Step-by-Step: How To Fix Too Much Stain On Wood




Too much stain on wood

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If you are a beginner woodworker, you may have come across a situation where you have applied too much stain to your wood. I have certainly done this. A number of scenarios could occur where this may happen, and the method to remove the stain will depend on those scenarios.

I will give you some step-by-step guidelines on how to remove the excess stain on the wood for each scenario.

To remove excess stain from wood, you can use the following steps.

  1. Sand the wood with 100-grit sandpaper.
  2. Check the color, re-sand if necessary.
  3. Clean the dust off the wood.
  4. Check the final color, and apply a finish.

Other methods can be used if the stain is wet or must be removed completely.

Going overboard and applying too much stain may be considered a rookie mistake, but it is surprising how many experienced woodworkers find themselves in the same situation because they have been distracted or in a hurry, and they have ended up with the situation of too much stain on the workpiece.

So, whether woodworking is new to you or you are a seasoned veteran, here are some ways your can try to remedy the problem.

What Happens If Too Much Stain Is Applied To The Wood?

How to fix too much stain on wood

Wood stain is a coating that is intended to change the color of the raw wood that you are working with. In order to achieve this, the stain needs to penetrate the surface layers of the wood to produce the desired color.

If you apply too much of the stain, you may end up with a couple of scenarios that you need to make adjustments to in order to remedy.

See my full article on how to stain wood to be lighter.

The Stain Is Too Dark

Application of successive coats of the stain will make the stain darker and darker, changing the appearance of the original wood. If you have applied too many layers of the stain, the wood may finish much darker than you intended, and the look of the final piece may be affected.

You may have also purchased a stain that is darker than what you had intended, and you have already applied it to the workpiece, and it has turned out a little too dark for your liking.

In this particular case, you may be interested in steps you can take to remove some of the stain to restore the wood to a lighter color before applying the finish.

There are steps you can take to make adjustments to the color of the wood after too much stain has been applied, depending on if the stain is dry or still wet. We will cover these scenarios further in the article in a step-by-step process.

Excess Stain Can Be Removed Although It Requires Some Extra Work

Excess Tacky Stain Spots

Sometimes, if you apply too much stain and do not wipe the excess from the wood surface, pools of stain will remain on the surface of the workpiece. Since wood stain is intended to penetrate the wood and not sit on the surface, if it does dry on the surface, it forms a sticky, tacky spot.

This spot will never really dry out, and you will not be able to place a finish coat over that spot on the wood. If you try to put a finish over it, the finish will not adhere to these spots, and it will flake off, leaving unsightly spots on your wood surface.

There are some preventative measures you can take to stop this from happening, but if the drying process has gone too far, then you will need to apply different tactics to solve the problem.

How Do You Fix Too Much Stain On Wood?

The methods that we will explain to you are intended for different scenarios and will be different depending on how much of the stain you want to remove.

In some instances, you may just want to lighten the color of the stain, while in others, you may want to remove the stain completely. There are also different methods to use if the stain is still wet or if it has already dried.

The Wood Stain Is Too Dark

If you have applied stain to the wood and it turns out darker than what you expected, you may want to try to lighten the stain to allow more of the natural grain of the wood to show through.

Dry Stain

If the stain has already dried, it will have penetrated into the wood. The color of the stain will be lighter, deeper into the wood than it is on the surface.

  1. Sand the wood down. Use 100-grit sandpaper with a block and sand the piece down by hand. Always sand in the same direction as the grain of the wood.
  2. Check the color. As you sand the wood down, the stain will become lighter. Wipe the dust off the workpiece regularly as you work so you can check the stain color. Stop sanding once you have achieved the desired color.
  3. Clean the workpiece. Wipe the wood down with a very lightly damp cloth to remove the dust, or use a vacuum to clean the surface of the wood, or blow it down with compressed air.
  4. Evaluate the final stain color. Once you have cleaned the workpiece, you will get a better view of the final color of the stain.

Stain Is Still Wet

If the stain has not completely dried on the piece of wood and you realize it is going to be too dark, then you can follow along with these steps to lighten the stain.

