Staining Hardwood Floors

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Staining hardwood floors and what you can expect

After watching all the diy or do it yourself shows on staining hardwood floors that television has to offer, a lot of people are under the delusion that staining hardwood is simple.  Well, coming from someone who has done it thousands of times, this is the farthest thing from the truth. It takes a lot of skill.  Saving money is always at the forefront of any project and when it comes to staining your floors, I am pretty sure it is no exception to the rule. 

The first question is the most important, "What kind of expectations to do you have?"  If you are expecting better than mediocre results, then stop, call National Floors and hire a qualified pro.  The amount of time and energy you will put into just a single room will be more than you initially expected, that I promise.  The learning curve is high for refinishing hardwood floors and when you anticipate staining your floors, the level of difficulty will only go up.  The sanding process must be done correctly.   

The task of staining hardwood floors with dark tones takes years of experience.  When grooming a new apprentice, they can be expected to have completed 20-40 floors before they can achieve acceptable professional results.  Each and every month, we get calls from not only homeowners, but mostly general contractors who thought they could tackle the task.  The problem is, none of these people are C-15 licensed.  This is a qualified hardwood flooring contractor who happens to be an expert in the field.  Upon showing up to these incompleted jobs, we discover a botchy floor that is not flat and inconsistent in sheen.  After reading this, there is always someone who has the what the heck attitude and are going for it anyway.  

Without getting into great detail, if you want to stain your hardwood floors, you must first sand them correctly.  Most people don't have any idea of the type of hardwood floor they have, the thickness of the wear layer, whether the floor is solid or engineered.  Proper assessment must be made before a floor can be sanded.  If you suspect you have engineered hardwood floors, DO NOT sand them.  A PRO will typically take off 1/32", but a JOE will take off much more than that due to lack of know how and the lack of control of the sanding machines.  Important, if the wear layer of the engineered floor is thin, you will burn through and this will require patch work or floor repair.  If the proper sanding is not achieved, you floors will appear to be blotchy and inconsistent.  This sanding process is typically guarded by most contractors due to the fact this is how they make their living.  There are as many sanding combinations as there are grits offered by the sand paper company.  What's entertaining is listening to all the great advice the guys who rent equipment have to offer.  Sarcasm.   


What if you are sanding prefinished flooring?  The sanding process "Must" completely remove the old factory prefinished protective coating.  Another common blunder by the the diy guy.  If you miss an area, what you will find when the time comes to drop the stain is a section of the floor that won't accept the stain.  At this point, you will scramble to rectify the problem before the stain sets up and you are left with a blotchy patch in the floor.  Words of advice, inspect, inspect and inspect again.             

Sanding hardwood floors requires a few things from you:

  • Proper assessment of your current floor
  • Rental of all the sanding equipment:  belt sander, edger, buffer, vacuums-easily over $100.00 per day (The floor must be sanded 4 times, rough to fine for professional results)
  • Purchase of the correct grit sand paper-price depends on how many rooms you plan to work on and the type of finish that is on the current floor. 
  • Respirator-about $35.00 for a quality mask
  • Hand tools: scrapers, hammer, nail set, file,- $40-50 if you don't have any of these
  • Wood putty for unfinished hardwood floor-large 3.5 gallon bucket typically cost $75.00
  • Purchase of over the counter stain-1 quart equates to usually 100 sq feet of coverage at a cost of $20 per quart
  • Purchase of finish-cost is $75.00-100.00 per gallon for descent over the counter product.  Never as good as professional products, therefore more coats are required. 
  • Applicators for the finish, rags for the staining, mineral spirits for clean up
  • A small DIY, do it yourself refinishing hardwood floors for a 300 sq. ft. project would cost approximately $825.00 and about 4 days of your time.    

There are 3 phases to staining hardwood floors:

  • The correct sanding sequence of hardwood floors-minimum 4 stages from rought to fine
  • The correct staining process of hardwood floors-depending on the color of stain, other steps and preparations may be required. 
  • The correct final coating of polyurethane applied to hardwood floors.  If you don't burnish between coats, the floor will delaminate.  Improper burnishing will wear through the finish and ruin your work. 

Here is the problem; If one of the processes is executed incorrectly, the entire project will suffer.

