a few specific questions about stains/staining

Recently I was asked by a fellow contractor about staining of woodwork. I thought it would be helpful to show my responses.

Thank you for the email and questions. Every contractor has their own favorites and “best” way of doing things. The best advice is to utilize the tools and equipment you have to make the process repeatable every time. With that said here are my preferences and responses.

What type of stain would you use on previously finished cabinets? Gel stain? I have Never used Gel stains. This is a tough question because stain is typically what is used to color/stain the wood. The real issue comes into what was used to seal the stain. Lacquer, water based or urethane, polyurethane, water based or oil? These are the issue that typically determine what will be used on top of previously stained wood work. I’m a big fan of conversion varnish which I will have a blog post I will share soon regarding the steps and what you can do with it.
What type of clear coat would you use over newly stained cabinets or trim? I would push for the conversion varnish or lacquer. The fast drying benefits of these products make it so easy to complete projects timely. The downfall is the prep and the containment necessary to complete the work.
I don’t know if you deal with new construction, but do you know if most contractors are staining to get a stain grade finish, or are they just using a tinted lacquer? I know this is an odd question, but we have never used lacquer and I am wondering if we should focus on using lacquers, or if we should focus on staining. Again, staining is the coloring part of the equation. It’s typically an HVLP that you will dedicate to conditioner and stain, then use a dedicated HVLP or air assisted sprayer for you finish/clear coats on top of the stain.

Bottom line is it’s all smelly and a process. Quality comes from the prep. Invest in a very nice vacuum, spray set up, lots of sanding sponges, fans (to remove spray dust) and dedicate it all to only wood finishing. Lacquers and varnishes fly everywhere so introducing pieces to the final clear coats is important. Remember to spray horizontal pieces first to keep them wet to allow for overspray to fall and hit a wet surface.

This stuff can be really fun and its very rewarding to see the results, but it’s not easy. If your bidding this kind of work realize that its “All in the Prep” and with this prep that means no dust anywhere at anytime.

Hope this helps.