Wipe-on remains the most popular technique for staining wood, but depending on what kind of results you’re going for, it’s not always an ideal choice. When it comes to pine, a little extra care goes a long way to produce an even stain so you don’t end up with a blotchy look or the “grain reversal” effect, wherein the more porous parts of the pine soak up more stain.
Woodworking pros often recommend a few key steps to getting a great result, including stabilizing loose knots with epoxy, sanding the whole surface thoroughly with a block, “raising the grain” with a damp sponge and applying two coats of water-based conditioner prior to water-based dye. Finally, the surface is sealed with shellac and glazed if a little extra depth is desired.
There’s an easier way – it just requires some practice. As long as you don’t mind a slight reduction in the contrast of the grain in the finished product, the spray/no wipe stain technique can provide rich, even results with an even background coloring, bringing the color of the sapwood closer to that of the heartwood.
Bob Flexner, author of “Understanding Wood Finishing” and “Flexner on Finishing,” lays out the process at Woodshop News, including proper technique and troubleshooting. In a nutshell, you can thin any stain to make it sprayable, use a spray gun for optimal coverage and keep the spray pattern as consistent as you can, being extra careful with overlaps.
You can also see an example of how it’s done in the video above.