A few days ago we started our walk through the process of refinishing a wooden top (to a dresser, table, etc.).

I left you with this:



the sanded down top to this cute little vanity I am trying to salvage.

So, we’re ready to move onto the next part of the refinishing process, which is when I think it starts to get really fun–staining!

Here are our steps to finishing out the top:


1.  Wipe down the entire sanded surface with a wet cloth.

You want to make sure your top is clean and free of any sanding dust.  Give it a few minutes to dry, then you’re ready to move on.


2.  Apply the pre-stain conditioner



I ALWAYS apply the Minwax conditioner

before I stain anything.  It helps prepare the wood to accept the new stain and will go a long way towards evening out the finish. It’s a simple product to use, and also affordable.

I just wipe mine on, going in the direction of the wood grain, with an old rag, t-shirt, or foam brush (whatever clean one of those I have lying around).

Then I let the wood soak it in for 15-ish minutes and wipe away any excess. Generally, the wood soaks it in well and I don’t have any to wipe off.  It will slightly tint your wood orange, but don’t worry, that doesn’t affect the final color of your stain.


3.  Apply your choice of stain.

After you let the wood soak in the conditioner (Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine right length of time), you are ready for your stain.

My go-to stain products are Minxwax Wood Finish Interior Stain in Classic American and Dark Walnut

. Both are rich, deep colors that don’t have much orange-ish undertones in them (I try to avoid that old honey oak look).  For this project I chose the Dark Walnut color.

Make sure to read the instructions on the can before you start.  You also want to make sure you are wearing waterproof gloves as the stain will, well, stain your hands 🙂

I have applied my stain using both a foam brush and a rag.  I have decided that I prefer wiping it on with a rag, rather than brushing it on, because I use less stain and have more control over where it goes.



An old t-shirt will do the trick–just make sure it’s clean and lint free.  Wipe the stain in the direction of the wood grain, doing your best to apply it evenly.  This is really an art more of a science though, so just wipe until you are satisfied.

After wiping the top, wipe stain onto the edges.



After staining the edges, it’s good to go back along the edge of the top piece once more to wipe any excess stain that leaked onto the top.

Once the top is covered, you will let the stain dry for 5-20 minutes.

The longer you leave it, the darker it will get, so keep that in mind!  Once the time is finished, go back and wipe off any excess that is still on top of the wood. Generally, when I use a rag I don’t have any excess stain to wipe off, especially on the first coat.



Here is the top after the first coat. It’s a little uneven, but that’s ok!  Additional coats will help that out.

Follow the instructions on the can for how long to wait before applying a second coat, taking into account if it is especially hot or humid (it will take longer for the stain to dry).

You will apply additional coats just like the first, wiping them on in the direction of the wood grain and then wiping off any excess.

Here is the top after a second coat.



See?  Much better.  This is not the smoothest top I have worked on, but I think it still refinished really well.  And remember, it’s much better than it was to start with!


4.  Apply your topcoat of choice.

Give the stain a good 24 hours to dry well, then you are ready to apply your top coat. For smaller projects like dressers and chests, I use a paste wax for my top coat.

For dining table tops, I will use a polyurethane for added protection.

I generally don’t use a poly for smaller projects like this vanity because I don’t think it’s necessary, and honestly, I can’t get it to not be streaky!  The paste wax is so much easier to apply, and when done properly, will still provide a durable finish.


**Update 7-18-15** I have found a fantastic product to use now that functions like a polyurethane but doesn’t streak and is non-yellowing–Fusion Mineral Paint Tough Coat.  That is now my go-to topcoat for stained surfaces.  



The paste wax sold by The Plaster Paint Co. is my wax of choice.  I love this stuff!  If you are an Annie Sloan wax user, you have to give this wax a try.  It goes on so smoothly, smells heavenly, and dries quickly–a cinch to use.

You can apply your wax using a brush or a rag.  I chose to apply it using a cheap, unused paint brush I had on hand.



The key to wax is to use very little.  Look closely and you can see how little I have on my brush.



Two or three thin coats of wax works much better than one, heavy coat. So apply it lightly.

Using my brush, I brushed on the wax in long strokes, starting in the corner and working my way over the whole top.



As you’re applying it, the wax will leave a little bit of sheen to help you see where you have already brushed.



The wood in the top of this picture has been waxed, but the bottom has not.  Can you see the subtle sheen on the top?  As the wax dries that sheet will turn more matte.

Once you’ve done the top, brush the wax on the edges.



I usually keep a rag on hand to wipe off any excess wax that I may have brushed on. Again, this step is more of art than science–they key is to apply it lightly.

Before the wax dries though, it is very forgiving so you can mess with it as much as you need without worrying. Sometimes little pieces of dust or bristles from my brush will fall off into the wax, and I just scrape it out with my fingernail or brush it off with my hand, then apply more wax.  Don’t over think it!

Apply two or three coats of wax, allowing them to dry well in between coats (2-3 hours, unless it’s super hot or humid).  Then your last step is to buff it with a rag.



Here I’m using an old t-shirt, and just rubbing the wax in a circular motion all over the top. Buffing will help smooth out the finish and shine it up a little.

When it’s all finished, you want the top to feel dry and not tacky or waxy–if it feels either of those things, you have applied too much wax and you should try to wipe some off.

The Plaster Paint Co. wax will dry nice and hard, unlike the Annie Sloan which sometimes stays tacky for quite awhile.

And you’re done!  From start to finish, working quickly this can be a 2-day project (including drying times). Again, the new stained top isn’t perfect, but it’s clean, smooth, and brightened up, and looks amazing against the flow-blue milk paint base.

I hope you all feel more confident now to take on your own refinishing project.

Please feel free too comment or email with any other questions you may have, and I will do my best to help!

If you missed Part 1 of this series which covers sanding, you can read it here.

And if you would like to see the full reveal of this refinished desk, you can see that here


how to refinish

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