Can I Sand Stained Wood? ( Sanding after Staining)

Can I Sand Stained Wood_Staining wood can be an effective way to match the color of one item of furniture to another, and can be used as a fun DIY project at home.

But you want to make sure that you don’t create a shade too dark on a piece of wood, and want to create a finish that is as smooth as possible.

So, should you sand after staining a piece of wood? What happens if you stain a piece of wood too dark?

Can I Sand Stained Wood? 

It is often best not to sand stained wood and it should be avoided, unless small fibers or pieces of the wood stick up from the surface after staining. This shouldn’t happen if you: sand it thoroughly beforehand, applied thin layers of stain, and gently wiped excess stain off after application. However, some types of stain do increase the chance of a rough surface, and a light sanding will be required.

Sanding Stained Wood

If you do find yourself in the situation where the surface has roughened after applying stain, such as with birch, which is particularly prone to become prickly once stain has dried, then you want to make sure you sand the wood gently. If you sand too hard, you will end up sanding through the stain and removing some of it, creating an uneven finish on the surface. You also do not want to sand along the grain, but slightly off of it, to ensure the fibers are torn off, and do not settle back into the grain.

What happens when you sand stained wood?

What should happen is that the small fibers are torn from the surface of the wood and can be removed with a damp cloth. This will help create a nice smooth surface, and allow you to apply sealant, if you so wish, or to leave it as is. Sanding should only be used when the surface is not already smooth, and so the desired effect for sanding is to create a surface that is not abrasive to the touch. Sanding a stained surface that is already smooth risks damaging a good staining job, and can leave an uneven distribution of stain.

How long after staining can you sand?

If sanding does need to take place, you will know within 15-20 minutes after the stain has been applied. What makes stain different to paint is that stain soaks into the grain, unlike paint which remains on top of the wood surface, and therefore creates a permanent finish. This also means that the wood can swell when stain is applied, and cause the grain to raise. If you feel the surface, and you can tell the grain has raised, then you will want to remove the excess stain, and gently sand the surface to ensure a smooth finish. Depending on stain, you should be able to sand after 6-10 hours after applying the stain, Remember to let it FULLY Cure before attempting to sand it!

sanding stained wood

How to sand stained wood

  1. Once the stain has been applied, and you have wiped off any excess, you want to check the surface, after around 15 minutes, for any fibers that are roughening the surface. If this has occurred, and only if this has occurred, will you want to sand the stained wood.
  2. Some people like to apply a layer of finish or polyurethane first, to ensure the staining is not damaged, before using sand paper. It isn’t necessary, but can allow for a better finish.
  3. With a fine sandpaper, gently rub it over the surface, slightly off the grain in order to tear the fibers and hair from the surface. Just doing this once or twice over should be enough, you do not want to do it too much, or too hard, or you’ll ruin the stain job.
  4. Then, with a damp cloth, gently go over the surface to pick up all the debris from the sanding, and remove it from the wood. Sometimes, going over with a dry cloth after that can help ensure that absolutely no hairs or fibers are left behind.
  5. You can keep repeating these steps, apply polyurethane, sanding, and then wiping, for a couple of layers until the surface is at a level of smoothness you are happy with.
  6. After you apply your finish, sealant or polyurethane as the final layer, do not sand after, as it should smooth on its own.


Do I actually need to sand after staining

It entirely depends on how the swelling of the wood, during the staining process, affects the grain, and whether hair-like fibers emerge from the surface. This occurs more with certain types of wood, like birch, and occurs more with some times of stain, like water-based stain. If you wait 15 minutes, and the surface is at a smoothness you are happy with, then there is no need to sand. Alternatively, if you have stained a surface that won’t be touched or seen, i.e. the back of a bookshelf, then there’s no harm in not sanding.

Do I need to sand stained wood before priming

Primer itself is an undercoat before paint is applied, it is a way to ensure paint adheres well to a surface. For this reason, it does not matter how the wood looks before the primer goes on, as the paint will cover it anyway. Therefore, sanding is advised, even if it does ruin the staining job, as it will ensure a smooth surface for both the primer and the paint. Furthermore, it will remove any finish that may have been layered on top of the stain, which may not be so obvious if you are a DIY newbie.

Do I need to sand stained wood before painting

If you are painting stained wood, then you will not be able to see the stain once you have finished painting, and therefore the stain will have no effect on the process. For this reason, you should treat stained wood like any other piece of wood, and sand it down to ensure a smooth paint job. The process of stain itself should not change the wood to warrant it any special treatment, unless of course fibers have emerged from the surface from the swelling caused by staining. In that case, you definitely want to sand the wood, but you should be sanding it anyway.

What’s the most effective way to smooth out stained wood?

While removing hairs and fibers from the wood’s surface is relatively easy, it’s the delicateness of sanding, and using the correct amount of pressure, that is more difficult. To prevent ruining the staining job, I recommend using 240 grit sand paper for the job. The fineness of this sandpaper will ensure that you only pick up the smallest flecks of wood, without removing the stain. In terms of pressure, you want to barely apply any at all, not much more than the pressure of the actual paper itself. While staining does soak itself into the wood, it is still delicate after application and can come off easily.

What do I do if my wood stain is too dark?

While it can be frustrating when the stain comes out too dark, it isn’t the end of the world and there are some solutions that can help achieve a lighter shade of stain. One of the most cost effective ways is to use fine steel wool in combination with mineral spirits. Soaking the steel wool in warm water, gently go over the surface of the wood to remove some of the stain. Then, using the mineral spirits soaked into a cloth, wipe across the surface. You should notice the wood becoming lighter. Repeat the steel wool and mineral spirit steps until you are happy with the shade of wood stain.

Will sanding stained wood lighten it

While sanding stained wood will lighten a dark stain in some cases, it will usually result in uneven stains, or removing the stain altogether. Some parts of the wood will contain different cells, and therefore will absorb the stain differently. For this reason, if you begin to sand the surface, you may expose cells that absorbed the stain less so than cells on the surface, resulting in a uneven staining across the wood. Alternatively, the staining could be taken off altogether when sanding, as it doesn’t generally run that deep into the wood. It is better to use bleach or remove with steel wool.

Can I realistically sand stained wood to make it lighter & How to achieve it

If the stain has been applied in several coats, it may be possible to sand the previous layer off, and make it slightly lighter. However, because of the nature of staining, in which it soaks into the wood, it isn’t always that simple to just sand it off. It may be best to try and sand off enough of the wood stain, in order to make its color lighter than one you would want, and try applying the stain again. However, there are more effective methods for removing stain than sandpaper.

How to lighten wood stain without sanding

Apart from the aforementioned steel wool technique, you can also use bleach. Firstly, apply finish stripper, via a paintbrush, onto the wood’s surface. After 20 minutes, remove it using a scraper. This is to pick off the top layer of stain, and allowing the bleach to soak fully into the wood. This is why bleach is a better method than sanding, because it is able to get deeper into the wood, mimicking the application of stain. Apply the bleach to the wood and wait 30 minutes before adding white vinegar to stop the bleach’s lightening process.

You should wipe it down with a damp cloth, and then wait 24 hours. Sometimes, it can take hours before the wood has fully changed color, and so you may be happier with it in the morning. However, you will want to apply another coat of wood stain, to achieve a nice finish, so the bleached wood should be slightly lighter than the shade you desire.