Begin Project

Wood Staining Process

I. Pre-prep Process Testing

A. Testing for Absorbency

Testing for absorbency is a way to ensure wood will properly absorb an applied stain. Factors that can inhibit the absorption of a stain include:

  • Moisture content
  • Naturally occurring oil (in new wood)
  • Closed pores (new wood or older wood sanded with too fine a grit of sandpaper)
  • Mill Glaze (new wood)
  • Pressure Treatments (new wood)
  • Prior coatings including penetrated oil
i. Sprinkle Test (horizontal wood)

This test works best on softwoods, and is especially useful in determining when new wood is ready for staining. It does not work well on exotic hardwoods as they have a limited ability to absorb any stain or water.

Get a glass of water. Stick your fingers into the water. Bring your fingers close to the wood and shake off some droplets. The goal is to shake the droplets off your fingers close to the wood so that they do not drop a far distance and splatter on the surface of the wood. On new smooth cut wood or wood in good condition the water will initially bead up on the surface of the wood. Wood will absorb stain just like it absorbs water and it is ready to accept stain when the droplets start spreading out and soaking into the wood within 2 minutes. If the water beads are still intact with little change after two minutes wait one month and retest. Water is thinner than oil. If the wood will not accept water it is not going to accept oil.

This illustration depicts the difference in absorption between older wood and brand new wood. The older wood absorbed the water almost instantly while after 3 minutes the water beads only slightly grew and size and barely started absorbing into the new wood.

ii. Previously Stained Wood

Sample cans can be used for vertical wood absorption testing and for confirming absorbency on wood that has passed a sprinkle test. Sample cans are used to test whether or not Armstrong-Clark can be applied over a prior coating that is not Armstrong-Clark. However, it is important to know that success with absorption over a prior stain does not guarantee long term success. If the underlying stain fails it will take the newly applied stain with it. Armstrong-Clark oil based wood stain cannot go over any water based stains, or any stains with acrylic. It is recommended that prior coatings that are not Armstrong-Clark are removed before applying Armstrong-Clark.

B. Testing for moisture content

Applying stain to wood with too high a moisture content will ultimately lead to adhesion failure.

  • Most stains require a moisture content of only 15% or 12% (or less) while Armstrong-Clark oil based wood stains can be applied to wood with up to 20%.
  • A moisture content of 15% or less is recommended for cedar shingles to help prevent tannin bleed.
  • The best way to test for moisture is with a moisture meter. When using a moisture meter do not just test the top side of the wood – check the end cuts as well. The top side is exposed to the sun and wind and dries quicker than the end cuts. If you do not have a moisture meter, look at and touch the ends of the boards to look for or feel dampness. If the ends look or feel damp wait one day and re-access. If the design of your project does not have any end cuts exposed we recommend getting a moisture meter.
  • Test for moisture prior to the prep process. If wood moisture is over 20% before you start it will not be less after cleaning.
  • Test for moisture after cleaning and preparation are completed prior to stain application to ensure wood has dried out after washing.

II. Preparation Tips, Considerations & Warnings

  • Prep in the morning to save the plants
    On hot days, consider prep in the morning when it is cooler so that covered plants and bushes do not over heat or die. If not covering plants, rinse them thoroughly with water to prevent the chemicals that land on them from sticking. Note that the plants may need to be rinsed again as time passes to keep them wet.
  • Do not let your cleaning chemicals dry on the wood.
    On hot days use the misting spray on your hose nozzle to keep the solutions wet to allow them the necessary time they need to work.
  • Do not use excessive pressure
    Allow cleaning chemicals to clean wood. Do not use pressure to clean wood. Excessive pressure from a pressure washer or excessive scrubbing can fur wood and “raise the grain”. Raising the grain is the result of removing the soft part of the wood and leaving the harder grain. This results in valleys between the lines of hard grain that will hold water when it rains or snow melts. When cleaning be sure to continuously look back at the surface you have cleaned to make sure you do not have any furring. If furring is visible when pressure washing pull your nozzle further away from the surface or reduce the pressure coming of out the nozzle by swapping to a nozzle with a bigger orifice.
  • Do not use excessively strong chemicals, or excessive dwell time of chemicals
    Follow the instructions on product labels for chemical concentration and dwell time (how long the chemical is on the wood). Using too strong of a chemical concentration, or allowing chemicals to sit on wood longer than recommended will chemically fuzz your wood. Pay special attention if you have tongue and groove decking as chemicals are not able to rinse away easily as there are no gaps between the boards.
  • Do not use higher than 80 grit sandpaper when sanding exterior wood surfaces
    Using higher than 80 grit (100+grit) closes the pores of wood inhibiting the absorption of an applied stain.  
  • Think of pressure washing as a more effective way to rinse than a hose.
    To reiterate point number three– we do not want pressure to mechanically do our cleaning; we want cleaners to do the cleaning. Typically the range of recommend pressure for pressure washing is 500psi on softwoods up to about 1200 psi for hardwoods. When pressure washing typically a 40 degree tip 10” – 12” from the wood is recommended. However, different machines have different PSI and GPM (gallons per minute) ratings. To achieve correct psi coming out of the nozzle you need to use the correct orifice size on the nozzle tip. To learn more click here
  • NEVER mix liquid bleach and oxalic acid (brighteners). A HARMFUL/ TOXIC chemical reaction occurs.
  • DO NOT mix liquid bleach and oxygenated bleach (sodium percarbonate). A reaction accelerates rending your chemicals useless.

