Wood Staining Process

Pre-Process Inspection & Considerations

  • Inspect wood for any decay and make necessary repairs.
    Ideally this is done three to six months before staining to allow new wood that was installed to replace bad wood to weather.
  • Recognize potential problems
    • Poor ventilation
    • Sprinklers or pools
    • Board orientation
    • Exposures and the surrounding environment
  • Scheduling a project
    • Test for color. Allow a minimum of 24 hours after applying a test application before reviewing
      color. 48 to 72 hours is recommended for the most accurate results.
    • Cool weather and/ or damp weather will lengthen dry times.
    • Do not start the cleaning process and apply stain during pollen season. Pollen can land on clean surfaces after cleaning and can mix with stain during application. Pollen is a source for mold and mildew and most stains do not have enough mildewcide to combat the amount of “mold food” in an oil based stain.
    • Exposures and the surrounding environment
  • Protection
    Cleaners and strippers can ruin painted surfaces while house washes can ruin stained surfaces. Be sure to schedule cleanings and applications in accordance with all the projects you are working on.
  • Sequencing multiple projects
    No additional sealers are needed when using Armstrong-Clark wood stain. However, before you start you project it is a good idea to adjust sprinklers and garden sprayers from spaying on your stained surfaces. Repeated and long term abrasion from watering sources will accelerate the wearing process of any applied stain and wood. 

Pre-Process Testing

  • Testing for Moisture (for new wood)
    Moisture content needs to be 20% or less as determined by a moisture meter; 15% or less for cedar shingles to reduce chances for tannin bleed.
  • Testing for Absorbency (Water Sprinkle Test)
    If the water does not start to spread out and significantly absorb into the wood wait one month and retest. 
  • If present - test black stains to determine if mold/ mildew or tannin
    • Mold, tannin, and dirt accumulation due to over application present themselves as a variety of black stains. Tannin and dirt are often mistaken for mold. If entire surface is black there is a high chance of over application. Test if black spots are on the surface by wiping. If so use a cloth to lightly dab on a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. If black disappears you have mold, if not you have dirt. If black does not wipe off surface use sandpaper to gently scratch surface away to access the black stain. Apply solution.  If black does not disappear black is most likely tannin. Stain must be removed to treat black under a stain.

Wood Preparation

  • Determine cleaning method and chemicals to use
    Cleaning or stripping chemicals should always be used as part of the preparation process,
    even if sanding. When sanding this prevents dirt and mold spores from being ground down
    into the wood. The chemicals used will be determined by whether or not you have a prior
    brand of stain that needs to be removed (and whether sanding is preferred) and if treatment
    is needed for either mold or tannin.
  • Protect vegetation and structures
    Mask off structures and vegetation to protect them against cleaning chemicals and strippers. Working in the morning reduces chances of plants overheating and dying. If plants are not covered be sure to thoroughly hose them down so that cleaning chemicals more easily run off when landing on plants.
  • Clean wood thoroughly
    Unstained wood requires cleaning. Previously coated wood may require stripping and brightening.
  • Post clean sanding if necessary
    Sanding may be required after cleaning or stripping to remove loose dead wood fiber.
  • Allow 48 to dry (softwoods), 24 hours (hardwoods)

Pre-Stain Testing

  • Moisture Content Testing (from cleaning)
    Moisture content needs to be 20% or less as determined by a moisture meter; 15% or less for cedar shingles to reduce chances for tannin bleed. 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.
  • Test for Color 
    Only test for color after wood preparation is completed as the preparation process will affect the final color of an applied stain. Wait at least 24 hours, preferably 48 to 72 hours, to review color.
  • Absorption Testing (TheSprinkle Test)
    Dip your fingers into a glass of water. Bring your fingers close to the surface of the wood and shake off a few droplets. The goal is for the droplets to only fall a short distance so that they do not splatter when they hit the surface. Wood will accept oil just as it absorbs water. The wood is ready to accept stain when the droplets start spreading out and soaking into the wood within two minutes. This test does not work well on exotic hardwoods as their tight grain naturally inhibits absorption.  

Stain Application

  • Re-test for moisture if necessary in the event of precipitation
  • Prepare area for staining
    If spraying be sure to mask of structures and plants.
  • Apply Stain 
    Do not wipe stain unless there are wet spots after 24 hours. Premature wiping can remove mildewcide, pigment, and the drying oil that locks in and protects the non-drying oil. During application brush out any puddles before completing the project for the day.


  • Clean tools
    Use mineral spirits or paint thinner. “Dissolve” is an environmentally friendly alternative.
  • AVOID SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION!!!! Soak all used rags and waste in water

Post Stain Review

  • Test for over application
  • Treat for over application if needed


  • Once a month sweep, rinse, or blow off surfaces
  • For environments with mold/ mildew problems consider applying preventative treatment like Wet & Forget one month after application.