How To Shade With Stain

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Since I spend a lot of my time refinishing and painting furniture, I’m always looking to try out a new technique with the hope of adding something new to my bag of tricks. When I came across a picture of a beautifully stained flower on the top of a table top, I immediately wanted to try and replicate it. Problem is, I’m no artist. I’m somewhat crafty — as long as it’s easy — and have a decent eye for color and design, but when it comes to putting pen to paper I can barely draw a stick figure. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying though.

Turns out shading with stain is pretty easy. I tried the technique on a scrap piece of pine to get the feel for it and now I’m anxious to try it on a bigger scale soon.

What you’ll need:
* Drop cloth
* Pencil
* Wood – sanded smooth with 180- or 220-grit sandpaper
* Protective gloves
* Gel stain
* Paintbrush
* Cotton rag
* Polycrylic

Sand the surface of the wood until super smooth. Remove dust by wiping with a tack cloth or damp rag.

Cover your work space with a cloth or plastic drop cloth. Or use a trash bag, like me.

Use a pencil to draw your design on the wood. I free-handed a flower. It’s not perfect but it doesn’t matter. If you’re really a perfectionist you can print a picture from your computer, trace it onto a transparency, shine it onto your wood piece with a projector, and then trace it with a pencil. (This would be good if you’re working on a large table top.)

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Stir the gel stain until it is mixed thoroughly and has a smooth and thin consistency. Wear your gloves!


Dip a paintbrush into the stain, making sure to remove any globs of stain from the brush, and trace over the pencil lines of 1/2 of a petal. Begin in the center of the flower and work out, always starting at the fat part of the petal. Fill in no more than 1/2 of each petal with stain and allow it to sit for a minute or two. Fill even less if you like; it’s all personal preference and trial and error.


With your index finger wrapped in a cotton cloth, begin spreading the stain by smoothing it out towards the end of the petal. Rub the stain into the wood and down the rest of the petal with your finger. Re-wrap your finger in a new, clean spot on the cloth before wiping the stain each time. This takes practice to get the feel of how it works and to figure out the look you prefer.

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Work your way around the flower, from the inside petals outward. As you feel more comfortable, you’ll be able to apply stain to two or three petals at a time with your brush, then move back to the first to shade while the stain soaks into the second petal, then shade the second and third petals. The longer the stain sits on the wood the deeper the color you’ll achieve once it’s wiped.

Allow the stain to dry 24 hours before applying a polycrylic top coat to seal.



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Be creative and have fun with the process.

I’ll be over at Just Mom Matters until my crafty post next month. Stop by and say hello!

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Mary Evett is best known for being a stay-at-home mom of 3 athletic boys and turning thrift shop finds into fashionable DIY projects. She has a degree in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin and spent time in the real world working in advertising and marketing, but she found her niche after becoming a mom and refinishing her first piece of furniture. She writes about her testosterone-driven life on her personal blog JustMomMatters, and is a regular contributor to ModernMom, the Bump, eHow, Examiner, GlobalPost, and SFGate. When she’s not playing the referee or writing, you’ll find her in her garage sanding, painting, cutting, or gluing something together.

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  1. Margy Allen says:

    Looks very pretty Mary.

  2. Mary I saw that piece too. Did you see the video of her painting it? You did a fabulous job recreating it! Kudos to you for having the courage to give it a whirl…it intimidating the heck out of me.

  3. Very cool! I can only imagine how great this would look in a room!