III. Surface Preparation

The surface of all wood, including newly installed wood, must be dry, clean, and free of dust, dirt, mold, mildew, algae, mill glaze, dew, and pollen. After cleaning sweep off surfaces before applying stain.

A. Cleaning Techniques and Things to Know

Scrub, pressure wash, and sand in the direction of the wood grain. Wear protective gear to protect eyes and skin. Use respirators if sanding. Do not use excessive scrubbing, spray pressure, chemical strength, or chemical dwell time as you can damage the wood resulting in furring or raised grain.

Wear protective gear to protect eyes and skin. NEVER mix oxalic acid/ brightener and bleach as a harmful and toxic gas reaction occurs. Do not mix liquid bleach and oxygenated bleach (sodium percarbonate) as they will accelerate a reaction rendering your chemicals useless.

a. Sanding
  • To remove layers of decayed wood fiber and/or splinters on wood that has not been stained (or has not been stained in a long time) and has turned gray.
  • When there is a preference not to use a stripper to remove a previous stain application, or when a stripper has failed to remove all the previous stain. This is common with water based and/or acrylic stains.
  • To remove wood fur or fuzz resulting from the preparation process.
  • To remove a mill stamp or other imperfections in wood. Read our Product Data Sheets for warnings if sanding.
  • Orbital sanders are recommended over belt sanders as belt sanders can dig grooves
    into wood.
  • Wood still needs to be cleaned prior to sanding. The cleaning process removes dirt,
    grime, pollen, and other surface contaminants that will “gum” up sand paper quickly and
    also risk being driven down into the pores of the wood.
Things to know when sanding
  • Do not use finer than 80# sandpaper. 60# works just fine for woods from a few years old up to ten years old. For wood older than ten years you can go down to 36# initially before finishing with 60#.
  • When removing a prior film forming coat of stain professionals often start with 20# to 36# and then finish with 60# - 80#. For softwood that has been installed for more than five years 60# works well as a finishing grit. 80# works best on exotic hardwoods and softwood that has been installed for less than five years. On exotic hardwoods you
    may get slight swirl patterns, even with 80 grit. Do not use 100 grit if this happens.
    The alternative if desired would be to hand sand our use a palm sander.
  • Spot Sanding
    Spot sanding, to remove a mill stamp for example, will most likely change the color of an applied satin as compared to a non-sanded area.
  • Powered Sanders (with speed settings)
    Be sure to use the appropriate settings as specified by the manufacturer. Using too high of a speed can seal the pores of the wood.
  • Orbital Sanding
    Orbital sanders can leave swirl patters. Using 100# may help reduce the issue but the finer grit will impede the woods ability to accept stain.
Sanding Advisory!

Be sure to change sand paper in a timely manner as recommended by manufacturers. As the sandpaper is used it wears down and eventually performs as a finer grit. For example, an 80 grit can perform like a 120 grit if it is not changed.

Hardwood Advisory!

We typically do not recommend sanding hardwoods unless the wood is older or the sanding is otherwise necessary. After sanding professionals will often use acetone to open up the pores for better absorption. However we do not promote the use of strong chemicals like acetone as they can have adverse health effects.

b. Scrubbing

When scrubbing use a mid-stiffness bristle brush (like a truck brush). Do not use a stiff bristle brush. Do not scrub excessively hard. Either a hose or a light pressure wash can be used to rinse cleaning chemicals off the wood.

c. Pressure Washing

Pressure washing should never be used as a means to remove prior coatings, dirt, or grime. Excessive pressure can destroy your wood. Think of pressure washing as a more effective means to rinse cleaning chemicals than a hose. Let cleaning chemicals do the work of breaking down contaminants on the surface of wood, not water pressure.  Remember, water dug out the Grand Canyon, imagine what it can do to wood. Too much pressure will “raise the grain” and/or create wood fur.

Pressure WashingPressure WashingPressure Washing

Most advice regarding pressure washing revolves around the psi of the machine, the angle of the stream coming out of the machine (stream or fan width), and the distance to keep the nozzle from the wood. For example, most advice for cleaning wood states using 1000-1200 psi, with a 45 degree tip, 10“-12” from the wood to prevent damage the wood. If you use a 65 degree tip you may be able to get down to 6“-10” from the wood without damaging the wood.

