How to Stain Pine Wood: Complete Guide

Pine is sturdy and durable, accommodating multiple woodworking applications like cupboards, cabinetry, decks, and tables.

As a result, this wood is popular among woodworkers, but they wonder how best to finish the surface.

So, let’s address a concern How to Stain Pine Wood?

Pine stains well, but the process is not straightforward.

The lumber features an unevenly dense grain pattern, hindering stain penetration. 

In addition, pinewood has randomly occurring figures and super absorbent pockets that absorb formulas unevenly.

Thus, you’ll end up with a blotchy surface.

Moreover, test the stain on an invisible area to confirm it matches or compliments the wood. Otherwise, you risk ruining the project.

There is more to know about finishing pine. Check out this article for a detailed procedure on staining the wood and other related questions.

What Is Pine Wood?

Image of Pine Wood In the Pine Vs Poplar ComparisonPine is softwood, meaning it originates from a conifer.

Further, the tree is needle-leaved and produces seed-bearing cones.

Generally, pinewood has a creamy, yellow hue to the sapwood, while the heartwood is brown.

The wood is also lightweight with low density and works best on ‘traveling furniture’ projects.

You can use the wood from trunks to camp chairs or any project needing regular movement.

Pine trees grow up to 260 ft. in height and live up to 1,000 years.

But it is not a surprise to find some species exceeding the standard.

Further, the Great Basin or Pinus Longeava pine is among the longest-living pine in the world.

This species is native to California’s White Mountains and are estimated to be over 4,900 years old.

The tree’s bark is usually thick and dense. But there are some genres with thicker and flakier barks.

All pines grow best in primarily acidic soil, with some thriving in calcium-rich areas.

The plants need exceptional drainage and even flourish after forest fires. In addition, fire rejuvenates pine seedlings.

Bristlecone and mountain pine thrive in higher altitudes, making them popular along mountainsides.

Pine is not one tree species but a catch-all term for a conifers group. Besides, there are multiple types to use for woodworking projects.

They include:

  • Eastern White Pine

This wood type is light yellow with soft grain lines. In addition, it is widely available in the Northern and Eastern U.S.

Although the lumber is workable with hand tools, it has multiple knots.

Eastern white pine moves and warps in new environments.

Thus, give the wood boards proper ventilation and time to acclimate to the workspace before operation.

Also, the material is softer than most American woods, featuring a 380 pounds-force Janka hardness rating.

The Janka hardness score comes from a test measuring wood species density.

For example, White Oak has a 1,360 lbf rating, whereas Cherry is a 995 lbf.

  • Southern Yellow Pine

Southern Yellow Pine is also the Longleaf Pine. Further, it is the densest, with an 870 lbf Janka rating.

The wood is also warmer yellow than its counterpart. 

Thanks to its durability, Southern Yellow Pine is perfect for framing timber. In addition, it is plentiful in the Southeastern U.S.

Thus, the wood is available to meet your woodworking needs.

  • Ponderosa Pine

This pine is the western cousin of Eastern White pine. It has similar qualities, including the general hue and a 460 lbf Janka rating.

Ponderosa pine is softer than other hard pine or yellow species despite being in the Yellow Pine category.

Pros and Cons of Pine Wood


Pine has general pros such as:

  • Availability. Pine is available in the United States. Besides, you can purchase it at almost any hardware or big box store for quick impromptu projects.
  • Furnishing. The wood works well with clear-film building formulas. Thus, you can apply urethane and Shellac to deliver a crisp, clean, and warm surface.
  • Workability. Pinewood is operable with hand tools. In addition, it leaves the workstation smelling delightful.

However, the cons are as follows:

  • Machinability. Although pinewood machines well, it is a resinous material. Therefore, it leaves some pitch on saw blades and cutter heads.

In addition, although you can clean the tools with soap and a stiff paintbrush, it is still an extra hassle.

  • Staining. The wood does not work well with dye or stain. Further, you can use pre-stain conditioners to help balance out blotchiness.
  • Instability. Pine needs enough time to acclimate to the area. Otherwise, using it immediately leads to warping.