  1. Apply lacquer thinner. Use a paintbrush to apply lacquer thinner on the still wet wood stain. This will wet the stain again, and the thinners will dissolve some of the stain.
  2. Quickly wipe the lacquer thinner off. You need to work quickly and use a cloth to wipe the lacquer thinner off while it is still wet. The tinners will evaporate quickly, so you will have to work in small areas you have a larger workpiece. The cloth will wipe away the excess stain that the thinners have dissolved, and it will lighten the color of the stain.
  3. Clean the wood. Clean the surface of the wood by wiping it down with a clean, dry cloth.
  4. Sand the wood. Lightly sand the wood with 150-grit sandpaper.
  5. Evaluate the color. Check the color on the wood to see if the thinners have managed to remove enough of the stain to achieve the color you were going for.

If the application of the thinners has not managed to lighten the wood enough, then you may have to wait until the stain has dried and then used the method that we have described for removing excess stain that has dried.

How To Remove Excess Tacky Stain Spots

If you have applied stain and most of the stain has dried, but there are tacky spots of stain that are not drying, then you can apply this method to remove those spots.

  1. Apply another coat of wood stain. This step may sound a little counter-intuitive, but there is a method in the madness! Wood stains have a solvent in them that thins the stain down to allow it to penetrate the wood. The solvent in the stain will dissolve the tacky spots of stain on the surface of the wood. Because you have already applied stain. This coat will not penetrate the wood if you follow it immediately with the next step.
  2. Immediately wipe the stain off. Immediately after applying the “remedy” coat of stain, wipe it off the wood with a cloth. The cloth will wipe off the excess stain, including the tacky spots before the new coat of stain has an opportunity to penetrate the wood.
  3. Allow the stain to dry. You can let the stain dry from this point, and the tacky spots should no longer be a problem.
  4. Lightly sand the wood. Give the wood a light sand with 180-grit to 220-grit sandpaper to get rid of any wood fibers that are standing up.
  5. Clean off the wood. Use a clean, slightly damp cloth to clean any dust off the wood or use a vacuum.
  6. Apply your finish of choice. Apply the final finish that you have chosen to seal the wood and protect it.

Another method to remove the tacky wood stain spots is to dampen a cloth with lacquer thinner and wipe it over the entire surface of the wood. Then, with a clean, dry cloth, wipe the thinners off the surface before it has a chance to evaporate. The thinners will dissolve the tacky wood stain sports, and the cloth will wipe them off the surface of the wood.

The tacky spots of wood stain on the surface of the wood can, however, be prevented before they become a problem.

How To Prevent Tacky Excess Wood Stain

The best way to remedy too much wood stain on the wood is to use the correct method to apply the wood stain from the outset.

The correct way to apply wood stain to prevent spots of wood stain sitting on the surface of the wood is as follows.

  1. Sand the wood. Sand the wood to a 120-grit finish. This opens up the fibers of the wood and will allow the stain to penetrate the wood more evenly.
  2. Clean the wood. Wipe all the sanding dust off the wood with a slightly damp cloth or use a vacuum cleaner to remove all the dust from the wood surface.
  3. Use a rag to apply the stain. Using a cloth, old t-shirts work well for this; apply the stain in even strokes across the full length of the timber in long, even strokes, following the grain of the wood
  4. Be careful not to drip. Do not load the cloth with too much stain that will allow it to drip from the cloth onto the wood. These drip marks will be visible later when the stain dries.
  5. Wipe the excess stain off. This is the step where many beginner woodworkers fall down. Follow the prescribed instructions on your tin of wood stain to allow a certain drying period, and then wipe the excess stain off the surface of the wood with a fresh, clean cloth. This removes excess stain from the wood and prevents the formation of those tacky spots that won’t dry.
  6. Let the stain dry. Follow the prescribed drying period for the stain that you have and allow the stain to dry thoroughly before proceeding on to the next step.
  7. Lightly sand the wood and then clean. Lightly sand the wood with 150-grit or 220-grit sandpaper. After the light sanding, clean the sanding dust from the wood with a slightly damp cloth or a vacuum cleaner.
  8. Apply your chosen finish. You can now apply the finish that you have chosen for the wood.

