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Getting Stains IN

Howdy, dudies!

Well, it’s raining again. I know. Biiiig shocker.

Also, I’m on my way out of town tomorrow for a week. (Don’t worry, I’m taking the old laptop & I’ve got PLENTY of material to keep those posts coming while I’m away.)

But because I’m incapable of doing things the easy way, I’ve also decided to take on refinishing a TV armoire. Our flight leaves tomorrow afternoon, so by starting the project yesterday I’ve left myself a very small window of opportunity to turn this Goodwill score ($100 including a smaller, matching piece that I think was designed to hold CDs. You know, those shiny silver discs that your grandparents play music on?) into the entertainment center of my dreams.

What? Me worry. Nah. Piece of cake.

In my beloved home state of AZ, these multi-functional storage pieces are everywhere. They come in all sizes — and the big ones ain’t cheap. I’ve always wanted to convert one into a TV armoire, but never had the scratch.

So I was understandably stoked to find this baby. Here in PA it’s totally exotic, plus it reminds me of home and at its low, low Goodwill price I have absolutely no fear about refinishing it myself.

This would be where my across-the-street neighbor Mary calls me insane. She spent 3 days trying to convince me to leave it the hell alone. No dice, nice lady. Amy’s got fancy plans!!!


The armoire wants to be green. It told me so. OK. We can do that! (As opposed to the toaster’s request for a custom spoiler. I mean, c’mon.)

My first instinct was to stain it using pistachio green dye-based tint mixed with golden pecan water-soluble wood stain. This would have been SO easy. If more people refinished their own furniture. In the real world, it’s pretty hard to find wood stain in anything but traditional colors.

It’s also pretty hard to find a big-box employee who has any idea what he/she is doing. After several mind-numbingly convoluted discussions with people at the paint counter, I was really longing for the days of the helpful hardware man. It’s a powdered tint, people. You add it to stain. I don’t know how to say it any more simply than that. No… please don’t call another manager over here…

In the end, I decided to try the newfangled pigment-based stain the big box people kept pushing. It’s kind of like a mixture of acrylic paint & water-based stain. I’ve never used this product before, which is rare. And from a logical standpoint I was skeptical. Stain soaks into wood. Paint sits on top. How’s that gonna work? Guess I’m gonna find out.

Suddenly less balls-y about refinishing my awesome armoire 😦 Deep breath.

Rental House Rule 7: Don’t get overly attached to your original vision. Things change. Roll with it.

See how it says “Tints to a wide variety of beautiful colors” and “Easy-to-use”? Yeah. Not making me feel better. In the words of the late, great Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, “I could take a crap in a box and label it ‘guaranteed’.”

I did like the color once it was all mixed, though, so I guess hope does spring eternal…

Also, I knew I was going to start the staining process on the bottom of the piece anyway, so if I didn’t love it, I could revise my plan.

Tip: Always start a painting/staining project on the bottom or back of the piece. Even if you love the color & know the process will work. Starting on a rarely-if-ever seen part of a piece of furniture is just proper procedure. Helps you get into the flow of painting before your brush ever touches the face of the piece. After almost 30 years of DIYing, I can promise you this: a refinished piece always looks better when you follow the rules.

So, I got my muscle-icious husband to tip the armoire on its side, giving me access to the bottom of it. And him, a little bit. RRRooooWWW 😉

Then I broke out my brand new electric hand sander — thanks, Mom & Dad!!

It worked great, and I’ll post a brief how-to post about using it soon. However, because the armoire has so many uneven planes, I ended up doing a lot of the sanding by hand. Fortunately, since this was an unfinished piece in the first place, and I’m going for a faded, aged look, a quick once-over was all it took.

Tip: Take into consideration how much work stripping the finish off a piece of furniture will take before deciding how to refinish it.

Standard acrylic paint can usually just go right over existing finishes (usually — varnishes/shellacks are weird), with just a light sanding & layer of primer. But in order to stain something, you need completely bare wood. If you really want to go for it anyway, research how to remove the old finish properly or your stain will come out all uneven & blotchy.

See? Even an “unfinished” piece needs sanding to remove surface dirt & to “open the pores” of the wood. Think of it as exfoliation 🙂

Once I’d sanded, I assembled my supplies for for phase 2:

Plastic gloves; stain; cheap paintbrushes; rags.

Tip: Use cheap $1-ish paintbrushes & rags you’re willing to throw away when staining. They will be ruined by the staining process.

And, because I wanted to try a technique I’d recently seen used with regular stain, a spray bottle of tap water.

Usually, you’d start with dry wood, but the very intriguing technique I’d seen involved wetting the wood. The theory being that wet wood would absorb less water-based stain, thereby creating a more faded, weathered look than you get using traditional methods.

Spray, spray, spray.

Open stain. Hmm… weird texture kind of like super-watery paint…

No worries, mate. Only the bottom, innit?

That was supposed to sound British. Embarrassing but true? I do the world’s worst accents. They all sound like a French parrot.

Anyhoo, I chose a spot & dove in:

It felt weird going on. Too slippery.

And it didn’t seem to be sinking in, like, at all. Still, I soldiered on, leaving it alone to do its thang for 5 minutes or so. The can said 3, but I figured that because of the wet wood, I’d leave it on a bit longer. I’m that kind of rebel. Recognize.

When I finally did wipe it off…

Barely noticeable difference.

I think the wet-wood technique would work wonderfully with traditional stain. And I plan to try it again in the future. I imagine the problem is the pigment in this kind of stain. It just doesn’t penetrate the same way.

So, I decided to try doing the back using the traditional apply/let soak in/wipe away technique on the back of the piece while I let the bottom dry out.

Right after my coffee break. Ahhh…

Tip: Take frequent breaks to indulge in your favorite foods & beverages. You deserve the very best! 

Once wiped away & dried, the stain did leave more of a mark, but looked kind of sickly.

Frankly, it looks better in the pics than it did in person…

Also — since the back of the piece is going to face a corner, I wasn’t too worried about perfection, I took the opportunity to demonstrate WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN USING STAIN.

I sloppily whacked on the stain in any old direction instead of applying in long, as-even-as-possible strokes WITH the grain of the wood. Then I wiped it away in a circular motion — again, rather than using long, even strokes WITH the grain of the wood.

I ended up with a very nice example of what a big difference technique makes. But kind of a cruddy photo. It was getting late in the afternoon & I was in the shade. But look closely & you can definitely see what I mean.

See those swirls? They will RUIN the look of your stained piece. Stain is meant to enhance the look of wood grain, not contradict it.

Long even strokes, DanielSon. Both on & off.

THIS is what you’re going for.

This is also as far as I got yesterday.

So, I’ll sign off here & pick it back up tomorrow. The rain seems to finally be letting up. Hopefully, I can get outside & finish this project!!! Stay tuned 🙂



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One thought on “Getting Stains IN

  1. I admire your ‘ahem’… manly-bits for even thinking of staining that lovely bit of desert glory. However, when something wants to be a certain color best do it right. Love the how-to’s and tips. Can’t wait to see ‘er all finished.

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