Pine is suitable for multiple applications, including:

  • Timber Framing. Extensive pine timbers are perfect for timber-framed homes, churches, and barns.
  • Furniture. Pine is a staple in most woodworkers’ workshops, thanks to its workability and availability. You can even use it in commercially fabricated furniture like beds and couches.
  • Decking. Pressure-treated pine comes in handy in exterior construction applications, like decks. In addition, copper and arsenic treatment thwarts insects and slows rot.
  • Stick Frame Construction. Most modern homes’ parts feature pinewood from 2x4s to window sills.

Pine’s regional availability affects pricing. For example, Southern Yellow Pine is pricier in the Northeastern U.S.

However, the wood is more affordable than domestic hardwoods like Walnut or Cherry.

In addition, it is a better choice for beginner to intermediate woodworkers intending to improve their expertise.

Expect to pay $2.50 to $7 per board foot, depending on whether the wood is pre-surfaced or rough.

Also, wider boards are more expensive than narrow ones.

How Do You Prepare Pine for Staining?

Pine is difficult to stain because of its uneven grain pattern and soft texture.

Also, tinting the lumber results in eyesores like gray colors, blotches, and grain reversal.

Fortunately, there is a way out!

The secret to a fantastic finish is to seal the surface before applying the stain.

This way, you prevent the lumber from unevenly soaking the formula.

In addition, it is prudent to prepare the surface adequately to guarantee a professional outcome.

The preparation process is as follows:

Sand the lumber with low-grit sandpaper, around 100-grit, to remove blemishes. Further, go through the surface using broad, looping circular motions.

The first pass wears down small ridges, knotholes, and contours. Thus, you can deliver a more even finish.

In addition, sanding opens up the wood pores and allows the stain to penetrate better.

Consider using a sanding block as it allows you to apply more consistent pressure than handheld sandpaper sheets.

Next, use a higher grit to smooth the lumber. The recommended grit is 150 to 200-grit for a better outcome.

Additional sanding also ensures the wood properly blends before receiving the stain.

Also, remember to go over cut ends when working with raw pine boards.

The other step involves scrubbing the wood with a soft sponge. Wet the accessory and squeeze it to wring out excess moisture.

Run the damp sponge over the surface from end to end and use heavy, sweeping strokes.

In addition, follow the wood grain’s direction to raise it appropriately.

The process also restores the grain and picks up loose dust and debris.

Moreover, sanding compresses the wood grain.

Therefore, you need some moisture to restore the surface fibers to their natural position.

Brush on two wood conditioner coats. Spread the formula over every exposed wood area, including the ends.

The first layer soaks into the wood instantly. Then, the second coat pools on the grain.

Touch up conditioned sections first periodically when staining a larger workpiece.

It is advisable to keep the surface wet during work.

Pre-sealing pine wood evens out the empty spaces in the grain. Thus, the stain stands out boldly without penetrating too deep into the lumber.

Use a clean cloth to clear the excess wood conditioner. Ensure there is no standing moisture or wet spots.

Next, wipe down every treated part. Too much sealant fills the wood pores and prevents stain absorption.

Give the project two to three hours to dry. Then, store it in a cool, clean area with low humidity.

Once the sealant sets, you can stain successfully without stressing about creating a blotchy mess.

How to Stain Pine 

Staining pine is pretty straightforward, especially after wood conditioning.

In addition, it is prudent to finish it to secure the stain job.

The first step when staining pine involves soaking a small stain amount onto a chisel-tipped brush or scrap cloth.

Then, transfer the formula to the workpiece.

Start spreading the stain across the wood’s surface back and forth or in eccentric circles using smooth strokes.

Further, be conservative. Consider layering on coats little by little when delivering a darker color.

In addition, use a sponge brush when covering recessed nooks, corners, and other hard-to-reach areas.

Continue rubbing or brushing the formula in all directions until you cover all the wood’s edges.

Look out for a light and consistent finish. If the surface is too light or dark in one area, you have not spread the stain well.

Also, do not forget to stain the boards or blocks’ end grain.

