Should You Sand Between Coats of Stain?

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Woodworking projects require sanding to get a smooth, finished look. To create the perfect finish for your project, you may be wondering if you should sand between coats of stain. 

Is it worth the added effort to sand between those coats? Let me delve into this topic to help you achieve a smooth and beautiful finish!

Sanding Between Coats Of Stain: Is it Recommended?

When staining wood, sanding between coats is only necessary before applying the first coat of stain. For most stains, you can simply add coats of the stain without any further preparation. 

sanding table top before applying poly

However, if you’re using water-based stains, it is necessary to sand lightly with 300 fine grit sandpaper or higher after each application. This way, you  improve smoothness and eliminate grain raising on the surface.

Pros

Eliminates Uneven Spots

Even with best efforts, water-based stains can cause uneven spots after sanding or raised grain sections on your project surface. 

Light sanding between coats of stain will smooth these areas out, resulting in an even and polished look you’ll be proud to display!

Lightens The Stain

When a stain on wood turns out darker than desired, sanding between coats of stain can be your secret weapon to lighten it up. 

sanding wood surface

This will not only reduce the darkness of the hue but also bring more definition and texture to its grain.

Cons

Removes the Majority Of Stains

Sanding between coats of stains tends to remove the stain color coatings entirely, leading to more work and a poorer finish. 

Store-bought pigments sit on top of the wood surface rather than being absorbed into it, so they are particularly at risk from sandpaper.

Alters Wood Grains

Too much sanding between coats of stain strips the natural wood grain and blocks deeper absorption, resulting in a lighter second coat than desired. 

Mahogany wood grain pattern

To sidestep this issue, I suggest reducing the amount of sanding or even skipping it altogether.

Time-Consuming & Messy

Sanding between coats of stain is often messy and labor-intensive, so if it’s not creating a major advantage, I recommend skipping this step. 

To make the best decision for your project, you can try sanding on a scrap piece of wood first.

How to Sand Between Stain Coatings

Tools You’ll Need

Belt Sander

A belt sander is a tool used to quickly reduce wood or shape wood.

Random Orbit Sander

A random orbit sander is a tool used to sand wood and plastic surfaces.

Metabo HPT 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander

Mouse Sander

Mouse sander is a tool used for sanding in tight spots.

Drill Drum Sander

It is particularly useful for sanding curved or irregular shapes, as the flexible drum conforms to the contours of the workpiece.

Sanding Block

The sanding block is designed to sand between coats of small pieces of wood and knock off sharp edges. 

Steps

Step 1

To create a beautiful finish on your project, choose sandpaper with a high grit number (220-240). This will ensure that any imperfections are gently smoothed out without damaging the stain. Never use steel wool [1].

Step 2

Make sure you have a sanding tool handy to make your project smooth as silk! If not, simply wrap the sandpaper around some scrap wood or even use just your hands. Either way, you’ll be one step closer to revealing an amazing finish.

holding belt sander

Step 3

To bring out a beautiful wood finish, lightly sand the stain coat in one direction. Use multiple very light sandpaper to get rid of any rough patches, and inspect your progress by gently running your hand along the surface; it should be smooth and soft when done right!

Step 4

To remove dust from wood surfaces, start by vacuuming and finishing with a dry cloth. If you have an oil-based stain to deal with, dampen the cloth in mineral spirits for extra protection against any lingering particles. 

Be sure not to use water on wooden objects – it can raise the wood grain, which will require sanding down again!

Can You Sand After Staining Wood? (Before Polyurethane)

Give your wood project a smooth surface and polished finish with these simple steps: Sand coats of stain, then layer on the polyurethane for maximum protection!

Using a Sanding Tool

If you want your wood project to have a smoother finish, try using a sanding tool for even and effortless results. Just remember to keep at least 8 meters away from the surface to get that perfect result!

final sanding

Using a Smooth Sandpaper

For a smooth, stained wood surface free from visible flaws, sand the wooden surface with 220-250 fine grit sandpaper. It’s important to go in the direction of the grain and make soft touches on both ends for the best result!

Using a Dry Cloth

Give dusty wood a makeover by dusting off the surface, wiping it with a dry rag, and, if using an oil stain, dipping the cloth in mineral spirits.

