Tuesday, 22 April 2014

How to Prep, Stain and Seal Unfinished Wood

It can be difficult to find nice shelving. I have fallen prey many a time to those ugly white mdf shelves; they're just sold everywhere! Go to the hardware store or department store and what options do they have in shelving? Particle board pieces (with that ugly white melamine coating, of course) and those gorgeous metal L brackets. Great.

I've found Ikea to be a fairly good source for different styles and sizes, but the nicer the shelf, the higher the price. And Ikea is just not as cheap as I feel like it should be. So after looking around and sorting out my options, I've come up with a good-looking and inexpensive shelf that is straight forward in design, and can be painted or stained in order to make it right for just about any room. 

The 'how-to' to follow is a basic step-by-step for prepping, treating and sealing raw, unfinished wood. Many people that I talk to are a bit apprehensive when it comes to staining or refinishing wood. But I find that when it comes to staining versus painting unfinished wood, staining is actually much easier to do well. 

You guys all know how much I LOVE to paint anything wood. Nice grain? Who cares! White paint looks so darn fresh and clean! But once in a while, I do like to restore the odd table top or, in this case, get a bit more out of my plain Ikea pine. 

See for yourself!
And watch the blog in the following weeks for a photo step-by-step on how to strip old, weathered or pre-treated wood (say an old dresser) and restore it to it's woody/ grainy goodness. 

Here's what I purchased, 2 pine triangle brackets from Ikea ($2 each) and a piece of 1x12 pine board cut to length (prices vary, mine was an 'off cut' (half length) and was $6). The 1x12 boards will come in a set length, say, 8 ft, and you can ask them to cut it down to the size that you need for your shelf. So if you don't have a saw at home, remember to take you measurements with you when you go to the lumber yard or the Home Depot.

First step, sand your board. I used my little electric hand held sander, but you will also get a good outcome when sanding by hand. Start with a 60 grit sand paper and then finish up with a 100 grit. Be sure to sand along (or with) the grain of the wood.

You may also want to give your brackets a quick sanding, just to remove any sealer that the wood may have been treated with.

Gather all your supplies: 2 clean lint-free cloths (1 rag for cleaning up the dust after sanding and 1 for wiping away the stain), a tack cloth, wood stain (in desired colour), paint brush, stir stick and gloves (optional).

Stain: for my shelf, I wanted a stain that wasn't too dark (since I did not want a high contrast with my white kitchen wall). I chose 'Puritan Pine', a nice medium colour that is not to orangey. I also like 'Early American'. And if you want to go dark, try 'Walnut' or go really dramatic with the almost black, 'Ebony' stain. 

Next, wipe the sanding dust away with a clean cloth. Then wipe down all the wood with a tack cloth. (Tack cloths are sticky clothes that will remove those remaining few dust particles. Any hardware store will sell them).

Now that your board and brackets are free of dust, open up your stain and make sure to give it a good stir, but do not shake it.

Brush on the stain; go with the grain of the wood and apply the stain generously. Watch that there are no drips. Leave to dry for 10 minutes.

(You may want to do this step outside or in a basement or garage, if possible. The stain has a fairly strong smell).

When the ten minutes are up, take your second clean dry cloth, and wipe down all the areas that you have stained. It sounds silly, but wipe hard. Excess stain that does not soak into the wood needs to be wiped away, or else it will dry thick, glossy and possibly even sticky. You just want to stain the wood, everything else gets wiped away.

Here's my shelf and brackets after I wiped them down. The picture isn't great, as it was starting to get dark outside. I stained all sides of the shelf in one go. Unlike a coat of paint, the stain won't get mused up if it touches other surfaces. Doing it at once just makes the whole process so much quicker.

Let the stain dry. You can apply your second coat after 6 hours, I usually wait until the next day.

Once you have applied your second coat of stain, let all the pieces dry overnight. Now it is time to seal the wood. Some stains do act as a partial sealer, but you will want to further protect the wood. For this shelf I used Minwax Finishing Paste. But I also like Minwax Polycrylic, which is a water based sealant and protectant for wood. 

To seal the shelf, you will need a tack cloth, a piece of cheesecloth, a clean lint-free cloth and of course,  the paste.

Open the can of paste and scoop out a spoonful on to the cheesecloth. Don't worry if the paste is very hard in the can, this is how is should be. It has a wax like consistency.

Note: The paste wax comes in varying shades. I like the 'natural' shade because it can be used on any colour wood, and it is also light enough in colour to be applied over paint (even white paint). Darker paste could be a good way to get an even richer colour if you are using a dark stain on your shelf.

Wrap the cheesecloth around the paste, to form a ball.

Rub the ball on to the wood in a circular motion. Make sure to cover all areas. The paste will seep through the cheesecloth and adhere to the wood. Apply it generously to the shelf and both brackets. You may have to 'refill' your cheesecloth once or twice.

Once the wood has been waxed, wait ten minutes. Then use your clean cloth to wipe any excess wax off of the wood. When you are done, the surface should feel satiny, not slippery or greasy.

The paste wax is the ONLY good sealant option that I have found for painted wood, and it is also great for wood that is stained. However, if you have stained wood, and you want a glossier, harder and more durable seal (say, for a table top), I highly recommend Minwax Polycrylic, which is a non oil based sealer. Stir it well, do not shake the polycrylic, as this will cause bubbles to form that will set on the wood, apply with a clean brush, and let dry for 24 hours. I don't like this polycrylic for painted surfaces, it tends to leave some white streaks, paste wax is much better. 

Okay, that is it!

Check out my shelf! 

This shelf and brackets combo would also take very well to paint. Just sand, apply two coats of latex paint, then apply paste wax the same way I did here.

Here's how the finished wood came out in the end. 
Looks good! I like the wax because it does not leave a high gloss, it's easy to use, and it protects well. 

Just for fun! I styled the shelf a few different ways. The rack and hooks from Ikea are a great storage solution and can be used for so many different items.