Give the wood a minute or two to absorb the stain. Then, run a separate, clean rag along the surface to collect excess finish.

The remaining or pooling stain may alter the lumber’s color. Thus, please do not skip this step.

Fortunately, you should not get unsightly appearance defects, like grain reversal and blotching, thanks to preliminary sealing.

Let the first stain coat dry to the touch before adding subsequent coats.

Otherwise, each layer will compete with the others, leading to a muddy surface.

Cover the project with a newspaper sheet or tarp to prevent the finish from rubbing off on objects.

Please be patient. The stain may take up to 24 hours to dry thoroughly.

Brush on a second and even a third coat until you deliver the desired color.

Also, remember the finish will retain the shade you see after wiping the excess formula.

Consider getting a darker stain if the workpiece does not deliver the desired shade after three coats.

However, do not overdo it. You cannot take back the color after applying it.

Test the wood to ensure it’s dry. Dab it with your finger’s pad or a paper towel’s corner and observe.

The stain is too wet if any color comes off, making it unready for a topcoat.

In addition, never apply a sealant on a wet stain. Otherwise, you will ruin all your hard work.

Wipe the surface with a microfiber cloth after confirming it is completely dry.

This way, you remove dust and debris and avoid sealing them on the surface.

Also, use a gentle touch to avoid smudging or removing the stain.

Cover every stained wood part with a clear coat to guarantee superior protection.

An excellent clear coat locks the wood’s rich finish and safeguards it from water damage and general wear and tear.

Further, allow the first coat to dry before adding a second one.

Luckily, any varnish, polyurethane, and lacquer sealant suitable for natural woods will deliver a professional outcome.

It is advisable to go for water-based sealants as they dry quicker than other formulas.

But please avoid applying the clear coat too heavily. Otherwise, the finish will run.

Allow the finish 24 hours to solidify and avoid using or handling the workpiece in the meantime.

Alternatively, let the project sit overnight.

Either way, you’ll eventually marvel at how incredible pine can look after finishing.

Here’s a Video On How to Stain Pine:

What To Know About Pine Wood Stain

Pine offers multiple advantages for woodworking projects. It is affordable and readily available.

In addition, the wood features naturally bright colors and incredible grain patterns.

Even better, these designs stand out after applying stain, making the workpiece more sophisticated.

Therefore, it is vital to understand how various wood stains work.

However, there is no such product as pine wood stain. All formulas work well on different lumber, pine included.

But staining pine is not as straightforward as it appears. There are a few considerations to make. They include:

  • Absorption

Unlike other wood species, Pine stains differently from one spot to another.

In addition, some surfaces end up darker and others lighter, producing a blotchy and uneven finish.

  • Pre-Stain Conditioner

Brush this formula on bare wood to guarantee uniform coverage.

In addition, the product evens out the lumber’s stain absorption, making it more attractive.

  • Wiping Off Excess

Depending on the stain type and color, you’ll need shop towels after each application.

They help wipe off excess formula before it thoroughly soaks into the lumber.

Some stains, like dark oil-based formulas, can darken the pine project more than necessary.

  • Stain Color

Wood stains are available in multiple colors and transparencies. Thus, please do not risk your pinewood project on guesswork.

Purchase a few stain colors and types and test them on scrap wood.

Then, decide what you like before investing time and effort in the staining job.

  • Stain Type

We have three primary stain categories: Oil-based, water-based, and gel stains.

Each product has pros and cons, so consider getting the best for your work.

Oil-based stains are more durable and need less maintenance, while water-based formulas dry quicker and have no odor.

On the other hand, gel stains are thicker: and thus easier to apply than water- and oil-based options.

They also deliver a perfect blend of bright yet clear colors.

Best Pine Wood Stains

The best overall wood stain is a Varathane oil-based formula. It dries noticeably faster than most oil-based products and is available in many colors.

The stain has lighter shades to accommodate various pine staining projects.

You also need staining wipes when staining pine.

Further, most Minwax staining wipes do the job.

They are easy, fast, exceptionally color-rich, and deliver a nearly foolproof application.

