What’s the best way to stain pine?


I use white pine in many projects because it's readily available and inexpensive. But I have problems staining boards a consistent color from one end to the other. What's the best way to stain pine?
—Jim Gray, Madisonville, Texas


If pine's soft earlywood were as hard as its dense latewood, your staining problems would be over, Jim. However, that soft earlywood acts like a stain sponge, leaving behind a blotchy surface. To beat the blotch, try this two-pronged approach regardless of how dark you want the wood. First, sand the entire project to 180 grit. Thoroughly wet one surface at a time with a damp cloth so the moisture reaches just beneath the surface. Then immediately wipe the surface dry and apply a dye that's the shade you want. We aimed for a dark finish on the test board above, so we used antique mahogany dye (#40, W.D. Lockwood, 866-293-8913 or wdlockwood.com).

Allow the dye to dry overnight; then lightly sand the wood with 220 grit to remove nibs. Wipe the surface clean and seal the wood with a ½-lb cut shellac or with varnish that's thinned 75 percent with mineral spirits. Hand-sand the sealed surface evenly with 220 grit, and apply a pigmented stain over the sealer. Choose a stain that's close in color and darkness to the dye. If you want a still darker surface, repeat the sealer/stain combination. Cover the final coat of stain with a clear finish.