Is a rag, brush or sponge best for applying stain to pine?

Q: You say for pine it is a good idea to apply quickly from one end of the room to the other to prevent excessive blotching. I wanted to know if it is best to use a rag, a brush or sponge for that. I want to wait a few minutes after I apply the stain in order to get a darker color from it. I also plan to water pop before. Can a rag put a sufficient amount of stain on the wood to let it sit there and absorb? Or will a brush or foam sponge spread more stain evenly on top of the boards until I wipe off?

A: Specifically, you should apply it one end of the room to the other ‘in narrow rows that you can easily manage quickly’.  This could be 2-3 foot wide rows.  This method is not unique to pine but should be followed with all woods when staining.

Do not water pop pine.  The best results, and far less frustrating and quicker is to apply with a cloth.  A brush will drip all over and make it very difficult to work the stain into the wood surface.  Keep in mind also, those drips must be stained over quickly or you could end up with circle, drip marks.  Applying a heavier amount of stain will not change the amount of stain the wood will accept and the colour it will become but will make removal of the excess much more difficult.  Just apply in narrow rows with a cloth.  Work any drips or puddles immediately.  When you get to the end of the room, go back to the start and wipe off the excess.  This can be in a circular motion or straight up and down, following the grain.  With this method, be careful not to leave smudge marks where you stop your wipe.  Softwood is a different matter from hardwood.  The stain colour on one softwood may look totally different from the next.  Best to test on a few scrap pieces if you have any to see what the colour range you can expect.

Follow-up Q: Thanks so much! On my samples, the water popped ones looked the best as the color was nice and dark. It was a lot more even.  Why should I not water pop pine?

Secondly, I don’t want to wipe off the stain so fast as I want it to penetrate a bit darker before wiping off. Is that okay? I’m just gonna leave it on a couple minutes, nothing too long. It’s a Minwax stain and it says I have up to 15 minutes to wipe off, I never wait that long, but I did a few samples and it was fine in the tests even if I waited 5 minutes.

A: Water popping soft wood like pine can take what seems like ages for it to dry so you can stain it, not to mention the raised and rough grain you will likely have to deal with.  The wood is so soft, we never water popped it.

Wiping the stain after 5 minutes should be fine.  Just don’t have any ventilation or cross drafts.  MinWax is not like the fast drying stains usually used in the wood flooring trade.  They don’t dry nearly as fast which allows you more time to wipe it off.  I was just picturing a home owner flooding the stain on the floor (following the idea that more is better) and when they get around to wiping it off it has already started to dry.  Then you would have a tough problem to deal with.

On a side note, MinWax stains are not generally recommended for flooring work but I’ve used them myself.  Their stains used to be made by Swing Paints aka the makers of Circa1850 products who also has their own stain line matching MinWax colours and is sold at Home Hardware under their label.  I didn’t really like these stains very much.  The Circa stains smelled real bad and I never knew with MinWax if it would be dry next day to apply a finish.  That may have changed and probably has.  My years are flipping past pretty quickly!

Follow-up Q: I see! I just found the water pop did the best with a more uniform look on the wood. If I do water pop it, I plan to wait two days for it to dry. I will also turn on the AC a bit to help make sure it really dries. How do I then deal with the rough grain? I do a light sanding after the first coat of poly?

Unfortunately, in the country where I live, Minwax is the only option for an oil based stain. I’m in North Africa right now and they all use water based dyes, it’s a powder they mix. Wouldn’t those also cause roughness to the pine? If I put three coats of oil based poly, would this help with the roughness?

A: If everyone in your location uses water based dyes, I would expect that would also raise the grain.  But from all you have said, you don’t really need to ask me any questions.  I can give general answers on what to do and what to expect.  But you actually have the flooring or samples of it.  You have actually water popped a sample and stained it.  You should know better than I if this raised the grain and if so, how badly.  Also, how long it took for the water to dry before you stained it.  Put a couple of coats of finish on your sample and you are done.  You will already know all you need to know to proceed.

Follow-up Q: Thanks so much for your feedback.

I have started the poly process. I applied one coat. It looked rough and patchy after it dried. I hired a guy to lightly sand it with 220grit attached to a block.

The floor had chatter marks from a not so well done sanding job by the company who came to originally sand them with a drum machine. When he sanded the poly it re-highlighted the chatter marks on the floors.

He says he was able to sand everything, both high and low spots, but just the higher spots of the chatter waves show up more. However im worried the lower spots didn’t get abraded properly.

Do I risk adhesion problems with the second coat due to the lower spots not getting enough sanding?

I also had to leave the floor alone for a week before I get to doing the second coat. Not sure if this will effect adhesion too.

A: Exactly how severe is this chatter? How pronounced are the hills and valleys? The finer the abrasive the greater its ability to conform to the contour of the floor. So, you have that going for you. I see buffing and then leaving the floor for an extended time before coating as being a bigger issue. The finish that remains on the floor will continue to get harder. I think you are going to have to scuff it again. I would recommend a polisher and either a maroon abrasive pad or one of the rather new pads invented by Norton Abrasive which come in a variety of grits. You don’t want to cut through the finish and into the wood at this stage. This pads will abrade the finish enough.

Follow-up Q: I’m based in North Africa, so I cannot find a lot of the proper supplies here, only the basics. No maroon abrasive or polishers here.

We used regular 220 grit sandpaper that I attached to a plastic sanding block.

You recommend I scuff it again and do it a day or two ahead of the second coat? I’m doing this DIY and the labor is quite hard for me to finish a couple steps in one day. (He sanded last Thursday and I hoped to do the second coat of poly tomorrow.)

I attached a photo, you can see the chatter marks. But this is after I had someone hand sand the poly and I cleaned it up. Before I vacuumed, the entire floor was white, but now the white areas seem to be the higher areas of the chatter marks.

After the guys drum sanded the raw floors, we did hand sand all with blocks as a final sanding to make it more uniform. Even though we had chatter marks to contend with then, the sanding worked out fine as the color came out uniform. So I was hoping that in sanding this first coat of poly that the next coat will adhere properly.

He didn’t sand too rough, so maybe we could go over it once more and take the paper in our hands rather than on the straight sanding block. This may allow him to reach the low parts of the chatter too?

A: In all these years I’ve never used a sanding block. It is too stiff. I always rip off about a 10″ length of sandpaper from a roll and fold it in 3 and start rubbing carefully.

No, I am not recommending to do this and then leave the floor a couple of days before coating. I would do it in one day. It seems to me that all this work was started so long ago, any finish on the floor is fully cured by now so just give it another rub and coat it.

Those don’t look so much like chatter marks as something called the ‘wave’. This can often be caused by something as simple as debris on one of the wheels on the sanding machine. As the person moves forward with the sander the wheel revolves until it hits the fleck on the wheel and then it gives a little bump. They occur about every 8-10″, corresponding with the rotation of the wheels. A low shine finish will help to hide this.

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