This approach leaves a couple of questions unanswered:
  • What settings are appropriate for pine vs. ipe (soft wood vs. hard wood?)
  • What if I don’t have a 1000psi machine? What do I do if I have a 3000psi machine?
  • How do I factor in the GPM of my machine (gallons per minute)?

Generally speaking softwoods and hardwoods should be approached with different pressures of water. Some experts advise 500psi for softwoods like pine or cedar, and no more than 1200 psi for hardwoods like mahogany or ipe.

Tips and Techniques
  • Wear goggles and protective clothing
  • Use a 40 degree tip (typically white) and keep 10” – 12” from the surface of the wood.
  • DO NOT have the nozzle pointed at the wood when you pull the trigger. This can leave a hard line in the wood that may not be corrected with cleaning. It may also dig into the wood as the initial water coming out has built up pressure.
  • Use sweeping motions to prevent hard lines in the wood
    1. Hold the wand pointed to the side at 90 degrees to the surface being cleaned.
    2. Once you have confirmed the water coming out of the nozzle will not hit anyone use a sweeping motion to bring the water down to the surface of the wood
    3. Walk the length of a board (or boards) and use a sweeping motion upward to bring the water softly off the wood.
    4. Sweep back down and repeat.
    5. Do not zig zag back and forth as this will create a series of hard lines all over the wood which may not be able to be corrected with cleaning alone.
  • According to Michael Hinderliter, president of, you regulate decreasing psi output by changing the nozzles (bigger or smaller orifice sizes), not by adjusting the unloader. Machines come with factory settings and tampering with pressure valves can create problems. The bigger the hole (orifice) the lower the pressure, the smaller the hole the higher the pressure. To determine the correct nozzle you need to know the PSI rating of the machine and the gallons per minute the machine is rated to output (gpm).
PSI Charts - Chart 1
Go to to review chart
  • Find the psi output you desire (remembering you can only go down from the machine rating)
  • Scroll down to find the gpm for your machine.
  • Scroll to the left column to see the nozzle size you need
  • Understand that this chart is only a guide and actual results may vary from what is depicted in the chart.

To view YouTube video featuring Michael Hinderliter of

The black numbers in the chart are orifice sizes for the tip on the end of the pressure washing wand. The blue numbers represent the gallons per minute rating of the machine, and the red numbers represent the PSI rating of the machine.

  1. Find the cell that matches up to the GPM and PSI of your machine. For example a 2000PSI/ 3.5 GPM machine will provide 2000PSI with a #5 tip.
  2. You can decrease PSI from your starting cell, but you cannot increase PSI. For example if you want to achieve 500PSI with a 2000PSI/3.5GPM machine you want a #10 tip.
  3. Understand that this chart is only a guide and actual results may vary from what is depicted in the chart.
d. Stripping

Always read the container for application and precautionary instructions. Typically, you are instructed to wet down the wood for a wet-on-wet application of stripper. Be very careful when applying stripper with a sprayer not to get the spray anywhere you do not want it, especially on painted surfaces like the side of a house. We would recommend taping off and covering painted surfaces and covering vegetation when stripping. Even if you are careful to contain a spray application, you may not be able to control chemicals that may get sprayed or splashed off the surface during the rinsing process. This can be especially damaging when power washing where spray may rise high enough to take the paint off window screens.

When it is time to rinse you can test scrub a small section to see if you need to let the stripper sit a little longer before you rinse. Sometimes a second application of stripper is required.

When using a stripper, there is no need to use a cleaner. Typically there shouldn't be any mold after a stripper is applied. However, if wood was not properly prepared before the prior application of stain, mold may have grown underneath the stain leaving residual mold even after using a stripper. In this instance, spot treat as needed with a 3:1 (water: bleach) solution until mold is gone. Hose off thoroughly.

It is important to understand that the stripping process takes moisture out of wood. If you apply a caustic stripper, you must always apply a brightener which is slightly acidic to neutralize the pH of the stripper. Apply the brightener while the wood is still wet after rinsing off the stripper. The brightener will also lighten the wood back up from the darkening as a result of stripping. Oil based wood stains like Armstrong-Clark will replace the moisture removed in the stripping process.

B. Diagnose your preparation needs

Review your wood to see if there are any pre-preparation needs that may need to be addressed before you start cleaning the wood.

a. Black Stains

Both mold and tannin present themselves as a variety of black stains. Tannin stains are often confused for mold or mildew. This is a common misdiagnosis on certain woods like redwood. Dirt can also look like a coat of black on the surface of wood. If the first cleaning does not remove all spots you can retreat the entire surface or spot treat as needed. Understanding what your black spots are will determine what type of cleaner you will need.

To test whether a black stain on the surface of wood is mildew, tannin, or dirt conduct the following test.

