How to Stain Floors

stain wood floorsIf you want to add color to your hardwood floor or just change the color you would choose staining. There are many step-by-step ways to stain hardwood floors but I am only going to address two in this article.

This is mainly pointed toward staining before finishing with Pure Tung Oil but will work for other finishes as well. The most common wood stains homeowners reach for are products like Minwax oil-based stain and other over-the-counter oil stains. The problems with these types of stains are twofold. They usually contain alkyd resin as the binder and pigments. (A binder is what holds all the ingredients together; alkyd resin is a type of varnish.) Alkyd resin seals the hardwood flooring like a thinned-down finish allowing less and less stain to be absorbed with successive coats. It also stops finishes from penetrating and binding well with the wood floor.

The pigments are the sludge that is on the bottom of the can that when mixed into the stain make it muddy. Pigments are solid particles that do not dissolve. When applied in any thickness they act like paint obscuring the grain of the wood. These stains are not all bad; they just need to be used in their proper place. Minwax also now has a water-based stain. According to their website, it is not to be used for staining wood floors. My objective when finishing stained floors is not to mask the natural color or natural beauty of the bare wood but also to add some color to enhance that beauty or to make it blend into the surroundings. Now, what stains to choose? Aniline dye stains! Aniline is derived from coal tar. Don’t let that make you shy away from these types of stains. Anilines are very effective and light fast (fade resistance). Stains from things such as berries, tea, and coffee tend not to be as light fast.

There are basically three types of solvents in which anilines are dissolved. Water, alcohol, and oils. Anilines are available in hundreds of colors and can be inter-mixed to make custom shades. They come in dry crystal form and are then mixed with a solvent to the dilution you desire. You can make a real dark stain color concentration or make a light one by thinning. You can also build colors on top of one another. For example, if something is too red, you can add some green to make it browner.

The two easiest to work within a large application such as a wood flooring would be water and oil soluble. These two are great for most wood species and are easier to apply than other solvents.

 Remove all the dust before water staining hardwood floors

Water Staining

Water will raise the grain of the wood (make little fibers stand up). Before water staining a floor I recommend wetting the entire floor with water first allowing the grain to rise then sanding with the grain when dry. You may need to do this twice. Once the grain has been raised and sanded it will not keep coming up. You would then mix up the water-soluble aniline dye concentration and stain the wood floor.

Stain boards lengthwise one end to the other from one side of the room to the other. Only stop at a seam between the boards. You may get a lap mark if you allow the stain to dry in the middle of a board. You can use a paintbrush, roller, sponge, or sponge mop for application. (Wrap sponge mop with a nylon stocking to stop it from breaking up). Once you have the color you want, proceed to finishing. Don’t worry if the grain is still raised in a couple of spots. You can go cut those rough areas off with grit sandpaper after the first or second coat of floor finish.

Oil Stains

Oil stains are soluble in oil base solvents such as mineral spirits (paint thinner) turpentine, naphtha, and also our Citrus Solvent. Mix the oil-soluble aniline dye crystals to the proper dilution with solvent. Once you have the color you like proceed to staining the floor, working the baseboards lengthwise with the grain from one side of the room to another. You can use an applicator such as a brush roller, sponge, or sponge mop to apply stain. With oil solvents, the room must be properly ventilated. Usually, a box fan blowing out a window will draw enough air out. The advantage of oil-soluble stains is that they do not raise the grain. Also Citrus Solvent and mineral spirits tend to dry slower providing more time to work the excess stain. When dry proceed with finishing.

Because oil stains are oil soluble. When the tung oil is applied over an oil dye stain. The tung oil and solvent can lift the oil stain into the finish. You need to be very careful not to have a smeary result.

refinish hardwood floors by applying stain

Mixing Stain and Pure Tung Oil

You can also mix oil-soluble aniline dye crystals with Pure Tung Oil. First mix the crystals with a very concentrated solution of solvents such as odorless mineral spirits, Citrus Solvent, and crystals. Be sure all the crystals are dissolved into the solvent. When they are dissolved add to the Pure Tung Oil. This will make the oil tinted. You will not be able to get your wood colored as dark as if you stained the wood directly itself but this can add some color if you just want a little color.

Alcohol Stains

Anilines dissolved in alcohol have too fast drying times for large applications such as floors. There can also be lapping problems because of the speed at which the solvent evaporates.

The above methods will provide a clear transparent wood finish for your entire floor. The results you see will be dramatic if you have only used over-the-counter stains in the past for DIY home improvement projects.

Anilines are available from Tools For Working Wood