The product delivers a professional-looking surface without bothering with paintbrushes.

In addition, it is a water-based product and thus swells or raises the grain.

So, lightly sand the first coat before adding the second one.

An oil-based gel stain from General Finishes is another option to deliver a professional and vibrant-looking color.

It is easy to apply and features a scant smell.

Alternatively, you can get dark oil-based stains. They accentuate the wood grain’s beauty while delivering a rich color.

However, although you will need several coats, some patience will deliver stunning results.

Finally, consider an outdoor-rated oil-based stain and sealer for superior protection on decks, fences, and exterior furniture.

The formula penetrates the lumber deeply while delivering a protective seal.

Therefore, it lasts longer than other outdoor stain products.

How Do You Use Wood Conditioner On Pine?

Applying a wood conditioner is not just taking a paintbrush and smearing it on the lumber.

There are a few critical steps to adhere to for a successful result.

  • Step 1

Prepare the wood and ensure it has no structural blemishes.

Structural faults refer to cracks, flaws, and damaged parts. Therefore, conduct a thorough inspection to identify potential problems. 

Use a wood filler to repair tiny holes, long cracks, and crevices.

  • Step 2

Sand the wood surface gently after filling damaged areas.

The process helps remove small spots and blemishes that otherwise go unnoticed.

Moreover, sanding ensures the wood is ready for the conditioner and the stain.

  • Step 3

Vacuum clean the wood to remove all dust and dirt. Then, apply the wood conditioner.

You’ll need a treated wooden surface, a brush, a watch or device to keep time, a cloth to wipe excess conditioner, a water or oil-based wood conditioner, and a brush.

Next, check out the procedure below:

  • Apply the wood conditioner to the wood. Be liberal with the formula and cover the entire surface.
  • Let the project sit for about five minutes. Then, wipe the excess conditioner with a clean cloth.
  • Wait ten minutes after wiping and get ready for staining.

However, not all surfaces are ready in ten minutes or with only one wood conditioner coating.

Apply another layer when you notice the wood absorbing the formula too quickly.

On the other hand, do not let the wood conditioner settle on the wood for more than two hours.

Otherwise, it will be very challenging for the stain to work.

Pine needs a wood conditioner to deliver a successful staining job.

Further, the wood is difficult to stain because of an uneven grain pattern.

As a result, the stain penetrates unevenly, resulting in a blotchy finish.

Thankfully, you can avoid the above by applying wood conditioner before staining.

The formula soaks into the lumber and controls the fiber’s stain absorption.

Hence, you are sure of an even stain coat without streaks and blotches.

In addition, using a pre-stain wood conditioner and stain from the same manufacturer helps avoid incompatibility issues.

Most manufacturers recommend sanding the surface after applying a wood conditioner.

But the decision depends on the formula brand at hand.

For instance, an oil-based wood conditioner does not need sanding, whereas a water-based one raises the grain and thus needs sanding.

How Soon Can I Stain After Applying Wood Conditioner?

You can stain the wood 30 minutes after applying a conditioner, but not longer than two hours.

In addition, never let the conditioner dry overnight before applying the stain.

The ideal drying conditions for the product are 20 degrees Celsius or 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 to 70% humidity.

Anything higher or lower will affect the waiting time.

Luckily, the dried wood conditioner does not harm the lumber.

All you need to do is apply more formula amounts depending on your finishing plan.

Also, since the conditioner is a thin varnish, briefly sand the surface with medium or fine grit sandpaper.

The exercise removes the finish and allows you to start the process again.

Lastly, leaving wood conditioner for too long is no reason to stress. Quick sanding will remove the dried formula on the workpiece.

Thus, you are ready to continue finishing.

Will Stained Pine Darken Over Time?

Pine darkens over time and adopts a rich yellowish shade. Therefore, it is advisable to use water-based transparent finishes.

In addition, keep the wood away from the sun as sunlight fastens the darkening process.

Wood stains are perhaps the most common finish on pine boards and plywood.

Also, pine is affordable, and its light color makes it appear like a black canvas.