  • If entire surface is black there is a high chance it is dust, dirt, pollen, and air pollution collecting on the surface as the result over application. Test if black spots are on the surface by wiping. If the black rubs off you do not have tannin stains. Use a cloth to lightly dab on a 50/50 solution of bleach and water to test if you have mold or mildew. If the black disappears you have mold, if not you have dirt. Otherwise you can treat for mildew or mold.
  • If the black does not rub off the issue is underneath the surface of the stain. Use some 80 grit sandpaper and gently rub the surface of the stain away to get down to the black stain. Mix a solution of 50% bleach and 50% water. Use a cloth to apply the solution to the black stain. If the black disappears the issue is mildew. If the black does not disappear chances are you have tannin stains.
  • To treat black stains below the surface of an applied stain, the applied stain needs to be removed for treatment. Mildew requires a bleach based cleaner for treatment while tannin stains require an oxalic based cleaner brightener for treatment.

Treating Mold, Mildew & Algae

One of the more important considerations in cleaning wood is the presence of mold, mildew, or algae. Regardless of whether or not these can be seen on new wood, new wood should be treated as if it had these growths. New wood is often stacked and bundled while there is still a lot of moisture in the wood. Sometimes this wood is wrapped in plastic which creates a greenhouse effect for hidden mold and mildew growth. Although the growth may not be visible, there is a very good chance that live spores are present on the surface of the wood.

Treating mildew and molds can be tricky. Mold and mildew will often grow on a film of dirt and pollen that is sitting on the surface of wood. Most treatments may be able to treat surface growth, but they do not necessarily kill the root of mildews and molds that have grown into the wood. To kill the roots you need a specifically formulated product you can purchase at a hardware store like Concrobium or Jomax.

b. Pitch (sap)

Pitch is a yellowish brown sap often found coming out of knots in wood like southern pine or douglas Fir, especially once it gets warmer. Once dry it is white and crusty. Turpentine or mineral spirits on a rag can be used to remove pitch if it is till gooey. Otherwise a putty knife can be used to remove it once it has hardened.

c. Previously stained wood  

Wood previously coated with a stain other than Armstrong-Clark must have the previous stain removed. If the previous stain is known we recommend using the stripper provided by the same brand. Talk to your local hardware or paint store rep for guidance if the previous coating is not known.

C. Choose your Cleaning Chemicals

  • Strippers followed by brighteners
  • Pre-mixed cleaners
  • Homemade cleaners
  • Additives
    These include off the shelf products like Jomax specifically designed to treat mold and mildew. TSP is sometimes used to treat grease.

    Cleaning with a Homemade Bleach Cleaner
    The easiest and cheapest way to prepare new, untreated, or wood previously stained with
    Armstrong-Clark is with a 1.5% to 2% bleach solution (and no more than 3%). To achieve
    this mix 1 part bleach with 3 parts water (a store bought bottle of bleach is typically 6% to 8%
    bleach). To this add 1 good squirt of liquid dish detergent per gallon. Do not mix more than ¼ cup of detergent per gallon as you will spend a lot of time rinsing out the suds. Bleach doesn’t clean – it disinfects which is why we recommend adding detergent. Liquid dish detergent (not hand soap) is recommend because it is designed to cut grease and grime. Hand soap will not cut grease, it is designed to be soft on skin. A quality liquid dish soap like Dawn is recommending instead of cheaper liquid dish detergents as they can be too "soapy". Additionally, the soap will help the bleach hold to vertical surfaces better. DO NOT let this mixture sit on the wood for more than 20 minutes as it will damage the lignin in the wood. DO NOT let this solution dry on the wood. Typically we recommend letting the solution sit for 3 to 5 minutes, test scrub, and then hose off thoroughly or rinse with a light power washing within 15 minutes of application. If there is any mold, mildew, or algae remaining after cleaning, you can spot treat and re-rinse. To kill mold, some companies recommend a 1:1 water to bleach ratio. Our recommendation is to use the 3:1 ratio mentioned above to reduce the liquid bleach's damaging affects to wood while still killing surface growth.

D. Prepare for cleaning

Mask off painted surfaces to protect them during the application or rinsing of cleaning or stripping chemicals. During rinsing chemicals can get blasted onto surfaces from water pressure. Consider covering bushes and plants. When covering plants and bushes be sure not to do so in the hottest part of the day so that they do not overheated and die. Typically we recommend working in the early hours of the day. If covers are not available at least wet down before application and understand this may not be sufficient protection.

E. Post Washing

In the event that there is wood fuzz or fur on the surface of the wood before staining it must be removed, especially on smooth cut wood.

To remove fur or fuzz you can use 60# - 80# sandpaper. Going much higher in grit count can risk
sealing the pores. Going below 60# you risk removing too much wood. For exotic hardwoods like Ipe
wood restoration professionals often use defelting pads (depicted below). For exotic woods like Ipe
use80# sandpaper, but be careful not to sand down into the wood. For hardwoods you are only
using the sandpaper to remove fuzz off the surface of the wood. Palm sanders and sanding blocks
work well for spindles and tight areas. For variable speed or orbital hand sanders you want to use at
lower speed. Always speak with a local lumber expert to review the requirements for your
specific wood and circumstances.

