How To Stain Wood Trim

There is no trim more beautiful than stained wood. Stained wood trim adds a level of elegant beauty to your home. There are some things to consider before you decide to stain trim. It can be time consuming and it takes a level of technique to get the color just right so that it comes out even all the way around. With the right information, you can learn how to stain wood trim correctly.


Prepare the Wood

Fill in any nail holes or imperfections in the wood with wood filler. You will want to use a tinted filler the same color of the stain you will use. Scrape excess filler off the wood with a putty knife. Allow to dry thoroughly according to the package instructions.


Sand the patched areas with 220-grit sandpaper until smooth. If necessary, sand the rest of the wood, as well, using 100 to 120 grit for rough areas and a fine 220 grit to make the wood smooth.


Wipe down the trim with a tack cloth to remove the sawdust completely. Alternatively, you can use a clean cloth and denatured alcohol.


Stain the Wood

Shake the stain can vigorously to blend it thoroughly.


Put rubber gloves on to protect your hands from the stain and place drop cloths on the floor to protect it from drips.


Apply the stain using a clean cloth or a stain brush. You can also use a foam brush. Take care to make sure you are applying the stain evenly.


Allow the stain to dry for a short time. The longer it sits, the darker the color will be. Some manufacturers recommend allowing the stain to dry for 5 to 15 minutes.


Wipe the stain off using a clean cloth. Go against the grain, working the stain into the wood, and then wipe the wood again along the grain to make the color even. Make sure you don’t remove too much stain.


Add another coat if the color isn’t dark enough. Repeat the process as many times as needed to achieve the desired tone.


Let the stain dry as long as needed.


Finish the Wood

Stir the finish coat gently with a stir stick.


Apply a light coat of varnish or polyurethane in the sheen of your choice. You can pick satin or gloss. Use a stain brush, such as a pure china bristle. Brush the varnish along the grain of the wood.


Allow the varnish to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions before applying a second coat. Most manufacturers recommend 2 coats for a stronger, more durable finish.


Cleanup. Use paint thinner to clean your brushes when using solvent based stains and finishes. Use soap and water to clean your brushes when using water based stains.



You have 3 choices when choosing stain. Oil-based stains, water-based stains and gel stains.


Before you begin, test the stain on a scrap trim board or a hidden area of the trim to make sure it is the color you want. You may want to experiment with the length of time you let the stain set and the amount of coats you use.


You may need to seal the wood with a “stain controller” before staining to make the stain a more even color if you are using softwoods, such as maple, cherry, poplar, birch or pine. These woods tend to get splotchy if you do not seal them prior to staining.


Work in a well-ventilated area for safety and to aide in drying time.


Avoid using thick coats of varnish, as this could cause the finish to wrinkle or drip while drying. It is best to use 2 thin coats rather than 1 thick one.


You can use an artist brush to remove any lint that you find in the finish coat before it dries.



Be careful that you do not sand the trim unevenly. Uneven wood textures will make the stain an uneven color. Never shake the finish coat before using it. Shaking it will leave bubbles in the finish.


Things You’ll Need

  • Colored wood filler
  • Putty knife
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • 110- to 120-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth or clean cloth and denatured alcohol
  • Stain
  • Clean cloth, stain brush or foam brush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Stain brush or foam brush
  • Stir stick
  • Varnish or polyurethane
  • Pure china bristle trim brush
  • Soap and water