How to Sand Your Stained Wood Furniture

To remove old stain coats color, use 150-grit medium sandpaper until the bare wood appears. Then switch to fiber paper for an extra smooth finish. Make sure you always follow the wood grain when sanding between coats of stain. 

How to Stain Your Wood Furniture Without Sanding

Try mineral paint for its durability and wood stain resistance. Use bonding primer to skip the sandpaper on glossy surfaces like metal or glass. You can also opt for liquid deglosser by applying it directly to create an instant chemical reaction with new wood stains. 

Should You Sand All Types of Stains?

Oil-Based Stains

Oil-based stain is a popular choice for woodworking projects. Prepare the wood by lightly sanding between coats to help smooth out any grooves and scratches, then apply a thin layer of oil-based stain with a clean rag wiping off the excess stain as needed. 

Rust-Oleum 9341 Ultimate Spar Urethane Oil Based, Quart, Satin

Water-Based Stain

To create a beautiful and smooth surface finish with water-based stain, it’s essential to sand between every coat – except for the last one. 

A light grit of 220 or higher is best when using a dry cloth to wipe away any lingering dust from sanding between coats.

Gel Stains

With gel stain, you can kiss those tedious sanding sessions goodbye! This thick and paint-like product sits on the surface of your laminate cabinets or wood instead of penetrating its pores. So, no extra sanding between coats is needed after the first coat of gel stains.

Lacquer Stains

Lacquer stains are a great addition to your arsenal of wood staining solutions. No need to sand coatings in between.

To get the best outcome, be meticulous during its application. If you spot any imperfections on the surface after application, simply wipe gently with a clean cloth until it’s smooth before adding that final touch.

Polyurethane Stains

Polyurethane stains, or simply varnish stains, give you two great options: oil-based stains and water-based stains. 

mixing Minwax Water-Based, Oil-Modified Polyurethane

Their fast drying time means that once each coat is applied, there’s no need to sand. Plus, any excess drip or mistakes can be wiped away straight away with varnish stains!

Metal-Complex Dye Stains

When I want to intensify the color and resilience of dense wood or outdoor finishes, I turn to metalized dye stains. These specialized tints use metals such as copper and chromium to create a stronger, more resilient finish that won’t fade easily. 

With this stain, there’s no need for sanding between coats of stain, as it applies seamlessly straightaway!

Water-Soluble Dye Stains

Create the perfect shade of stain with this easy-to-use powder dye. Simply dissolve one ounce in a quart of water for drier tones, or add more powder for richer results. 

close up view Varathane 200241H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

And, because it’s water soluble, don’t forget to sand between coats of stain as you work your way toward an exquisite finish!

How Long To Wait for the Stain to Dry Before Sanding Again?

To tell if a water-based stain is dry enough to sand-stained wood, put your palm on the surface. If it feels neither wet nor cold to the touch, it’s ready.

You can also wait an hour up to four hours, depending on humidity levels in your area. Another trick I use is to sand a tiny area; if the leftover sanding dust appears whitish and clings to a sandpaper, it indicates that the stain might not be dry enough yet.

Sanding Tips To Make Stain Look Great

Sand With Your Hand

The last step before staining is sanding wood, but don’t let it take too long! If you see scratches remaining after your first go-round, switch to a coarser grit and start again.

Don’t Oversand

You can always achieve an attractive finish with smooth sanding oil stains finish. But beware, rough scratching can lead to a less-than-ideal outcome if you choose to use stain. For the best results, opt for 220-grit sandpaper.

sanding furniture

Sand in Diagonal Strokes

To achieve a smooth, even finish on your project surface, sand between coats diagonally with coarse-grit paper followed by fine sandpaper, finer and finest grits in alternating directions.

Use Waterproof Glue as Sealant

For outdoor furniture, use a sealant to protect piece from rust and fungi! A waterproof epoxy solution is a perfect way to safeguard grainy, stained wood surfaces against erosive elements.

Clean Your Sanded Wood

You can blow off dust with a brush, air compressor, or vacuum. Then wipe down the sanded surface using either water or mineral spirits on a rag. And don’t forget to use a tack cloth for final cleansing before applying stains. 

More wood sanding guides here:

Conclusion

Should you sand between coats of stain? To get the best finish possible on your project, it’s worth taking an extra step. Sanding ensures a smooth and professional look that is noticeably better than if you hadn’t done so! 

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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