Images above depict the use of defelting pads

IV. Stain Application

A. Application Tips

a. Testing for color

You can never look at a photo of a color and assume that a particular stain will look the same on your wood. Testing before cleaning will yield an incorrect color. Always test for color once preparation is completed.

Color Testing Tips: 
  • Test in an inconspicuous spot.
    For example where a door mat or flower pot will be placed, or behind a bush (for siding). Over time the wood under door mats or furniture will not have weathered as much as the wood fully exposed to the elements and may provide different results for color.
  • Apply color sample the same manner you will apply stain on job.
    Application method can affect thickness of stain applied and therefore the color.  DO NOT apply with a rag! 
  • Do not test for color on a surface other than the primary surface being stained.
    For example, on a deck do not test for color on a support beam. Often these boards are a different wood, and they do not weather the same as the deck surface.
  • Wait a minimum of 24 hours before reviewing a test sample for color
    It takes time for Armstrong-Clark to absorb into wood and reveal the final color that will be achieved. After 24 hours a color sample will not be final but most of the morphing will have taken place. For the most accurate result it is best to wait 72 hours before reviewing for color.
  • Watch to see how long the stain takes to absorb into the wood.
    On wood over one year old this will provide insight into whether or not you need to consider a second coat. For softwoods a second coat can be applied for most applications if the first coat soaks into the wood within 60 minutes. If the first coat soaks in within 20 minutes a second coat is typically recommended for all our colors except our semi-solids. Soaking in less than 20 minutes is a sign that the interior of the wood is very dry and needs additional non-drying oil to condition the wood fibers.

    Do not apply a second coat to outdoor furniture and sitting surfaces, nor decks getting semi-solid stains. Furniture and sitting surfaces may have wiping requirements depending on the color being applied.  
b. MORE IS NOT BETTER! Apply stain at a rate the wood can absorb.

When too much stain is applied the nondrying oils saturate the wood and any remaining nondrying oils sit at the surface. Nondrying oils on the surface then prevent the drying oils from locking in the color and drying.

c. DO NOT prepare wood and apply stain when pollen is blanketing surfaces.

Pollen is mildew and mold food. Mildewcide in stains will prevent mildew and mold from growing in stains, but they will not prevent mildew from growing beneath a stain.

d. Wait for morning dew to dry when applying stain in the morning.
e.If you live in a humid and/or shaded environment conducive to mold, mildew, and algae growth, consider purchasing consider spraying a mildewcide solution like "Wet & Forget" on the wood once a year as a preventative measure.
f.Stain horizontal surfaces before vertical surfaces so that any drips that land on the wet horizontal surface can be brushed out.
g.For higher elevations consider our hardwood or semi-transparent colors over transparent colors.

Their higher pigment concentration better protects against the strong UV rays at these elevations. Semi-transparent Chestnut and Natural Oak have approximately 50% more pigment than our other semi-transparent colors. Semi-Solids will provide the most UV protection.

h.For decks, consider applying two coats of a semi-transparent or hardwood stain instead of one coat of a semi-solid stain when the first coat absorbs into the wood within 60 minutes.

This provides additional protection to the interior of the wood while adding extra protection to the surface. Use a sample can to confirm if your wood can absorb two coats. If two coats a semi-solid color is preferred on a deck mix the semi-solid 1:1 with Natural Tone. This cuts the pigment load in half resulting in two coats of nondrying oil for the interior of the wood and while still only yielding one coat of semi-solid pigment. Two coats of semi-solid pigment will often lead to pigment rubbing off onto shoes and tracking into the house.

B. Application Methods & Requirements

Softwoods and Hardwoods typically are very different in absorbing and accepting stain and therefore must be approached very differently.

A. General requirements and methods
  • Wood moisture content must be 20% or less as determined by a moisture meter, 15% or less for cedar shingles.
    20% or less moisture content in wood is needed to allow Armstrong-Clark oil stains to absorb into the wood. 15% or less is recommended for cedar shingles and redwood to reduce chances of tannin bleed and staining. Test for moisture in the end cuts of the wood (surfaces dry sooner). Wait two days after cleaning if a meter is not available. If the end cuts look or feel damp at that time wait another day and reassess.
  • Number of Coats that can be applied
    As a general statement a second coat can be applied if and ONLY if the first coat absorbs down into the wood within 60 minutes on wood that has been installed for at least a year.There are some exceptions. Below is a number of coats and special instructions reference chart.
  • No garden sprayers
    Many garden sprayers do not work well with Armstrong-Clark wood stain. Even if they did we would warn against using them. As the pressure in the tank diminishes so does the amount of stain being applied resulting in an uneven application of stain.
  • Do not apply with a rag. Brush out any puddles before application is completed- DO NOT WIPE stain off during application.
    Our soaking in period is 24 hours. Brushing out puddles before finishing application helps prevent this problem although it may not eliminate the issue if stain was over applied. Prematurely wiping can remove mildewcide, pigment, and the drying oil that protects the non-drying oil.
  • Wipe any puddles after 24 hours.
    Place rags in a metal container with water after wiping for at least one week to prevent spontaneous combustion.
  • Although you can walk on Armstrong-Clark during application, wait 8 hours for light traffic and 72 hours for complete drying and curing. Cooler and/or damp weather will lengthen drying and curing times.
  • Place rags in a metal container with water after wiping for at least one week to prevent spontaneous combustion.
    Use an empty stain can if a metal container is not otherwise available.
Avoid Spontaneous Combustion!