Red Oak and White Oak are stain-able hardwood floors

National Floors can stain your hardwood floors for an economical price that will make your hardwood floors beautiful for years to come.· Red oak and white oak are most common when hardwood floors found in the Bay Area to be stained.· Below are the basic hardwood floor staining colors offered by Dura seal which is a Minwax company.· The examples are all represented on Oak, so if you have another species of hardwood floor, you can expect a difference in color.  The tighter the grain, the lighter the effect.  When staining hardwood floors, all of our stains are quick drying and have a built in sealer engineered into them for the best results when sanding and staining hardwood floors.· Our stains are a true two in one product.· Once dried, usually 2 hours later, these hardwood floor stains can be top coated with either a water based or oil based polyurethane of your liking.·


Floor stain samples

·The Examples shown below are a single shade of what the stain could look like on your hardwood floors.· For example, if you have a Red Oak floor, look closely at how many different variations/shades of colour there are in your floor.· On average, you can expect to find between 6-8 different variations of colors and grain patterns.· What does this mean to you, it means you should expect the same variance when you choose your stain color.· The fact is, which ever color you choose, the stain will appear lighter on a light piece of oak then a darker piece of oak and vice verse.· In "No Way" should you expect a pastel or even shade of stain when having your floors stained.· Wood is an imperfect material and these differences can and will be amplified when staining your hardwood floors.·Bona_Stain_color_pallete_Page_1_optimized




Picking a stain color-

Click image on the right to enlarge for best viewing


Comparing stain on different species

When comparing Red Oak versus White Oak stained floors, you can expect the White oak floors to be naturally darker in appearance because White Oak when bare is darker than Red Oak.· White oak is actually grey in color when sanded vs. red oak which is a light pink color when sanded.  Some species like Maple hardwood have very tight grain which will not allow for stain penetration to occur evenly.  We are not saying it can't be done, the results just won't be acceptable on a professional level.    


Why sanding properly is important when staining

Another contributing factor to the stains appearance on· your floor is the sanding process that precedes the application of the stain.· All sanding machines leave a signature.  When you stain a floor dark in color, these machine signatures will surface unless removed by the flooring contractor.  The flooring contractor will choose a method that best suites his skill sets to match your expectations.· The rougher the final sanding process, the more the grain is open and therefore the wood will accept more of the pigmentation.· In short, a quality floor contractor can manipulate the hardwood floor to accept more stain and to get a darker appearance when staining hardwood floors. 

Staining question recently posted:

Should I seal my floor before we stain?

The answer is no.  Once you seal a floor, you close off the grain so the hardwood floor will no longer accept the stain.  Also, most professional types of stain used on hardwood flooring in the industry are a 2:1 product with a sealer built into it so sealing is not necessary.

I have Brazilian cherry floors, can I stain them a different color to get them out of the red tones? 

You might want to consider going water base on the seal and finish.  A slightly brownish appearance is more likely to happen vs. the reddish orange of oil base finish on Brazilian cherry.  

We recently discovered hardwood floors under our carpets.  The look like they are in descent shape, can I lightly sand them and stain them?

There is not such thing as lightly sanding in this business.  In order to stain a hardwood floor, you must have a clean canvas to work with.  In other words, you must create a new surface to accept the stain.


Can Oak be stained dark in color? 

Yes.  Oak is very accepting of most colors, but you should know this, the darker you go in color, the more labor intensive the project for the contractor.  Knowing this,you should expect a higher project cost.  Another thing to consider is, the darker the color you decide on, the more optically the room will shrink.  Also, darker floors, like cars, scratch white and show dirt and wear more easily.    


Can any wood be stained?

Well, that question is pretty vague, so this is what I suggust, experiement if you have the time, wood and stain.  Stain can be expensive, so good luck on finding the right color.   


I have a question about staining hardwood floors.· My floors are Maple, what color can I stain them?

Another great question.· The answer is, we don’t offer that option for Maple floors.· Maple, unlike Oak, is very tight as far as grain goes.· What this means is that when attempting to stain Maple, you will undoubtedly get a blotchy uneven appearance in the end because the hard-grain will not allow for adequate stain penetration.  There are methods for making it happen, but the results are always questionable.  Since this look won’t generate a 5 star rating from our customers, we kindly refuse and highly suggest going Natural in color for predictable results and a sure thing.



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