getting The Big Stair Project underway after far too many years.  It's going to be an escapade for sure! 

Originally, well wait, not originally but one of my multitudes of ideas entailed ripping the carpet off the stair and refinishing the existing construction-grade pine two by twelves to match the existing hardwood floors.

Envisioning it thoroughly though, in the end, I opted not to go that route. 

Why?  The main reason:  in ripping up the carpet, there is flipper paint overspray on each tread meaning either a load of incredibly messy sanding or running through a sh*t ton of incredibly messy and smelly paint stripper.* 

Which, truth be told, I looove stripping paint.  But, mnn nnn, no thanks on the stair.

Invariably too, I'd drip stripper on the wood floors and ruin them.  That's a no.

A close second reason:  despite figuring out how to stain pine wood so it actually looks rich and saturated with color, the pine itself didn't have enough character, in that it didn't meet my lofty standards despite being budget-friendly-ish.  

Not that I'm a luxuriant snob but my intention with this house, and always, is to extract as much grandeur out of small budgets as possible so that the result looks not small budget.  Surely an ingrained trait learned from my theater days.

Distilled, thanks to an interview I read (that I can't find again) with an architect named John DeSalvo:  Good design is not a matter of cost but of thought.

Uh huh.....nodding.....right?!

I did flip through a few stain pine wood guides on the ol' internets but most were needlessly complicated or overly fussy or too, whatever.  They were nearly deterrent enough.

But in testing this idea, I have now learned that you can indeed stain pine wood to look delicious without monstrous amounts of hassle, millions of steps, nor oodles of supplies.

Here's what you need:

Sandpaper:  depending on the condition of the pine you are looking to stain, you will need several different grits of sandpaper.  Here's an eye-twistingly lengthy yet helpful guide on choosing sandpaper.  

To break it down simply, you'll need a coarse grit (80-100), a medium-ish grit (150-250), and then a super fine (400-800).  Yes, all three.  For real, don't skimp.

Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner:  it's smelly but this is the missing link, the key to a profound vibrant stain on pine.  So buy the wood conditioner* and you will delightedly thank me later.

Oil-based stain:  Iiiiii know.  Water-based, blah-dee blah blah blah, easy peasy clean up, no smell, dries fast....etc. etc.  Oil-based stains have stronger pigments, more depth, apply more evenly, are more durable, and key here?, the oil infiltrates the wood, sucking the color in while water-based is surface-y.

You'll need other supplies like rags, gloves,* brushes (chip brushes* are great because cleaning brushes out will be a hassle or they just dry out anyway), and if you want to get extra about it, a palm sander* and tack cloths.*

All right!  Clap clap, here's how to stain pine wood so it looks fabulous:

pine wood stair treads before
Before.  Wow, before before.  Previous wall color too even.
Begin by sanding the wood with the coarser grit sandpaper, evening up the wood, knocking out dings or dents if desired and such but no need to go hog wild unless you're looking for a pristine surface.  

After the coarser grit paper, switch to the mid-level and when it feels pretty smooth, switch to the finest paper and give that pine a baby's butt, smooth as silk finish.

Clean up the dust thoroughly either with a very lightly water-dampened rag, a tack cloth, a vacuum, whatever you need to clean up.

When you're ready to stain, brush on a thin coat of wood conditioner.  

applying wood conditioner to pine wood
Ah, looks like I used foam brushes* for this, so those work too.
Read the label for the stuff ahead of time as it'll let you know the working time window you have.  For instance, the can I have* says it's ready for stain in about a half hour.

By the way, do this in a well-ventilated area or with windows open as this sh*t is super stinky.  Meanwhile, wrap up your brush in a plastic bag if you intend to use it again later.

What is the wood conditioner doing for you here exactly?  It's prepping the surface, and below the surface, to fully accept the stain.  It prevents streaks and splotches, promotes stain uniformity, and equalizes different wood densities and differences inside the wood, especially in stuff like pine.

Doop dee doo, wait the prescribed time, then you're ready to stain.

Be sure to stir the stain very very well, like scrape up alllll the goopy gloppy solids off the bottom of the can and make sure it's completely incorporated.  And I mean all.  It'll take a spot of time if the can has sat but it's imperative to get every last bit of pigment blended entirely.

Apply the stain with another chip brush, follow the instructions on the can.  A brush, not a rag as the rag won't get enough color on there and will be uneven.  Let the stain sit for whatever the can says, five, ten minutes, then with a rag, wipe it off.

applying the oil based stain with a foam brush to the pine wood
You can see how the wood conditioner really primes that wood right up for maximum stain impact.
You're wearing your gloves, right?  Yeah, go put those on.

If you want, you can do a second coat of stain if you feel it's not saturated to your liking enough but one coat should be quite sufficient.

stain wiped from pine wood
Here's the stain wiped up.  Look how saturated that color is on the wood!  Holy bejebus, awesome, right?!
Let the stain dry or whatever it does and then seal up your work with a nice oil-based polyurethane.  In the process of figuring out the stair process and testings, I came across DuraSeal* which is a very nice poly that self-levels (meaning no annoying itty bitty popped bubbles) and goes on like butter.

Tada!  Voila!  You have just stained pine wood and it looks marvelous!

finished stained pine wood stair treads
After a second coat to try and get the color darker by mixing two different color stains together for a custom shade and dried here.  A hair too dark now, heh, but regardless, deeply saturated and rich!
I know what you're thinking though.  Becky, what in the hell was the big freakin' deal with this, it's so damn simple.  I know, that's exactly it.  It's simple, I've whittled this process down to its core basics to get you rockin' great results with little effort.  So, you're welcome!  

Don't bother with other tips online which, as I mentioned, were needlessly muddled.

close up of stained pine wood
Pine!  Stained!
But right?!  Mad easy!  Give these steps a whirl, see how lovely you can finally stain pine wood after all and let me know how your projects turn out!

*The paint stripper, wood conditioners, gloves, chip brushes, palm sanders, tack cloths, Varathane wood conditioner pre-stain, foam brushes, and DuraSeal are Amazon affiliate links.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.


  1. I like this I'm starting an eastern pine project and will follow this through and will publish back to you with pix. Thank you looks amazing

    1. Oh nice! Yes, let me know how it turns out! Thank you very much!

  2. I assume the prestain is oil based also

    1. Mine is, yes, but you can get either oil based or water based. Make sure you get the type that goes with your type of stain (oil = oil, water = water) as the two likely won't mix.


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