Rags and other waste soaked with stain can spontaneously catch fire if improperly discarded.IMMEDIATELY after use place all rags and other waste in a sealed water-filledmetal container away from buildings and other combustible materials. Use anempty stain can filled with water if no other container is available.

  • Avoid Over Application
    Most common mistakes resulting in an over application
  • The #1 mistake in applying stain is believing “More is Better!”
  • Excluding pre-stain requirements - Applying stain as soon as new wood is installed
  • Applying two coats of stain to wood less than 1 year from installation or to exotic hardwood
  • Applying two coats of semi-solid stain to a horizontal surface
  • Applying too much stain with a roller
  • Applying stain to wood with higher than 20% moisture
  • Using an appropriate grit sand paper but not changing the paper soon enough (80 grit can perform like 120 or 150 grit if not changed appropriately)
  • Sanding wood with finer than 80 grit
  • Applying a second coat of stain to wood that took longer than 60 minutes to absorb the first coat
  • Plan according to weather considerations: Hot Weather Stain Application.
    Unlike Armstrong-Clark most stains cannot be applied in direct sunlight or the heat of the day and usually have a temperature high of 90-95 degrees. This is because these stains are water-based or have high solvent content. Hot temperatures will flash water out of water-based stains quickly and solvents will evaporate quicker. Application of either type of stain can result in thick and gooey application and sticky shiners. A thicker application can also lead to additional and more severe cracking and peeling over time. Application also becomes difficult because foot prints from walking on applied stain can be left.
The Armstrong-Clark Advantage

Armstrong-Clark oil based wood stain can be applied no matter how hot it is and in direct sunlight without having to worry about the stain become thick, sticky, or leaving shiners.

Cold Weather Stain Application

Most stains become thick and viscous in cold weather, and some stains have issues with freezing temperatures in the evening.

The Armstrong-Clark Advantage

Although it needs to be above 50 degrees for application of Armstrong-Clark oil based wood stain, there are no problems with temperatures falling below freezing into the evening after absorption into the wood. However, cold and freezing temperatures will prolong the drying and curing process.

Cold Weather Application Tip!

When outside temperatures drop below 50˚F in the evenings keep stain inside to keep warm and apply in the heat of the day. This allows time for the wood to warm up some and burn off any morning dew that may have settled on the wood overnight. Freezing after full absorption will not harm stain but it will lengthen drying time.

Expected Rainy Weather

Just about every stain manufacture warns against applying stain when rainy weather is expected. This can be frustrating for many, especially during the summer when rain is possible just about every day. Some provide ambiguous warnings like "Do not apply when rain is imminent". What does that even mean? What is the time frame of imminent? Unfortunately this often leaves the consumer uncomfortable and filed with panic if they later hear thunder or otherwise get rain.

The Armstrong-Clark Advantage

Armstrong-Clark oil based wood stains can be exposed to "normal" rain conditions 60minutes after absorption into wood (not 60 minutes after application). In some cases this can be as little as 80 or 90 minutes after application. If heavy rain is expected, we still recommend letting the storm pass and letting the wood dry for 2 days (or until moisture content has gotten down to at least 20% or less).

Hardwood Advisory!

Unfortunately for hardwoods you may want up to twenty-four hours for absorption before rain precipitates as hardwoods may appear to have fully absorbed and applied stain when in fact the process is still not complete.

