Staining Before Grain Filler: Good or Bad Idea

So, the boards for your wood project are ready, and you’re about to fill and finish that stellar piece. However, in a bid to leave no stone unturned you want to stain it but you are unsure whether to stain before or after using the grain filler. What would a seasoned woodworker do? You’re in the right place because this piece has the answers to your questions.

Most experts recommend that, if you must use stain on wood, you should apply the grain filler first and then stain, especially for oak, walnut, and other types of open-grained woods. To achieve a consistent appearance on the wood’s surface, for all species, i.e., for the pores and the wood to have the same color, you should apply grain filler first. For contrast in the grain, put on the stain before sealing the pores with a grain filler.

As you can see, it all depends on the wood type you’re dealing with and how you want the finished project to appear. We’ll be discussing more on staining before applying grain filler in the following sections, so do well to stay right here.

Do You Stain The Wood Before Or After Grain Filler?

The results you desire determine the method you’d adopt. Because both ways work and deliver different results, you’d need to answer the questions: Do I want the filler and the wood to have the same color? Or do I want a contrast? Do I want to accentuate the grain’s look?

If you want the filler to have the natural color of the wood, then you should apply the grain filler before staining. But before you do this, test to confirm that the filler you’re using accepts your stain. Do this with scrap pieces of the exact wood species you’re working with.

For some wood species, the rate of stain absorption is uneven, and the board may end up looking blotchy. Filling the pores helps even the surface and prevents discrepancies in the grain porosity so that staining would be more uniform.

If you want the color of the filler and the wood to be different, you should first stain before applying your filler. Staining before filling gives an enhanced contrast in the grain and pore structure of the wood. 

Like we said before, the final look and feel you’re aiming at determines which way you’d go.

Can you use stain after grain filler?

Yes, definitely. This is the recommended approach to getting a piano-like surface. To avoid inconsistencies, it is best to get the pores filled up before you stain. Because once you stain, there’s no comeback from there if a mistake happens. And these imperfections are not exactly forgiving.

How to Hide Wood Filler after Staining?

It is highly unlikely that you’d want inconsistent staining in the pore and the grain of your project; unless you are intentionally aiming for a contrast. Inconsistencies could result from differences in the colors of the filler and the dye stain. When present, these blemishes are usually clearly seen and permanent. So naturally, you’d want to hide the filler.

There are several ways to try this.

Tint and match

You can tint your grain filler to match the color of the stain you’re using and apply it. Then abrade it back before continuing on the process of finishing.

Using a darker stain

Alternatively, you could apply a darker dye stain first and leave it for a while to seep in and dry. Then sand it back and spread over the final coat to give you a look you were originally aiming at. This method works well in enhancing the overall appearance of your project.

Darker stains work better than lighter ones in concealing wood filler, and this method should be your go-to option. But it is best to avoid dye stains when using wood fillers because it is hard to find one that would match the color of your wood. Better yet, try painting the board. With paints, the wood fillers become almost unnoticeable.

Do I Need a Sealer Coat?

Yes, you do. Sealing and filling the pores are not the same thing. Each step is essential to achieving stellar results. A sealer coat is the first coat of finish you spread over your project.

A sealer coat helps with even dye absorption and moisture resistance. It also locks in subsequent coats of finish that you apply to the wood. It seals the wood but doesn’t fill the pores. After a sealer coat, you sand back and spread over your pore filler on the board.

Sealing, Filling and Finishing

Some woodworkers don’t use a grain filler. They apply multiple coats of finish and then sand back the surface. This is very practical for close-grained woods like hard maple, beech, and cherry because they have smaller pores. But not for open-grained woods.

For species like oak, you have to do all three. Seal using clear shellac of any other sealer coat and sand it back. Then fill up the pores with any grain filler of your choice in as many applications are needed, sand it back again. Then you finish it up with the stain, dye or paint.

Here’s a detailed explanation of the steps above;

Step 1: Sand

Use an oscillating sander to abrade the surface and then follow it with sandpaper. Wipe the dust off with a brush or piece of cloth.

Step 2: Seal

Apply a single coat of sanding sealer with a cotton cloth. You only need to spread a small amount evenly over the wood’s surface. Please leave it to cure for some minutes and sand it back. Sealer coats aid even absorption of your dye.

Step 3: Fill

Apply the grain filler using a plastic spreader. Spread it out thinly and evenly so that the filler stays only in the pores. Sand it down using sandpaper.

Repeat step 3 about two more times. You need about three applications of the grain filler generally. Just note that the depth of the grain determines how many times you’d apply the grain filler. Brush off any dust residue from sanding. And finally, apply your stain, dye or paint and finish the process.  

Final Thoughts

Unless you use a specific accentuating technique on a particular type of wood with a particular grain depth like oak, you should stain first and then fill after. But for oak and even porosities, seal the pores first with a grain filler and then apply the stain.

Or you could try the two methods, i.e., before and after, and see which gives you what you desire. Whichever way you eventually choose, try it out on scrap wood first. Use the same species of wood you’d use for your project.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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