We all want a perfect finished product. You might wonder, does staining wood prevent warping? Good question. When combined with other techniques, the proper stain can help keep wood straight.
Staining your wood can help prevent warping. However, stain alone will not keep all boards straight. You must combine proper staining techniques with other methods of warp prevention. For instance, using a different type of wood or using a better cut of lumber.
This article will explain in detail how to stain your wood to prevent it from warping. We will also go over several other ways to keep your boards straight.
When you work hard on a wood project, you want the best outcome. There is nothing more disheartening than spending many hours on something only to end up with a warped and useless project. Let’s figure out how to avoid this.
Staining to Prevent Warps
Staining can protect your wood from warping. It achieves this effect by balancing the rate at which the board dries.
Before we get into how staining will help your wood, let’s talk about why wood warps in the first place.
Why Does Wood Warp?
Wood warps due to an imbalance in the drying process. To understand this concept better, think of a board like someone’s back. Think of the drying of the board like someone getting a tight muscle.
When you get a tight muscle, it will start to pull on your spine. If you can’t work out the kink, the tight muscle will begin to make you hunch.
The same is true with a wooden board. When it dries in a specific area, it tightens and shrinks. The result is pulling to one side and warping of the lumber.
Of course, lumber doesn’t always warp to the side. Sometimes it bows, or curves, or cups. See this article for a great example of the different ways a board can warp.
So, with all this warped thinking, where does staining come into to game? How can it help?
Let’s talk about that.
Why Staining Inhibits Boards from Warping
Staining your wood gives you a bushel of ripe benefits. A nice stain will give your project a beautiful look, protect it from the elements, and even inhibit the process of warping.
As we discussed in the section above, wood warps as it loses moisture. Since wood is not always uniform, it’s likely that one section of the wood with dry and tighten before other sections, thus causing the warp.
That’s where the stain comes in.
Wood stain is like a blanket, shielding the wood from the turmoil of heat and humidity. When you coat your board with quality stain, there is a more even dissipation of moisture.
This evenness causes the board to dry at a more constant rate, giving your board a better chance at keeping square.
But how do you do this? Let’s find out.
How to Stain Wood to Prevent Warping
There isn’t anything too complicated here. The main thing to do is to make sure you use a quality stain and apply a good thick coat – this could mean going over the board several times.
Also, many people advocate for staining your board sooner rather than later. By staining early, it is thought that you can seal the board before it has warped, and the moisture content is still at a stable level.
Another thing to keep in mind – you want to make sure you stain the ends of the board. The ends of the board will lose moisture much faster than the middle. The result of this increased moisture loss is the propensity for the board to ‘bow.’
There is debate about the necessity of coating the entire board. One side claims that this isn’t necessary. They state that the added time it takes to stain the bottom side of a deck – which doesn’t usually affect aesthetics – isn’t worth the minimal reduction in warping.
The other side claims that you should do everything you can to prevent the board from warping. All in all, what you decide to do will depend on how “perfect” your project needs to be.
If you are making a luxury dining table, you might take the time to paint the underside. However, if you’re building a small deck for your backyard, you might just decide to skip. It’s up to you.
Staining is an essential step in the finished product, and it will likely help prevent warping. However, there are many ways, probably more effective ways, to prevent warping.
We will go over several of them in the sections below.
Why Stained Boards Still Warp
Even the most pristinely stained board can warp if it hasn’t been vetted and cared for properly. It is very disheartening to build a fabulous project, stain it like a pro, and then have it turn into a cracked and warped eyesore.
Let’s go over a few common reasons boards will warp even when appropriately stained.
Here are three things to consider:
- Boards are a bad cut OR wrong type of wood
- Wood needs to be dried
- Planks aren’t adequately secured
Let’s learn more.
Wrong Boards or Bad Cut will Cause Warping Even with Stain
We’ve all seen the seasoned craftsmen at the lumberyard. He holds the two by four up like a rifle and gazes down the grain. Then he throws it aside. Not good enough. He may only keep two out of twenty boards. Maybe not even that.
What is this Sherlock Holmes of carpentry observing? What was wrong with all those other boards?
When selecting wood from a bulk lumber store, you must look out for three things:
- The right type of wood
This article will show you the different grain structures among boards. Quartersawn wood is cut with a more perpendicular grain, whereas flatsawn wood is more parallel with the grain.
Flatsawn milled from the center of the tree – this cut is much more likely to warp. If you ever see a board containing the center pith of the tree, avoid it.
Riftsawn is just a term describing how and where the board was cut from the tree. Using riftsawn lumber is slightly better than quartersawn. It’s grain structures are tighter and straighter than quartersawn, and both will stay straighter than a flatsawn board.
When you are picking through the lumber for your project, look out for these things. If you can get a board with a solid cut, it will be much more likely to hold the stain and remain straight for years to come.
Wood that Won’t Easily Warp with Stain
Another thing to consider is the type of wood. As it turns out, some trees grow with a straight grain that is resistant to warping.
If your project requires pancake-flat boards, consider using one of the following species:
- Douglas Fir
All three of these grow with a very straight grain and resist the cupping and bending observed in other types of lumber.
Allow Wood to Dry
Wood that has already dried is more stable than wood that is drying. Since the wood has already fought through the forces of drying, it will be more predictable in the future.
Conversely, if you build your deck with relatively moist wood, you’re more likely to observe some warping.
If you can, get wood that has been kiln-dried to a low percentage of moisture – this will give you the most predictable material. In addition to this, if you combine the dry lumber with a good stain, you’re much more likely to have a board that stays straight.
Let’s go over one last way to keep your stained wood straight.
Properly Secure Boards to Prevent Warping
Boards need to be secured appropriately before and after use. This means you should know how to store your wood to prevent warping.
Store your wood on a flat surface in a dry area. You should keep similar wood stacked together. If possible, use weights on top of the stack to encourage the boards to stay in line.
However, you should also use the appropriate fastener for your project. If you’re building a deck, make sure the screws or nails are suitable for the task. Boards that aren’t adequately secured will be much more likely to warp.
This also goes for building a bookshelf or desk. Check to make sure any glue you use is the proper strength and that you keep the boards clamped as the glue dries.
Stains can help keep your wood straight. However, if you think the stain is the only thing that defends your project from warps, you will be disappointed.
To have a genuinely perfect project, you must combine all the elements we discussed today.
That means starting by selecting the right cut of wood – quarter or riftsawn; select a wood that is already dry; make sure you store the wood properly; build your project effectively, and then stain everything efficiently.