B. Softwoods
  • Apply with a brush, roller, stain pad, or airless sprayer.
    Natural bristle or Chinex brushes provide the best control on all surfaces. Stain pads are a close second on flat smooth cut surfaces like decks. On hardwood decks a dual roller sponge mop is another great application tool. Rollers and spraying risk uneven over application. We recommend AGAINST using a roller to apply semi-solids to decks to prevent over application.
  • Back brush spray applications.
    Spraying only presents the stain to the surface of the wood. Back brushing works the stain into the wood. Back brushing is not simply going over the stain lightly. It is a process of pushing a stain into wood by brushing back and forth.
  • Armstrong-Clark is formulated for a single coat application.
  • A second coat can be applied to softwoods for extra protection only if the first coat soaks into the wood within 60 minutes of application.
    When absorbed the stain will have a matte appearance and will not be glossy or shiny. The second coat can be applied wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry. If applying wet-on-dry we recommend applying the second coat as soon as possible to prevent debris building up on the surface of the wood. This second coat will also darken and enrich the color. If an applied stain does not all absorb into the wood within 60 minutes, DO NOT apply a second coat. This is the wood telling you it cannot accept any more stain. DO NOT apply a 2nd coat to wood less than one year old.
  • Do not apply a second coat to wood less than 1 year from installation, outdoor furniture or sitting surfaces, or applications of semi-solids to decks.
  • Applications to wood less than 1 year from installation may need to be re-stained 12 to 18 months after the original application.
Outdoor Furniture and Sitting Surfaces
  • NO SEMI-SOLID colors.
    Semi-Solids have a high pigment load that can result in rub-off, especially onto clothes.
  • 1 coat only
  • For transparent colors apply and let dry
  • For all other colors wipe excess stain off 1 hour after application to prevent pigment from rub-off.
  • Properly dispose of the rages to prevent spontaneous combustion.
Fire Retardant Shingles
  • Apply 2nd coat of stain wet on dry with at least 48 hours between coats.
  • Semi-solids mask any tannin stains that may appear over time better than other colors.
  • Transparent colors are not recommended as they do not mask tannin staining and fade quicker than other colors.
  • For all other colors wipe excess stain off 1 hour after application to prevent pigment from rub-off.

Generally speaking, hardwoods only need a single sparingly thin application of stain because of their dense cell structure limits their ability to absorb stain.

  • Sparingly apply a single coat of stain. DO NOT apply two coats.
    On exotic hardwoods we recommend a stain pad, lambs wool pad, or dual-roller kitchen sponge mop. Light brushing followed by a stain pad is popular with professionals.

    For sponge mop application on woods like ipe – dip mop in stain pan, do not squeeze out the stain, blot out on wood, and then mop out the stain using the mop like a squeegee. A brush is typically needed to cut in where horizontal and vertical surfaces meet. If a brush is used, we still recommend passing over the applied area with a stain pad. Using a pole on the pad makes the process a lot easier than being on your hands and knees. We do not recommend rollers on exotic hardwoods.
  • Apply Hardwood/ Softwood colors
    Armstrong-Clark’s Hardwood & Softwood colors are pigmented so color lasts longer on hardwoods than our other colors. Natural Tone can be used, however the wood will start turning gray within a few months. Ironically, sometimes graying an exotic wood like Teak is desired. Do not apply semi-solids. Transparent nor Semi-Transparent colors are not recommended as their color will fade much quicker than Hardwood/Softwood colors. Chestnut and Natural Oak are a blend of our hardwood and semi-transparent pigments and can be applied to hardwoods. Preliminary testing shows they last significantly longer than semi-transparent colors on hardwoods and almost as long as our Hardwood & Softwood colors. Chestnut and Natural Oak are a blend of our hardwood and semi-transparent pigments and can be applied to hardwoods. Preliminary testing shows they last significantly longer than semi-transparent colors on hardwoods and almost as long as our Hardwood & Softwood colors.
  • Unless pre-staining is required, we recommend staining exotic hardwoods 6 months after installation.
    Stain applied to a newly installed hardwood may last on the top surface as little as a month. Stain applied to new exotic woods less than six months after installation may only last on the surface of the wood a few months, and as little as one month. Stain on underside will last significantly longer as it is not exposed to the elements. If staining exotic hardwoods at the time of installation consider staining with Natural Tone. Natural Tone has very little color. Therefore it will not be as noticeable as it disappears as compared to more pigmented colors.

C. Clean up

AVOID SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION! Place all rags, sponges, steel wool, and other waste in a water filled metal container after use to prevent spontaneous combustion. Partially fill an empty stain can with water if you do not have a container. Let the rags and other waste sit for at least one week and dispose of according to local regulations. Saturate any large textiles like drop cloths or paper products (used for drop sheets or spray guards) with water. Wash clothes with stain on them - do not leave them lying around. Clean tools with mineral spirits or paint thinner.

An alternative to painter thinner or mineral spirits is using the Dissolve Brush Cleaner & Conditioner. This is non-toxic reusable cleaner. To learn more you can visit

Stain Disposal and the Paint Care Program

Your local paint store or dump can tell you how to dispose of any paint product. Every local has different regulations. There are 10 states, plus Washington D.C., as of 2022 that participate in the Paint Care Program. This is an incredible program for the disposal of paint and stain products paid for via a fee at the time of purchase of any paint or stain product. You can reach their website at

D. Over Application

Over application simply means that more stain has been applied than wood can absorb.

