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What To Do When Wood Won’t Take Stain

So you sanded and stained and the results aren’t what you were expecting. Here is what you can do when wood won’t take stain.

I recently sanded down my dining room table and restained it. I was devastated when some areas wouldn’t accept the stain!

It’s a lot of hard work to sand down a piece of furniture and for it to look bad when you are done it’s really upsetting. Don’t worry, I have a solution for you.

What To Do When Wood Won’t Take Stain

The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.

The top of the dining table where the stain didn't penetrate the wood.

This is the top of my dining table. Clearly something went wrong with the spots here. I tried over and over and it wouldn’t accept stain.

The base of the dining table after stain in my garage with plastic under.

This is the base and in the center of the lower beam the stain is much lighter.

The base to the dining table after stain looking very blotchy.

Here on the base, there are tons of areas where the wood wouldn’t accept stain. ARGH! Oh, that’s right. We aren’t going to freak out.

Traditional stain gets absorbed by the wood. There are many reasons that wood won’t take stain but what we are looking for today is solutions.

When Wood Won’t Take Stain Try Gel Stain

Gel stain differs from traditional wood stain because it doesn’t seep into the wood. It sits on top of the wood and allows the wood grain to show through.

Most often gel stain is used for vertical pieces because it’s thicker and won’t run. But that’s not the only time you can use it. I recently used gel stain on my daughter’s desk, which she purchased off Facebook Marketplace.

The desk had a big water stain right in the front center and I was afraid it wouldn’t take regular stain and it would show through. So we used gel stain and the finished product was perfect!

A water stain on the top of a vintage desk after it was stained.

Here you can see the water stain which is the lighter area on the desk.

As you can see the finished desk is gorgeous! You can’t see the water stain anymore.

How to Apply Gel Stain

You need to sand the wood down the same way as you would when you plan to refinish. Clean it off really well.

Apply the gel stain with a foam brush or a chip brush. Put it on and then with a lint free cloth wipe some of it off. Do it a little at a time and when you have achieved the desired color you can stop.

This is more art than science. I struggled with it at first so you might want to try on a scrap piece of wood until you get the hang of it.

After you apply all the stain give it a good 24 hours to dry. You need to be able to touch it and it’s not sticky at all.

The center two leaves one after gel stain and other before.

As you can see from this photo the gel stain looks gorgeous and there are no bare spots anymore! Finish the piece with a gel topcoat or polyurethane.

The dining table, half stained with gel stain and half not stained yet.
The dining table after a coat of polyurethane in my dining room with a buffet on a wall with board and batten.

What To Do When Wood Won’t Take Stain

So finally the answer to this question is GEL STAIN! This is my go-to for wood that has some marks that won’t sand out, areas where it won’t accept stain, and more.

Don’t freak out if you have any of these issues, there is always a solution. And after using gel stain I am so happy with my dining table and my daughter loves her desk.

She can’t see where the water stain was at all, and if she could I would be hearing about it! Haha!

Here is my finished dining table all set and ready for a fabulous meal!

The finished dining table and chair with a blue table runner, dishes, and a wall that is white board and batten.
A closeup of the tables base after polyurethane was added.
The finished dining table and chair with a blue table runner, dishes, and a wall that is white board and batten.

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As a licensed Real Estate Agent and an avid home decorator, I strive to give my clients the very best I can when it comes to staging, selling, and decorating their homes. I have lots of experience with paint color choices and love to DIY my home so I can have everything just the way I want it. I share my ideas and projects with the world in the hopes that I can help others have their homes just the way they want as well.

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