Complete DIY Guide to the Wood Glue/Stain Technique

I will hastily admit that when I took on this project I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. When I made the cross-country move I committed to taking my family furniture with me, it had made it’s way through my parents house, my sister’s house, and now it was mine. This poor table has really seen some stuff… To make a long story short, within the cross-country move, the table suffered a large scratch and gauge on the top of the table and since I was in a renew and refresh stage of my life anyway I thought “why not?”.

I couldn’t find any complete guide to do something like this for someone like me who is not a DIY  buff, so I thought I’d document my experience for all of the ambitious souls out there who are officially in over their heads.

Sand that thing down

Forgot to take a pic before I sanded but the varnish on the wood was the same color as the molding around the top. This table is very thick and heavy so it would really take a beating.

1. First I used a belt sander with 120 grit to take off the varnish and sand down to get rid of the gauge and scratches.

2. Then I used a circular sander with 220 grit to smooth everything out.

3. Wipe it all down with a damp cloth

Tips: IMG_1419.JPG

  • Wear a mask
  • Work on 1 foot sections at a time initially so the sander doesn’t get away from you
  • Do this in a well ventilated area
  • Have a fan blowing onto your work surface to keep things clean

Choose a design

I chose to stencil, mostly because the other methods for staining wood and it looking cool and different involve artistic ability which doesn’t exist here. Michael’s now has a complete section for DIY home projects, to which I took for a complete set of stencils that go together to make cool patterns on furniture.

1. After taking some suggestions from the packaging, I started outlining with a PENCIL. (the eras-ability came in handy later).

2. Get a measuring tape out and save yourself an hour of erasing with a giant pink eraser from kindergarten. Make sure your larger designs are evenly spaced, for me that was 1 1/2 inch on either side of the design.

Choose a method

You have two options here:

  1. Stain within the stencil
  2. The Glue-Stain technique

Of course I tried both because I’m stubborn and was hoping the easier option (stain within the stencil) was going to look great (it didn’t). I grabbed a piece of test wood and sanded it down, not quite as smooth but it worked.

Stain with the stencil technique

img_1424I picked up some fine angled brushes at Michaels, I’ve gotten good at using these from filling in my eyebrows for so many years. So I taped down the stencil and started at it, this was the most tedious thing my impatient self has ever done. The stain was hard to control and ended up bleeding a lot. I wanted very crisp and clean lines due to the nature of the design. This method was officially out of the running.

The Glue-Stain Technique

img_1458After reading multiple articles about how others have done this I used Elmer’s Glue to put in the stencil (yes like paint with glue) and then took off the stencil to let the glue dry. Moment of truth, stain application and holy moly it worked. The glue acts as a barrier to the stain and again since the wood on the table is smoother, it would work better.






Execution of the Wood Glue-Stain Technique

The Glue Part

You’ll need:

  • Elmer’s glue (supposedly you can also use wood glue)
  • A paint brush you don’t care about, I used a brush that is really meant for stippling
  • Tape (scotch tape works)
  1. Erase your pencil marks one section at a time and lay your stencil where you want it, tape it down.
  2. You can either use a plate to put glue on and paint it on, OR you can put the glue directly overtop of the stencil and spread it around. Since the design I chose was so geometric, the latter worked much better for getting all the corners.
  3. Once the glue is on the table, I used a very light and quick brush stoke to be careful and not lift the stencil. Remember, you stain will not penetrate the glue, so wherever there is glue will not stain.
  4. Let the glue dry within the boundaries of the stencil for about 5 minutes before you lift the stencil. When you lift, do it slowly and at about a 45 degree angle.
  5. I multi-tasked by rotating the stencils that I was filling in with glue and it timed out to about 5 minutes.
  6. Let all the glue dry for at least 24 hours in a well ventilated area before staining.

The Stain Part

I’ve never stained anything before in my life, so this part is for all the newbies like me.

You’ll need:

  • Stain of your choice (I chose Miniwax Red Chestnut)
  • 1 towel for dipping in stain
  • 1 towel for wiping
  • Pair of gloves
  1. With gloves on, dip your staining towel in the stain and wipe on going with the grain of the wood.
  2. Let the stain soak in for however long you’d like and then wipe with clean towel.
  3. Once stain has set for about 10 minutes, go back over the glue spots and really wipe them off to make the light wood underneath come out.

Set the top of the table

I used a satin finish polycrylic to set the top of the table. I didn’t use polyurethane because it yellows over time and the blonde wood underneath is so light that I was nervous this would happen to the table.


I will post a totally finished photo when the table is in it’s new home. I hope this was helpful for those crazy enough like me to take on a huge DIY project with zero experience!




2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kelsie Oreta says:

    This was so beautifully executed! Great job!

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