Causes of over application:
  • High moisture content in wood
  • High oil content in wood
  • Sanding with finer than 80 grit sandpaper
  • Pressure treatment in wood
  • Mill glaze on the surface of new wood
  • Applying too much stain - “More is not better!”
Signs of over application:
  • Puddles, shiny wet spots, gloss or any visible sheen 24 hours after application.
    This means more stain was applied than the wood can absorb.
  • Pigment rubbing off onto shoes
    Rub-off is only a problem if it comes off with shoes. Armstrong-Clark is a soft coat and can always be rubbed off with a rag or other textile. It can also be removed with scrubbing.
  • Oil floating on the surface of water sitting on a stained surface.
    Armstrong-Clark wood stain includes non-drying conditioning oils. Normally these oils dive down into the wood. However, when too much stain is applied the non-drying oils invert and sit on the surface preventing the drying oils from drying. When water sits on the surface of wood our oils will float on the water.
  • A darkening of the wood surface over a few months after stain application
    Over time dust, dirt, pollen, soot, and other debris in the air will get stuck in this non-drying oil sitting on the surface of the wood. This results in an overall darkening of the wood. It may even start to turn black. There is nothing in Armstrong-Clark stain to turn black. In some cases a build-up of dirt and pollen will provide a breeding ground for mildew and algae that is insulated from the mildewcide in stains.
  • The appearance of patches where stain has disappeared. (The effect will look as if someone applied tape to the surface and ripped it off quickly)
    Excess non-drying oils remaining on the surface of the wood prevent the drying oils that carry pigment from drying. The pigment then gets washed away in rain or pulled off with traffic. The missing patches are often, but no always, associated with a darkening of the surface of the stain.

Test for over application (for horizontal surfaces)

Pour a glass of water into a several random puddles on the surface. Step back and look at the surface of the puddles. You may need to squat up and down and work to get a good angle with the sun to see the surface of the puddle. If the stain is over applied you will see oil floating on the surface of the water (or a rainbow).  

Treat Over Application

  • Rinse down the wood with a hose (no nozzle). IMPORTANT NOTE: If your deck is on the second story you may want to cover whatever is underneath to prevent oil from staining surfaces below. Oil floats on water. The goal is to float the oil to the surface. Let the water sit for a few minutes and then hose down the deck again using the pressure of the water coming out of the hose so force the water between the cracks. Typically we advise against using a broom at this stage as the friction may remove some pigment that has not dried. However, if you decide to use a broom be sure to use a soft bristle broom with very light brushing. Repeat this process once a day for two to three days.
  • If oil is still floating on the surface of the water after a couple of days mix some liquid dish detergent (like Dawn) into some water. Unlike hand soap liquid dish soap is designed to break down oil and grease. The goal is to get a little extra help in breaking down the excess oil. Just don’t use too much soap – you do not want to spend too much time rinsing. Usually one or two good squirts per gallon will do the trick. Use a pump sprayer to apply to water. Let the solution sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a soft bristle brush or broom (similar to a kitchen or garage broom) and sweep back and forth. The goal is to gently work the solution into the oil without aggressively removing the stain. Hose off thoroughly. You can sweep any remaining water through the cracks if needed. Just be sure to rinse off your broom first so that you do not reintroduce soap to the surface of your stain. Repeat this once a day for two to three days until you no longer see oil floating in the water.
  • WARNING – This solution can create a very slippery surface. Care MUST be used so that you do not fall and get hurt!! If the above process does not work you can introduce some TSP into the solution in #2.Typically we do not recommend TSP because it can make surfaces very slippery and people can get hurt. TSP is a more aggressive de-greaser. Repeat the steps in #2 once a day until you no longer see oil floating in the water on the surface of your wood.
  • If #3 does not work this is a sign that the stain was severely over applied. We recommend stripping the coating off the wood surface. The easiest solution is to use Safe Strip manufactured by Gemini. It is an eco-friendly stripper that does not have the harmful effects of other strippers on the market. It also does not require brightening after use making it as easy to use as a cleaner.

V. Maintenance

  • Once a month sweep, blow, or hose off your wood surfaces, especially horizontal surfaces like decks.
  • Consider a spray application of a mildew and algae killer/inhibitor/preventer like Wet & Forget for wood that is heavily shaded or in a damp area environment that is conducive to mold and algae growth.

What to do if a major cleaning is needed

A cleaning solution can be made with a squirt of hand soap (not dish soap) per one gallon of water. Hand soap is recommended for a cleaning instead of dish soap because dish soap is designed to breakdown oil. DO NOT use bleach. Bleach can remove soft coat stains. DO NOT scrub hard. Use a soft bristle brush or broom and gently sweep the surface of the wood. Use a hose (no nozzle) to rinse the wood. Power washing is not recommended as excessive pressure can remove the stain. NOTE – any scrubbing, no matter how light, can remove some of the stain from the surface of the wood.