But sometimes, woodworkers want to add more sophistication by adding some color.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of these questions are:

  • Does Pine Stain Like Birch?

Although staining Birch and Pine is challenging, working with Birch is easier.

The wood delivers a perfect finish as long as you prepare it correctly.

Birch is softer than other hardwoods. Further, its wood grain is quite absorbent and does not hold stains well.

However, follow the proper guidelines and guarantee satisfactory results from staining Birch.

  • Does Pine Stain Like Spruce?

Pine does not stain like Spruce.

Generally, pine is difficult to stain, whereas Spruce is easy to pigment.

In addition, the latter has an open cell structure, allowing it to accept stains evenly.

Spruce quickly absorbs more stain amounts uniformly. Thus, it delivers perfect coverage without needing a wood conditioner.

  • Does Pine Stain Like Maple?

Maple and pine are challenging to stain. For instance, maple has a dense and tight grain structure.

It also gets streaks and blotches because the surface absorbs stains unevenly.

Overall, staining maple is more difficult to stain than pine. The former is hardwood with a denser wood structure than softwood pine.

Maple soaks in wood stain pigments faster than needed. Thus, staining it is an uphill task.

However, staining maple and pine is possible if you adhere to the recommended procedures.

  • Does Pine Stain Like Alder?

Pine and Alder are challenging to stain and deliver streaks and blotches.

They do not accept stains well and need a wood conditioner before the topcoat.

However, Red Alder is perfect for finishing.

But it is still advisable to use a wood conditioner to guarantee even absorption and a uniform appearance.

  • What Do I Check for in a Good Wood Stain?

Getting the best wood stain is everything.

Further, a darker stain may make the room appear smaller, while a lighter option may not match your decor.

Also, assess how the stain reacts to the wood type before purchase.

Some stains accentuate the lumber’s natural elements, whereas others create a more uniform tone.

For instance, oil-based stains penetrate deeper and deliver a deeper color.

Conversely, water-based formulas bring out the wood’s color.

Alternatively, you can go for gel stains, which deliver a more uniform coating.

The right stain also depends on location. For example, a deck stain should be water-resistant to prevent splintering, warping, and cracking.

Stains change appearance in various lighting conditions. Test the formula in your home and evaluate how it reacts to the lighting.

For instance, an incandescent bulb generally delivers a warmer tone than fluorescent lights.

Lastly, assess areas where the sun shines on outdoor wood. Natural light also changes the surface’s appearance.

Test a small area and examine it over a few days.

  • Why Should I Use a Wood Conditioners?

Natural lumber is among the most sought-after products for exterior and interior projects.

Further, woodworkers use wood conditioners for various reasons.

However, the most common reason is to enhance the wood’s beauty.

You must wonder why pure and raw wood aesthetics need additional enhancement.

Well, while the material is breathtakingly beautiful, it has challenges.

For instance, matching the wood’s natural tone with different home elements is not easy.

Fortunately, wood conditioners solve the issue effortlessly.

You can match the formula’s color tone with almost every indoor and outdoor home element.

Also, it is not the wood conditioner that does all the excellent work.

The wood stain also helps match the wood’s tone with other objects.

The wood conditioning process follows a strict pattern. For example, condition the wood before staining it with a wood stain.

In addition, ensure you prepare the wood. Fill any holes and sand the surface to guarantee a smooth finish.

  • Does Wood Conditioner Go Bad?

Wood conditioners go bad if you expose them to extreme humidity, temperatures, or airflow. 

Further, you will know the product is not fit when it separates into a solid part and a liquid portion.

So, if the formula is still a single liquid, it is good and usable.

  • When Shouldn’t I Use Wood Conditioner

The wood conditioner comes in handy before staining.

But it is unnecessary after applying the topcoat unless you want to apply another stain coat.

Sometimes, the conditioner is irrelevant before applying some finishes.

Besides, the formula may prevent the top coat from adhering or curing correctly.

Thus, wait at least 24 hours for the wood conditioner to dry thoroughly before adding the finish.

Please avoid applying a wood conditioner before painting a surface.

