Two coats of stain or water popping for deeper stain colour

Q: My husband and I bought our first place and installed red oak hardwood floors in the main living area. There’s an existing staircase adjacent to the new floors and it’s made out of oak as well. The staircase is probably about 10 years old and we are trying to get as close to the colour of the steps as we can. We were told the stairs were MinWax’s “Early American”. I was told that one coat of stain will be enough.

I tested a lose piece of sanded new floor with one and two coats of stain (out of curiosity). The one coat of stain seems weak to me, but I’m only seeing one small piece of wood. Should we go for 2 coats of stain instead of 1 to get the deeper stain colour that is closer to the colour of the stairs? We appreciate your advice.

A: Try water popping the wood first. Wet it (not soaked) and let it dry. Then apply the stain and let it sit 10 minutes or so and wipe off the excess. This process opens or pops the grain to allow deeper penetration of the stain. You just have to be careful not to scuff your feet on the floor after popping or you might close the grain and get a light spot.

Also see our recommendation to hire a pro.

Related Q: I’ve heard that water popping hardwood stain can give a result twice as dark. Is that true?

A: It depends in part on the colour, but water popping generally creates a darker colour and one that can be more uniform. I always do it for dark colours.