If you are using a very resinous wood such as pine, you will need to take some additional steps to prevent the stain from drying with spots and also to prevent the stain from becoming tacky on the surface of the wood.

Woods such as pine need an additional step before applying the stain. After step 2 in the process above, you will need to apply a pre-stain to the surface of the pine to prepare the wood to receive the stain evenly and prevent dark and light patches when the stain dries.

How To Remove Excess Stain That Has Dried

If you have applied too much stain and it has now dried darker than you anticipated, removing excess stain will be very tricky.

Once the stain has dried, it is generally set in the wood fibers, and removing is almost impossible. I have heard people saying that a paint stripper will remove it but this simply doesn’t work.

If your wood stain is dry, the only way to remove it is by sanding it out!

Use some 120-grit sandpaper and sand with the grain until you get deep enough to remove the desired amount of stain.

Use some mineral spirits to wet the surface to check on the darkness level. Mineral spirits will evaporate quickly afterward.

How To Completely Remove Wood Stain

A situation may arise where you may want to remove the stain completely from the wood and get back down to the raw wood. For this scenario, you will need a different procedure to get the wood back to its original raw state. See my full article showing exactly how to lighten dark wood or lighten your dark stain.

This job can be a little messy, so you will also need a good number of old cloths to protect your work surface.

Here are the main items you will need for this task.

  • A paintbrush.
  • Respirator or mask.
  • Safety glasses.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • A putty knife.
  • Steel wool.
  • 120-grit sandpaper and 180-grit sandpaper.
  • Wood stain stripper.
  • Mineral spirits.

The steps to remove the wood stain from the wood are fairly simple.

  • Wipe down the wood with a slightly damp cloth to clean the surface.
  • Using the paintbrush, apply the wood stain stripper to the surface of the wood.
  • Leave the stain stripper on the wood for the prescribed amount of time.
  • Scrape the surface of the wood once the stain stripper starts to lift the stain. It will come off like a thick goo.
  • Use the steel wool to lift the stain out of stubborn areas on the wood. Remember to always follow the grain of the wood.
  • Wipe the surface of the wood clean with a damp cloth and let the wood dry.
  • Sand the wood down with the 120-grit sandpaper, wipe the dust away with a cloth, and sand with the 180-grit paper.
  • Clean the dust from the wood and wipe it down with a little mineral spirits.

The wood should now be back to its raw state, and you can apply a lighter stain or apply the finish of your choice to keep the natural beauty of the wood.

Wood Stain Too Thick

If you have applied too much wood stain, you can remove the excess with some lacquer thinner and a clean cloth. You may have to do this numerous times to get the desired finish.

I recommend taking off more than you need and then reapplying the stain lighter to get a uniform finish.

Conclusion – How To Get Excess Stain Off Wood

Too much stain on the wood of your workpiece may seem like a disaster, but the situation is usually salvageable, and the problem can be remedied. If you are working with raw wood, the best way to prevent too much wood stain on the wood is to apply the wood stain in the correct manner to avoid the problem occurring in the first place.

The time it takes to perform the staining process correctly is much less than the time you will need to put in to fix the problem after the fact.

All wood stains will come with instructions from the manufacturer on how to correctly apply the product to the wood. Follow the instructions, and you should avoid any complications. If you are building your project from a resinous wood such as pine, remember to use a pre-stain before you apply the stain to the wood.


Can You Leave The Stain On Without Wiping It?

The stain should not be left to sit in one spot otherwise it will soak into the grain and leave darker spots in your finish. The stain needs to be applied to a soft cloth first and then worked into the wood surface.

How Long To Leave Wood Stain On?

Wood stain should only be left on for up to 10 minutes before the excess is removed. This time is an average and does depend on the type of stain being used and the wood species you are applying it to. See what I wrote on how long does it take wood stain to dry.

Will The Tacky Stain Eventually Dry?

Tacky wood stain will eventually dry given the right conditions. You can use a fan or some heat to speed up the drying process.

Can You Use Mineral Spirits to Remove the Excess Stain?

Mineral spirits can remove small areas of wood stain if applied liberally and worked into the surface.

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