8 Things You’ll Need if You Want to Stain Your Furniture

published Apr 25, 2022
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Are you eyeing your first-ever furniture flip project, but feeling intimidated about the process and wondering where to start? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

Wood is experiencing an “it” moment in design. After years of shirking this plain ol’ look for brighter colors or sleeker materials, DIYers have been reaching for organic washes and rich, grand millennial-inspired stains as of late. And you’ve probably wondered how you can join in on the fun. Maybe you’re deciding if it’s possible to strip that dresser you painted turquoise in college, or wishing that your end table wasn’t lacquered white.

The good news: You can get a wood piece back to its original state if you have the right tools. Three experienced DIYers — Camille Kurtz of The Kurtz Home, Leslie Jarrett of Wonderfully Made by Leslie, and Christina Lipstone of Around the Lemon Tree — say that beginners need eight supplies for this task, starting from the very beginning.

“The most important thing is prep before you apply anything,” Kurtz says. “Once you figure this step out, you can stain anything!”

Read on to learn what you need to know to return your wood pieces to a woke-up-like-this level of natural beauty.

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Paint Stripper

Start with a good paint stripper to leave what you had in the past.

Lipstone, the furniture flipper behind Around the Lemon Tree, recommends Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover, which she uses with a putty knife.

Jarrett turns to CitriStrip as a less harsh option for removing varnish or paint. It’s particularly helpful if you’re working in a small space where toxic fumes can’t be easily ventilated. When she needs to turn to something stronger, she uses Klean Strip Premium Paint Stripper. “It works every time but it’s stinky,” Jarrett notes. So when you do have to go with something that packs this type of a bite, be sure to open windows and wear a mask. 

Heat Gun

Is stripping furniture unrealistic given the size of your space? Don’t worry, there are other options. Lipstone says: “If I don’t want to deal with the mess of a stripper, I use my heat gun to remove old paint. I prefer the Wagner Furno 750 Heat Gun.” She holds the heat gun above the piece with one hand and glides her painter’s tool beneath it with the other. If you keep plastic or drop cloth beneath your workspace, that’ll make cleanup easier, too. 

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No matter how good your paint stripper is, there will be times when you have to kick your paint and varnish removal skills into overdrive with a sander. In those cases, Jarrett says, a basic orbital sander is a great beginner option.

Lipstone has a range of sanders she’d recommend, depending on your level of interest and current financial situation. “My go-to sanders are the Surfprep 3×4 Electric Ray and the Festool 6” Brushless ETS EC 150/5 Sander hooked up to my Festool CT 36 dust extractor,” she explains. If you’re looking for a less pricey pick, Lipstone says she once used the Ryobi Orbital Sander hooked up to a shop vac for similar results.

After Wash

You’ll notice that the stripping agent will leave a film on your piece, and when that happens, Lipstone uses Klean Strip Paint Stripper After Wash to remove any remaining residue that didn’t disintegrate. You can also use mineral oil and steel wool to wipe away any leftover debris.

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Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Kurtz says a pre-conditioner is critical when dealing with a wood that has undertones you don’t want to show through. “Add a layer of pre-conditioner, and it will seal the wood and prevent the stain from soaking in, which is especially important with softer wood,” she explains. “This makes for a more consistent stain.”

Jarrett likes Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner for the job, calling it “a must!”

Make sure to buy a water-based version if you’re using a water-based stain, and an oil-based version if you’re using an oil-based stain.


If you’ve taken your time with all of the previous supplies, then you’ve gotten to the fun part of the process: staining! You have countless stain options to choose from, and you can customize the shade and depth to your liking. There are plenty of natural stain options you can find in your kitchen. To stain, start with a small amount of product, and glide it onto your piece with a cloth in steady, even motion in the direction of the grain.

If you need some advice on brands the pros trust, here are some words of wisdom from Lipstone: “I wait at least 15 minutes after washing or conditioning my piece, and then I apply a Minwax stain,” she says. “They offer so many stain colors and I love the finish. I usually apply two to four coats, depending on how dark I want the color to be.”

White Wash 

If you’re tackling a pine wood piece, you could be facing two challenges: It’s a soft wood, or it has a dreaded yellow tint. Thankfully, there’s a way around both of these obstacles. A white wash will balance the yellow tint of the wood, while providing a base that will prevent any further stain from soaking in. 

“Let the white wash dry, and then put your stain color on top,” Kurtz says. “If you don’t do this, then the yellow undertone could show through and skew your color.” This Minwax Color Wash Transparent Layering Color is a great option.


Lipstone recommends waiting for at least four hours before applying a topcoat to a water-based stain, to help guarantee that your piece is completely dry. (Double-check just in case it needs more time.) Oil will take longer, often close to 24 hours. Make sure to follow the directions on your can for guidance.

“My go-to is Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic in a matte finish,” Lipstone says. “I apply two to four coats of Polycrylic to ensure maximum durability of the piece.”

Meanwhile, Jarrett focuses on looking for a topcoat that won’t change the color of the wood, and says General Finishes Flat Out Flat Top Coat is a reliable product.