How Long Does It Take Wood Stain to Dry?
Completing a woodworking project feels great. To see all of your joints properly connected, your nails and screws recessed and filled, and your project sanded down smooth is truly a fulfilling moment. But you’re not necessarily quite done.
You still have the finishing to do.
This generally consists of staining and adding a protective polyurethane coat. Staining is the process of adding a penetrating formula of thinner, binder, and pigments to the surface of your project that can color your wood and bring out its natural grain pattern.
This process can be completed very easily as long as you allow time for your stain to properly set and dry before adding a second coat or a polyurethane.
But how long should you let your wood stain dry before moving forward? Well, that depends on a huge number of factors. In this article, we’ll explore some of the major determinants of how fast your wood stain will dry.
Type of Wood Stain
One of the biggest factors that determine how long it takes your wood stain to try is its type. Some stains will take much longer than others simply based on their material composition. However, each stain variation has its own best fit application. So, be sure to select the proper stain for your project regardless of drying time.
Water-Based: This type of stain is a quick-drying stain that is organically more environmental-friendly than most other types of stains. And while it does dry relatively quickly, there’s a major downside to using it. Since it does dry down so fast, you may get uneven splotches of pigment if you don’t work fast enough. However, that doesn’t mean it will be instantly dry and ready for a second coat or polyurethane. The surface of the wood will still feel tacky to the touch. Also, you’ll get a much lower degree of penetration with this stain than other variants.
Oil-Based: Oil-based stains are extremely popular stains for home handymen and DIYers. It doesn’t dry nearly as fast as water-based stains allowing you to take your time and apply a much more evening coating. Oil-based stains also penetrate your project much deeper than water-based stains. The initial dry down may take around an hour, but it will take around 8 hours for it to fully set and be ready for a second coat.
Varnish: Varnish stain is essentially a 2-in-1 combo for finishing. It contains both a stain and polyurethane. This allows you to only need a single coat for your project. However, it dries quickly, and if not applied properly, varnish can become very splotchy and uneven. You should be comfortable with other stains before using a varnish. We recommend letting your varnished project rest for about 8 hours before calling it complete.
Lacquer: This is some powerful stuff. Lacquer is most commonly used by professional woodworkers in a commercial setting because it dries so fast. Many lacquered projects can be set and finished in just 15 minutes. However, this particular finishing product contains a bunch of chemical solvents that produce a strong distinct odor. When working with lacquer, ensure that you are in a very well-ventilated area and are wearing a mask designed specifically for fumes.
Gel-Based: These stains are the new kids on the block — so to speak. Relatively new to the stain market, they have a much thicker viscosity than other stains. Instead of being a runny liquid, they are more the consistency of jelly. They are extremely easy to work with and particularly useful for staining vertical surfaces. They also cover up natural blemishes much better than other stains making them great for staining woods such as pine. However, due primarily to their thickness, gel stains take much longer to dry. You’ll want to give them at least overnight to set up.
Metalized: This type of dye stain is almost the exact opposite of gel-based stain. Instead of a thick consistency, it’s very thin and dries very fast. However, its thin consistency allows it to be sprayed for commercial use.
Water Soluble Aniline Dye: If you’re looking to do things old school, try using aniline dye. It comes in a powder form in which you can mix yourself. The more powder you use, the richer the color will be. This dye dries relatively quickly and only needs a few hours before you can apply a second coat.
The ambient temperature of your workspace can have a huge impact on how fast your wood stain will dry. The ideal staining temperature is between 50°-90° F. This range is best to ensure the viscosity of your stain remains workable and there’s a lower chance of pigment or solvent separation.
Generally speaking, the higher the temperature, the quicker your stain will dry. Stains can take much longer to dry and set at colder temperatures.
Humidity is another factor that will affect the drying time of your stain. Anything higher than 70% humidity will cause your stain to dry much slower. While this can be avoided by staining during dry parts of the day, some woodworkers don’t have that liberty. For example, certain parts of Florida and Louisiana can remain at a constant humidity above 70%. In these cases, we recommend the use of a workshop dehumidifier.
You also need to be mindful of wood moisture when staining—particularly for outdoor projects such as decks and patios. Your project should be as dry as possible before you start staining. The best way to determine your wood’s moisture content is to use a moisture meter. These are two-pronged instruments that will give you a readout of how wet your wood is. It’s best to only stain wood below 15% moisture. Anything higher than that can cause serious problems such as trapping in fungus and mold, promoting mildew growth, and making your project much more likely to rot.
When staining your project, you should maintain proper ventilation regardless. However, did you know that the air circulating through your workshop can have a faster drying effect on your staining process? If you’re looking to dry your projects faster, you may want to invest in a shop fan. However, if you’re using certain stains—such as an oil-based one—be sure to not point the fan directly at the project. This can cause the stain to run and travel.
Staining Your Wood Project
There are a ton of different factors you need to consider when calculating stain dry-down times of your projects. However, the most impactful one is which type of stain you’re using. But don’t just go choosing stain based on dry-down times. Choosing the best type for your application is always the best route to take to produce the best project you can—even if it does take a little patience.
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons