Making the job go smoothly


Sand all surfaces in the direction of the grain, with a medium grade of sandpaper and dust off with a soft, clean cloth and white spirit.


Follow guidelines about preparing the finish before use. Some require thorough stirring, or shaking in the tin.


Carefully dispose of cloths and rags. This is especially the case when using oils, as the cloths that have been soaked in oil can be a potential fire hazard. Ensure you follow manufacturers’ guidelines precisely for the most appropriate method of disposal.


Stains and varnishes may be used inside and outside as long as recommended by the manufacturer. Oils may also be used outside but, to maintain their finish, recoating is recommended every year. Waxes can generally not be used outside.


Good quality paint brushes are fine to apply these finishes, but follow manufacturers’ guidelines if they recommend specific brushes for staining, varnishing, waxing or oiling a particular product.


Good ventilation is important when applying all these products, so keep doors and windows open for a free flow of air.


Before you get started

Most of these finishes may be bought as a water-based or a solvent-based option. Consider what suits your needs best.

Water-based options are quicker drying and contain less Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than solvent- or oil-based alternatives. New legislation means that solvent-based finishes are being increasingly limited regarding VOC content.

Some manufacturers produce combination products such as stain varnishes or wax oils. The former saves time as you don’t require separate stain and varnish, whereas the latter combines the two to provide the feel of a wax finish with the more hard-wearing properties of a deep penetrating oil.

When applying to a wooden kitchen worktop, check that the product is suitable in terms of hygiene – mineral oil, for example, is commonly used on worktops for this very reason.

Similar to stains, wood dyes may also be used to change the colour of wood. Wood dyes require a further coating, such as varnish, to protect the finish.

Take care when choosing a filler for wood, before applying one of these finishes. Some fillers are coloured and are therefore camouflaged by a similarly coloured finish. Others can accept colour when the finish is applied over them.

Apply varnish


Fill any holes using a wood filler that is suitable for accepting varnish. When dry, sand the entire surface with medium grade sandpaper.




Apply the varnish evenly across the surface, making sure that finishing strokes are in the direction of the wood grain. Keep checking for drips.




Once the first coat of varnish is dry, it is essential to sand the surface with a fine grade of sandpaper to remove any specks of dust or dirt.




Remove any dusty residue from the surface with a cloth dampened in white spirit. Allow the white spirit to dry before continuing.




Apply the second coat of varnish, again making sure that finishing strokes are in the direction of the wood grain, and brush out any drip marks.



Apply stain


Fill any holes using a wood filler that is suitable for accepting stain. When dry, sand the entire surface with medium grade sandpaper.




Apply the stain with the grain, coating one section of timber at a time. Don’t overload the brush and try to avoid leaving drip marks.




Make sure that you are precise when making a join between different sections, as badly directed brushstrokes may show through.




Sand with fine grade paper between coats, taking care to sand with and not across the grain. Dust off any residue with a soft cloth.




Apply a second coat of stain. This will darken the wood further and also create a more even depth of finish.

What you’ll need

Apply varnish

Vinyl gloves

Filling knife

White spirit

Soft cloth

Sandpaper (medium grade and fine grade)


Paint brushes

Wood filler (suitable for varnish)


Apply stain


Paint brushes

Filling knife

Soft cloth

Sandpaper (medium grade and fine grade)

Wood filler (suitable for stain)