Leaning Wall Shelves Part 8: Staining the shelves

By Pinktoesandpowertools | Woodworking Tutorials

Leaning wall shelves close up of espresso finish

Finishing a woodworking project is never my favorite part of the home improvement process, and it is always a little daunting because I’m always afraid I’m going to mess up the part that is already done! You just never know for sure how the finish is going to look, especially stain. Luckily I love how these leaning wall shelves turned out with the General Finishes espresso water-based stain I chose.

Leaning wall shelves stained with General Finishes espresso water-based stain

I love how the finish really brought out the distressed parts of the wood. The espresso color was perfect–really deep, rich looking without overpowering the wood to the point that it looks painted.

I recommend getting out one of the scrap pieces of lumber you used on the project and testing out the color you came home with before going any further. So much easier to change your mind now, rather than once you’ve started on the actual project!

Since I had sanded so thoroughly before assembling the leaning shelves, I did not do that again.

The staining supplies:

General Finishes espresso water-based stain and staining supplies

About General Finishes espresso water-based stain:

I used general finishes espresso water-based stain. UPDATE: this is exactly what I used and got the finish you see in the pictures. However after learning more since this project, I would highly recommend using a preconditioner before staining pine so that it goes on evenly without blotches. You can find this in a container that looks just like your stain containers in the same section of the store.

The stain was recommended by a member of the community over at Ana White’s website. If you want to see the results on red oak, click here and take a peek at nickybecky’s bookshelves. There’s a whole discussion on how to get a dark brown result if you are staining–the post has a lot of good suggestions. (Update May 2018–this link no longer works. But if you go to ana-white.com and search for “espresso stain” you’ll get some advice in the results.)

Here are the shelves waiting patiently:

Leaning wall shelves ready to be stained with General Finishes espresso stain

As you can see, I did the finishing inside. I was particularly happy to hear that General Finishes espresso water-based stain was not smelly at all, which was important to me–and I am also happy to report that was true. We smelled it very slightly the night I applied it and hardly at all after that. There is some helpful information on applying water-based stain on GeneralFinishes.com that I read through before I started.

The staining process I used:

I applied one coat of the stain with some foam brushes and wiped off any excess with old socks (we have an endless supply of socks with holes in them that I was happy to dig into). This stain dries very quickly, but I went with the recommendations on the can and waited two hours before putting on the polyurethane.

The poly I chose was General Finishes High Performance Poly in a satin finish. I applied one coat, waited the recommended two hours, did a very light sanding with 320 grit, wiped the dust off, and applied again. I did 3 coats for these shelves–the minimum that they recommend. These will not see heavy wear where they are going, and the poly is also used on floors, so I felt that would be adequate coverage for my purposes. I completed the staining in one night and finished the poly coats for both shelves the next day. I love this stain and polyurethane! Quick and a beautiful finish–can’t beat that.

The finished product!

Leaning wall shelves finished with General Finishes espresso water-based stain

Do you have a recommendation for a stain or topcoat that you really love? Do you prefer painting or staining your finished project? Let me know in the comments!

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