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How to Stain Unfinished Adirondack Chairs

Staining: It seems simple enough, until you arrive at the hardware store and see the long aisle of staining products. Oil-based, water-based, tinted, mold-resistant Ė sheesh, a person can get lost in the staining options alone! And then, when it comes to it, the process of actually turning your unfinished Adirondack chair into a polished final project is not as easy as it seems. Fortunately, once you get the process down, youíll feel comfortable refinishing your chairs every year or two to keep them in tip-top shape.

Indeed, if you donít finish outdoor furniture, it will quickly turn a shade of silvery gray. Shifts in temperature and moisture levels wreak havoc on unfinished wood, since wood expands in warm, wet conditions and contracts in cold, dry conditions. Over time, this repeated expansion and contraction causes splinters and lifted fasteners. Some people prefer the silvery coastal look of an unfinished Adirondack chair; they purposefully avoid finishing their outdoor furniture and fences. However, this failure to finish will ultimately cause any wood structure to fall apart. Staining your unfinished Adirondack chairs will help them last longer.

Read on to learn on how to stain unfinished Adirondack chairs.


1. Sand Away Splinters

If youíve procrastinated finishing your unfinished Adirondack chair, there could very well be a few rough spots where splinters have pulled away due to shifting moisture and temperature conditions. And even brand-new unfinished Adirondack chairs often have a snag or two. A quick sanding will take care of this problem! Start with 150-grit sandpaper, then switch to 220-grit to achieve an even smoother surface. Sanding will also remove dirt or other markings. Use a damp rag to wipe away sawdust once youíre created a silky-smooth surface.

2. Don Rubber Gloves and Safety Goggles

The gloves will protect your skin from becoming stained. Itís a good idea to wear goggles for any home improvement project, including staining unfinished Adirondack chairs. To protect your lungs, work in an area with good ventilation. Obviously, staining is not a neat job, so you should lay down a protective tarp if youíre concerned about permanently marring your work area.

3. Apply Wood Conditioner

Lay on a thin layer of wood conditioner to prevent blotching and discoloration. Let the wood conditioner dry for 15 minutes before applying stain.

4. Choose Your Stain

You have two major options when it comes to wood stain: water-based or oil-based. Carpenters recommend water-based stains for woods that are naturally resistant to rotting, such as cypress, cedar and redwood. Water-based stains are available in more colors than their oily counterparts. Because water-based stains donít emit noxious fumes, they are a better choice for those with sensitive lungs. Likewise, water-based stains are better for the environment. These water-based products are also non-flammable and easy to clean up with water and soap. They typically dry faster than oil-based stains. One last characteristic of water-based stains: Because theyíre breathable, theyíre naturally resistant to mildew.

Oil-based stains are made up of pigments and dyes combined with mineral spirits. They penetrate wood better than water-based stains. Some people avoid oil-based stains because they require more drying time, but in fact this characteristic results in a more even finish. Oil-based stains are the best option if you will be leaving your Adirondack chairs out in extremely harsh weather conditions, as oil-based stains are highly durable. However, if you live in an area that sees lots of moisture, be sure to choose an oil-based stain that contains a mildew inhibitor.

Canít make up your mind? Some manufacturers offer hybrid water/oil stains.

Once youíve decided on the base for your stain, itís time to choose a color that will complement your homeís exterior. Lastly, itís helpful to be aware that stains are sold in different opacity levels. Translucent stains will allow the grain of the wood to show, but they wonít provide as much protection as more opaque stains.

5. Apply Stain

For both stain varieties, ensure full color by stirring up the can. Use a rag or brush to apply stain. Foam brushes work especially well when staining unfinished Adirondack chairs. Once every inch of the chair is covered in stain, you can either wipe away the excess to create a lighter tone, or leave the stain on the wood for five to ten minutes to create a deeper tone. Encourage penetration by wiping in the direction of the wood grain.

Allow the stain to dry completely. If the color doesnít seem bright enough, add another layer of stain.

6. Add a Finish

To enjoy exceptional protection for your unfinished Adirondack chairs, youíll need to add a protective finish. Most experts recommend oil-based finishes for outdoor furniture. If youíre short on time, choose a product that combines the stain and finish in one coat.