Q: Is there something I can do to make staining a hard wood with a dark stain easier? It takes me so many applications to reach the desired darkness.
I used Special Walnut (very dark oil stain) on both maple and cherry, and many applications.
A: Special Walnut is a nice colour. What you should have done, in my view, is to water pop the floor first. This means to wet (not soak) the surface of the floor and then let it dry. This opens the surface pores and allows greater penetration of the stain into the wood. Hence, a deeper, more even colour. Another technique I will be looking at is to mix the stain with Waterlox tung oil finish. 4 parts Waterlox to 1 part stain. www.waterlox.com
Since you have already stained the floor once, these options are not really open to you. I wouldn’t apply more than 2 coats of stain. Make sure, after you let it soak 10 minutes or so that you remove all excess from the floor surface or you can run into adhesion issues with the finish.
Follow-up Q: I’m so appreciative of your reply. I have researched and asked other woodworkers for several years trying to find the answer. I’m about to stain a table and chairs and two cabinets, and from your answer you may have pointed out my error. I think I’ve been sanding too much (down to 240-320 grit) and closing the pores. I’ll definitely try the Waterlox, wet the surface and stop with 180 grit.
A: If you go with the Waterlox/stain mix, don’t water pop. Just don’t sand it so smooth. I don’t think I would sand much above 100 grit. If you will stain separately, then water pop. Try a tiny spot as a test. But don’t sand to 220 or higher. Far too smooth to get any stain penetration.