Generally, paint lies on the wood and does not soak into the fibers. Hence, the conditioner serves no purpose.

Instead, apply a primer that hides wood tannins and knots. It also helps the paint finish adhere better to the workpiece.

On top of that, ensure you apply the correct wood conditioner.

The formula should match the stain type. For instance, use an oil-based conditioner when working with an oil-based stain.

Lastly, apply a Shellac coat between coats when mixing water and oil-based formulas.

This way, you’ll keep the products separate and allow the topcoat to adhere appropriately.

  • What Alternatives to Wood Conditioner Do I Use for Pine?

Fortunately, there are multiple options when you do not have a wood conditioner.

Also, since the formula is thinned finish, thinning most products will deliver a quality wood conditioner.

Below are some recommended recipes:

  • Polyurethane and Mineral Spirits. Blend one part oil-based polyurethane with two parts mineral spirit.

This mixture is perhaps the closest to commercial wood conditioners in the stores.

  • Shellac and Denatured Alcohol. Mix equal portions of Shellac and denatured alcohol. However, ensure you use a premixed and wax-free Shellac product.
  • Lacquer and Lacquer Thinner. Mix one part of lacquer with three parts of Lacquer thinner.

Ensure each recipe dries fully before applying the stain. But remember, the duration varies depending on the used product.

Thus, check the lacquer, Shellac, or polyurethane container for accurate estimations.

Moreover, the DIY wood conditioner should not need a longer drying time than the undiluted base’s duration.

Alternatively, you can reduce the wood’s stain absorption if you do not have the above products.

Apply the stain with a rag instead of a foam paintbrush. It limits the formula amount getting into the wood.

You can also use Gel stains and expect reduced stain absorption.

The formula is a thickened oil-based stain and thus soaks into the wood slowly.

Gel stain has multiple applications, but its primary use is staining soft and porous lumber.

  • How Do I Test for The Desired Stain Shade?

Prepare a test board using your chosen sealer concentration. Let it dry, and then sand it.

Next, stain the entire board. And allow it to cure thoroughly before adding a subsequent stain coat.

Repeat the process until you deliver the desired color depth.

Lastly, examine the outcome in different locations and lights. This way, you see which stain amount gives appealing results.

  • Does Glaze Help When Staining Pine?

The wood glaze is media applied to stained pine to deliver an antique effect.

It has a better consistency than paint and requires an extended working time.

Brush a thin glaze layer and wipe off the excess with a clean rag.

Also, you can get a darker surface by leaving some glaze behind during the wipe.

Or you can keep it light by wiping the wood thoroughly.

Next, give the product 24 hours to cure before sealing with a clear topcoat.

This way, you’ll have a beautiful finish with a deep color and no defects or blotches.

  • How Can I Identify Pine?

Pinewood is identified by its straight grain, yellow color, and large knots.

So, feel the surface and look out for a smooth grain texture.

Also, scan the wood for darker growth rings.

Remember, it is hard to distinguish the wood type if the furniture is weathered or stained, especially when looking at color.

Focus more on other attributes like the grain pattern in such cases.

Lastly, search for images of various wood types on the Internet.

Examine and compare them with your furniture’s appearance.

  • How Can I Identify Softwoods?

Examine the lumber and look out for dents and scratches. Note that harder woods are more resistant to dents and scratches.

Therefore, the lumber is softwood if it is scratch and dent-free.

Moreover, a furniture piece with multiple dents and scratches is most likely softwood.

Alternatively, scratch an inconspicuous furniture area with your fingernail and observe. If the surface is easy to mark, then the wood is softwood.


Generally, pine is challenging to finish. Besides, the project delivers a blotchy surface, resulting in grain reversal and gray colors.

These issues make the stained wood unnatural and do not deliver the desired color.

But really, 

Does Pine Stain Well?

Although the wood does not stain flawlessly, you can minimize complications by using a wood conditioner.

The strategy prevents the lumber from absorbing more formula randomly in different areas. Thus, it is easy to deliver a uniform finish.

In addition, practice the correct application technique before handling the main project. Thereby, you keep blotches and streaks at bay.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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