Staining Cherry Wood

Have you ever put hours and hours of sanding into a gorgeous piece of Cherry, carefully tack clothed everything and meticulously applied your first coat of stain, only to be horrified by what looks like handprints on the wood? You are not alone. Cherry can be a nasty customer to stain. It has a very tight closed grain that absorbs stain somewhat unevenly. But do not despair! If you know the right techniques you can and will get beautiful results with Cherry.

Lets start with the sanding. Although woods like Mahogany and Walnut can, and should be sanded to 180, 220, and sometimes even higher, Cherry wood is usually best sanded no higher than 180 grit. In my opinion, stopping at 150 grit gives the best results. If you go much higher, it tends to close up the grain and not allow proper stain adherence.

The next trick you can use is to apply a coat of Bartley varnish to the wood first. Allow to dry at least 6 hours. Then apply the stain. The varnish acts as a type of primer or base coat. Since the stain is not adhering directly to the wood, the stain will be be a lighter shade. Additional coats will deepen the color somewhat. This process also works well with softer woods such as pine or poplar or even veneered plywood.

The exception to the lower grit sandpaper is areas of end grain. End grain has the tendency to absorb much more stain (or any moisture really) like a sponge. Think of wood grain as a very tight bunch of tiny soda straws with the ends of the straws being the end grain. The hollow straws are perfect conduits for any liquid. When you sand to a higher grit, it is like closing the ends of the straws, so not as much adherence takes place. So sand your end grain to 220, apply a small amount of varnish to just the end grain and then immediately apply a coat of stain. You do not need to wait for the varnish to dry before applying the stain to end grain.