So you want to learn how to stain a door or other types of wood. Once you've purchased new wood doors or have striped your old doors they will need to be stained then finished or clear coated (varnished).

protective clear-coating over the doors surface. Below you will find door staining instructions for either paneled or flat surfaced doors.


If your wanting to learn how to stain a door (or doors) in which you have striped of it's previous finish keep in mind that all of the old clear-coat (varnish) must be removed prior to staining. Not doing so will keep the door from taking stain.

Also, going from a darker to a lighter stain would be challenging to say the least. It's always easier to stain your doors with a darker stain than the doors where previously stained with previously.

Even so, the only way to see whether the doors will be too your liking is to stain and clear-coat one side of a door. Once your happy with the finished look proceed on to the rest of your staining project.


Stain can be wiped, brushed, rolled or sprayed on. Spray stains require a specific type of equipment along with a certain amount of application skill.

Wiping, brushing and rolling stains on the other hand come in a number of formulations including foams, gels, pastes and liquids along with different bases such as oil or water. Below I discuss oil based liquid stains because they are my preference when learning how to stain a door.

There are clear-coats that have stains in them but they lack depth and your choice of colors is limited.

Oil or alkyd stains take longer to dry and for me are easier to work with even though they are smelly. Alcohol and water based stains dry very quickly working well with smaller jobs or if your looking to clear coat immediately

I found though that slower drying stains are easier to touch up if your interior door ends up with dried on runs or smudge marks.

You will need to talk to your local home improvement retailer or paint store representative regarding the specific stain for your particular project. When you do be sure to mention the kind of door your staining e.g., interior or exterior. Doing so will insure that you acquire the proper stain and clear-coat for your how to stain a door process.


Here's a list of tools and materials to get your interior door staining completed. As every project is different you need to decide on the requirements to get the specific job done.

  • Your chosen stain (product)
  • 2-1/2" three inch sash brush and a 3" to 4" staining brush & cut can
  • Regular sized paint roller with very low nap cloth roller cover & tray
  • Box of white wiping rags
  • Rubber gloves & goggles
  • Proper face mask for the job
  • Tarps or drop cloths
  • 2x4 lumber for the woodwork to sit on while staining and drying
  • Plastic covered table/s or sawhorses with sheets of plywood
  • 2" inch putty knife
  • Wood putty same color as the stain
  • Thiner
  • Sand paper (120, & 320 to 400 grit)
  • Electric palm sander and sanding sponge
  • Tape, plastic, masking paper (as needed)
  • Good lighting & a spot light

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I find it much easier to do my staining projects in a home owners back yard or driveway. When whether conditions need to be taken into consideration a garage or basement area would be the next best choice.

Whatever you decide on be sure to place drop cloths below a saw horse/plywood setup. You'll also want to drape a nice new drop cloth over-top of the plywood to protect the door from scratching. Your sawhorse set up should be small enough under the door that your not getting stain on the draped cloth yet at the same time sized and maneuvered in a way that your door sits sturdy and won't fall over.

Your ready to start learning how to stain a door so grab one and place it on-top of the draped drop cloth.

Remember to remove any hardware (knobs/hinges) that the door may have.


With your first door set up you want to check the door (spot light) and fill any holes, divots and scratches that it may have. Wood filler colored the same as your dried stain works the best.

Proceed to filling both sides of all your doors and the door edges. Once your doors are filled lean them standing side by side up against a wall to dry. With your filler dry refill the doors again if need. Let the filler dry again then place one of the doors onto your draped cloth.

Sand the entire door using an electric palm sander (220 to 330 grit paper) followed by a sponge sander (fine grit) on the doors edges.

Be sure to keep your sander level otherwise you will create scratch marks and gouges. Sand away scratches that can't be filled along with other markings you might see.

Also, when sanding, remove as much filler as possible (doesn't stain well) while at the same time keeping the dried filler along with the door surface, flat, even, smooth and level.

Once you've filled and sanded your doors use a wide paint brush or tack cloth to remove all the dust from the surface.


Your door is know set up, sanded and the dust is removed. You want another draped table to work off of (picnic or banquet would be ideal). Place your staining tools onto the table remembering to pull on your rubber gloves and mask.

Fill a paint tray with your chosen stain (be careful this is a very messy job). When filling the tray leave about 1/3 to 1/4 of the stain in the can for dipping your 2-1/2" sash brush into it. If your stain is not pour-able then follow the directions that are recommended in regards to your specific type of product.

Start the how to stain a door process by standing at your doors edge (knob or hinge side).

Door edges can be very absorbent so you want them wet with stain but at the same time not getting stain on the side of the door you won't be working on. Keep a sharp eye out for wandering stain and be sure to wipe the excess away immediately.

Once one edge is stained wipe it using a white cotton staining rag then proceed on to your other edges. Be sure to stain the top and bottom edges of your (new) doors if it's recommended to do so by the door manufacturer.

After your edges are wiped roll stain onto the entire door (paint roller). You want the door nice and wet with stain but not so wet that your wasting huge amounts of product when you wipe it away.

Using a new rag wipe the door in the direction of the grain removing all the excess stain. After wiping your door surface needs to be reasonably dry and free of runs fingerprints and smudge.

Proceed onto the other side of the door followed by staining and wiping the next door while the others dry.

I like to lean the doors against a wall (using a wood spacer at the doors top edge) while they are drying.

You can stain one side of the door at time then let it dry before flipping it over or do both sides at the same time (more difficult and messy).


Doors that have different levels of grooves or channels in them are manufactured with molded pieces of wood called rails, stiles and panels. Follow the same procedure as staining flat doors above but instead of rolling begin by using your 2-1/2" sash brush and partially filled staining can.

Stain the doors edges then the square or rectangle moldings, groves or channels that are in the door front/back. After you stain one grove or channel etc., immediately wipe the excess stain away using a rag. Keep staining each square or rectangle around the doors panels until they are all completed.

Precede onto the molding that holds the glass in (if you have it).

With your moldings, groves, indents or channels stained and wiped begin staining the panels. Apply stain onto your panel using the broad side of the brush. Work from the top to the bottom of your panel and right to left.

After the panel is wet with stain wipe your excess stain away. You may need to use a putty knife warped in a rag to get into all those nooks and crannies.

Once your done staining and wiping all the panels you can then stain and wipe the rails and stiles. Your door is built in sections using joints so the objective is to stain each section as if it where an individual piece. After completing one side of a door you can wait for it to dry. Follow up by doing the other-side of the doors.

While staining avoid (or wipe away) runs and smudges keeping an eye on the back side of your door.

You've now learned how to stain a door.


Your doors should be evenly stained with beautifully enhanced wood grain, the key is making sure your surface is entirely covered in stain and you follow up by removing all of the excess stain before it dries. I would compare the how to stain a door process with hand washing then drying a large plate or dish. That is if the dish had grains in it and you needed to wash and dry the dish in the direction of the grain.

Proper sanding is also important prior to staining you want to start with a smooth evenly colored door. Your surface also needs scratches and leftover glue from the manufacturing process removed.

Any type pf blemish that's not removed prior to staining will be enhanced once the stain is on and dried.

As you stain change rags regularly and work from the top of your door to the bottom. Also, to be on the safe side, lay your wet rags flat to dry as stacked or bunched staining rags can start on fire.

Stain can be brushed or wiped on especially at the doors edges. I like the roller method because it's faster and applies stain more evenly. You can use a smaller roller (e.g., 6") if you wish but I prefer the 9" due to speed of application. You on the other hand might find a larger roller some what cumbersome.

No matter what roller you use make sure the roller nap (thickness) is on the thinner side otherwise it can get quite messy.

When brushing or rolling stain a common mistake is to apply to much or to little product. You don't want to be over/under doing the amount of stain your applying. Adjust the amount until your comfortable with the look and technique that your using.

Thoroughly check each door to make sure that there are no dried on runs or smudges. If there are smudges or runs remove them by re-staining the entire door while gently rubbing the blemishes away.

You might be able to get away with spot staining but in most cases removing the smudge then quickly re-staining the door is inevitable.

Some stubborn runs or smudges can be quickly wiped away with thinner followed by re-staining the entire surface. When using thiner work in as small of an area as possible (use a q-tip) otherwise you can end up with faded spots on the door after staining.

Since your done learning how to stain a door you can now clear-coat (varnish) your doors by spraying or brushing your coating on.

As I mentioned above be sure to check out Amazons search box for any tools, products or materials that you might need.

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