How to Fix a Bad Stain Job

Staining wood is an ideal way to bring out the natural beauty and character of the wood itself. Stained wood looks beautiful, it’s permanent, and it’s easy to do yourself. But, as anyone who has ever stained a piece of furniture can tell you, there’s some margin for error, and you’ll probably need to learn how to fix a bad stain job at some point in your life as a DIYer.

Today, we’re going to cover everything you need to know to learn how to fix a bad stain job so you can restore the natural beauty of the piece you’re working on.

What You’ll Need

Fixing a bad stain job doesn’t require a ton of tools, and there’s a good chance you have virtually everything you need for the job already. Altogether, this is what you’ll need for the job:

Step I: Removing the Stain

The first step to fixing a bad stain job is to remove the existing stain from the wood.

If this is your first time fixing a bad stain job, your best bet is to completely remove the stain from the entire piece and start over from scratch. If you’re confident in your ability to spot-fix the stain job, you’ll want to tape off the area that you need to fix before you begin working.

Keep in mind that spot-fixing a stain job is particularly difficult, and if you aren’t skilled and experienced, people will notice your spot fix just as quickly as they’d have noticed the staining mistakes in the first place. For this reason, we’re going to assume that you’ll be refinishing the entire piece in this lesson.

Take your stain stripper and pour a healthy amount onto the surface of the wood. Use a paint brush to distribute the stripper. Work carefully, but also try and work as quickly as possible because stain strippers tend to evaporate rapidly.

At this point, get yourself a cool drink and allow the stain stripper to work its magic. Most strippers take about 15-20 minutes to dissolve the stain so it can be removed. Once 15-20 minutes have passed, do a spot check by rubbing a small, inconspicuous area you’ve applied the stain stripper with a cloth to see if the stain has come up.

For stubborn pieces, leave the stripper on a little longer. With most jobs, you’ll be able to remove the stain entirely after about 15-20 minutes.

Step II: Removing the Stripper

Now that the stripper has worked it’s magic; it’s time to remove it.

Take your plastic scraper and scrape the stripper and the dissolved stain from the surface of the wood. Hold an empty bucket at the end of the table with your free hand, and scrape all the liquid into the bucket.

Continue to scrape the entire surface of the piece until all of the loose stripper and stain have been removed. At this point, you have successfully removed about 95% of the stripper and stain. That said, there’s still a bit more trapped inside the wood that you’ll want to remove.

Apply a small amount of stripper to the surface of the wood, and run an orbital or palm sander over the wood in the direction of the grain. 80-100 grit sandpaper is ideal for this part.

You don’t want to go too hard with your sander, as you’ll end up homogenizing the woods natural character. Just a quick pass over the entirety of the piece will do just fine. If you don’t have a sander available, a bit of coarse steel wool will do the trick.

Step III: Neutralizing the Stripper

You may have removed the stripper completely at this point, but trace amounts of the chemicals are still in the wood, and they can affect the wood’s ability to absorb the new stain. Before we re-stain the piece, we’ll need to neutralize the stripper.

Spray the piece generously with water, and wipe the surface down with a cloth. Give the piece one more pass with your sander. This time, jump up a few grades from the sandpaper you first used. 150-200 grit is ideal for this part.

Step IV: Restaining the Piece

Now that all of the old stains have been removed, and the chemical stripper has been effectively neutralized, you’re finally back at square one!

Since we just finished applying caustic chemicals to the wood, I always like to apply a wood conditioner to the surface before I restain the piece. Use a paint brush to brush on the conditioner, just like you would with new stain.

Once the conditioner has dried according to the product’s instructions, you can re-stain the piece and restore its natural glory. It’s a good idea to polish up on these staining tips before you re-stain the piece again to avoid making the same mistakes twice!

Final Word

Learning how to fix a bad stain job is a valuable lesson that every DIYer should pick up at some point. Working with stained wood presents its fair share of challenges, and it’s easy to see how a person could feel overwhelmed about tackling this project.

Fortunately, the tips in this guide provide all the info you need to successfully restain your furniture. Best of luck with your project!

About Gus Donaldson

I built houses for over 30 years and recently retired. I've made lots of mistakes and hopefully teach you not to make the same ones. I still love to build and have a garage workshop that I use for hobby projects like the walnut bookshelf I made for my wife. I like to write and let people know that working with your hands and tools does not need to be intimidating.

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