Staining tips

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Using wood stain on a cornhole boards is a cool way to let the natural wood look show through.

There are a few tips that can help you out when staining your boards.

See Also: board customization & painting tips


Staining: Step by Step

By Milky

First of all, don't stress. IMO, staining is actually easier than painting.

Get your materials:

  • An old t shirt.
  • Rubber gloves, or just be prepared to wash your hands really well.
  • Quart of stain. I HIGHLY recommend Cabot brand stain. Goes on true colored, goes on easy, goes on strong.
  • Quart of sanding sealer. Again, Cabot is recommended, but Minwax makes a great sealer too.(Note*, before discovering the sanding sealer, I did many boards using stain, and never had a problem. You just sand during the poly process as usual, and the boards come out smooth as silk. Sanding sealer helps with painting over the stained wood,and it also allows you to lightly re-sand the stained areaa, without removing the stain. So, you can skip this step if you wish, or do it. Either way, you should ultimately be fine.)
  • The holes from your boards that were cut out, or scrap of the exact same wood.
  • A sheet or two of 220 grit sandpaper
  • Your choice of poly


  • Step one, sand your boards like you usually would. You obviously know what you're doing. Be extra sure to remove all debris when you are done. Tack cloth, or a moist towel will work great to remove debris/dust.
  • Step two. Grab you t shirt and cut it up into rag sized pieces. Open your stain(DO NOT SHAKE IT!), stir it, and apply a liberal amount to your rag. Test it on the hole piece or scraps to see how light/dark it will be. With Cabot, the color on the can is pretty indicative of the finished color, and always remember, you can re-apply stain over and over again to achieve desired darkness.
  • Step three, going in the direction of the grain, stain your boards with your rag. Be sure to not allow streaks or excess stain to opool in any one area. Essentially, you should be wiping your boards down with the rag you made from your t-shirt, that is covered with the stain you chose.(very, very simple)
  • Step four, About 3 minutes after you apply the stain, take a dry piece of t shirt, and softly wipe down your boards in the samedirection you just stained. What you're doing is seeping up any excess stain that may be sitting on your boards. Your once dry rag should be changing color a little bit, which will let you know that you are picking up the excess. It should not be dripping wet or dark with the stain color. If it is, you rpobably used too much stain when you were applying it.
  • Step five, Apply sanding sealer, if desired. The directions are on the can, but frankly it works just like the stain. The "when" of using the sealer has been debated on this site. Some folks use it before staining, some use it after. I find that using it before makes it harder for the wood to accept the stain, causing you more work and more time. I always us it it after the stain .
  • Step six, if needed(only needed if you used the sealer), lightly sand down your boards, then wipe away all the debris/dust again. LIGHTLY is the key term here. You will have a layer of sealer to contend with, so you shouldn't hurt your stain at all, but pressing too hard or using too rough of a sandpaper will cut right through your sealer, ruin your stain job, and start you all over again.

After this is done, you can treat your boards like you usually would. Tape off and paint, leave natural, add decal, paint a design, etc etc. Poly over your boards like usual, and your done.

Staining Tips

Misc. Staining Tips

  • Stain and then seal.
  • The most important thing is to make sure that you are sanded evenly all over your surface. If there are areas sanded better/finer than others they will be a lighter color.
  • When the stain soaks into the wood, it raises the natural grain of the wood, causing a rough feeling. The sanding sealer seals in the grain. Stain it, sanding seal it, and then apply the decal. Less margin for error that way.

Grain Tamer by DCROG

Grain Tamer = one part sanding sealer to 16 parts paint thinner

You use that before the stain in case you have various types or pieces of wood and want the stain to take the same color/appearance.

Applying Poly on Stained Boards

The first few coats of poly will not feel smooth when applied on top of stain. It may indeed have a tacky or sticky feel to it. Give it 4 good coats, then sand LIGHTLY with no less than 400 grit paper, wipe away the dust and debris. Tack cloth, cheese cloth, or even a moist rag will do the trick, but be sure to remove all of the dust and debris.

After that sanding, do two more coats, lightly sand again, then 1 more coat, and your boards will be done. The thing about poly is that it will remain slightly tacky until it is full cured. Even when you can run your fingers along the boards after 2 hours or so, and they feel smooth as silk to your light touch, they are still curing, and rubbing your fingers or palm with any additional pressure will show you that it is still tacky, to a certain degree. Poly gets fully, 100% cured, after 48-72 hours. I personally prefer 72 hours. After that, it is smooth, hard, and very durable. You will still need that dust build up to provide the proper slide, but 99.9% of the stickiness and tackiness will be gone. ~Milky

Warning Against Minwax Polyshades

Poly shades are not a stain. They are like a varnish stain. They already have the polyurethane in them with colorant. Personally, I don't like them. It's too hard to get an even color. If you use just the stains just put it on, wait a few minutes and wipe them off. If it's not dark enough wait till it dries and do it again. Look closely and try to get them an even color all over. With the polyshades it's pretty much what you put on is what you got. Uneven brush marks will be there forever.

Staining Wood Filler

I have noticed that on the boards that I stain, wood filler doesn't take the stain as good as the original surface itself. Keep your wood filler to a minimum, or try a darker stain to cover it and blend it in with your original color. ~Reksat

Raising Wood Grain / Sanding

Here's a trick I use. I take an old t-shirt and get it damp, not dripping wet yet not totally wrung out and wipe the board down and let the moisture raise the grain. Once it's totally dry I sand it down again. Sometimes I'll give it another wipe down and another sanding. After that I usually don't have any issues with the grain raising.

Keep in mind that the grain will raise with just about any covering you put on it especially if it is water based, even sanding sealer and will usually require a sanding after it is applied. ~pharaoh

Troubleshooting & Issues

Tape pulled up, or lightened the stain In general, make sure to dry the boards with a fan for 24 hours after staining to avoid this issue. If problems still occur, simply restain the boards after painting and immediately wipe the stain off the paint. This will return the even finish to the stain, and won't damage any paint that's already been applied. (see raised wood grain above, for a related tip)

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