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The Wood Flooring Countertop, Part II

How To Stain Wood So It Doesn't Look Blotchy & Horrible

Alright everyone, this is part two of my bathroom countertop adventure. (If you haven’t read the first part you can do that HERE.) When I left y’all we had successfully made a counter out of maple wood flooring, which happens to be particularly hard to stain. Here was my first attempt…

Blotchy Stain

It looked terrible and Adam vetoed it right away. And that’s saying something because he never vetoes things, he  usually just lets me gush about weird new ideas that my brain comes up with and then tries his best to make them happen. So we sanded off the terrible stain job (twice, cause I tried to stain it again) and then we just sealed the natural maple with tung oil.

Natural maple countertop

But, I hated it. So here I am, still trying to make a maple countertop dark and NOT have it look like poo.

I spent some time googing for answers and come across a lot of different ways to successfully stain maple. But most of these ways used tools I don’t have (sprayers) and supplies I didn’t want to buy (dyes), so I decided to just branch out on my own and experiment.

I had heard of pre-stain before but had never used it. We talked about using it when we built our farmhouse table but got lazy and just….didn’t. So I figured I’d try my luck with it on this project… after all, I certainly couldn’t make it any worse.

Minwax Pre-Stain

But before I went to town on my countertop (which we already had sanded down three times at this point) I used pre-stain on the sink cutout and tried a few different sample colors…

Stain Colors on maple over Minwax pre-stain

Yes, I’m learning…always the hard way though, haha.

At this point I was already impressed with the pre-stain, and ended up going with Dark Walnut (the color on the far left, although I ran out after one coat and used English Chestnut for the second and third coats).

It turned out great, I couldn’t believe it. I think pre-stain and I have a long and meaningful relationship ahead of us.

To seal it I planned to use Minwax water based poly for floors. The Rustoleum version is holding up amazingly on my paper bag floors, and since I love Minwax products I thought I’d give it a shot.

Minwax water based poly for floors

But I brushed some on and it immediately beaded up. I had assumed it was made to go over oil based stain like the Rustoleum stuff was, but I was wrong…my fault for assuming. That’s okay, I have other plans for it.

water based poly over oil based stain

So I wiped it all off and grabbed my (nearly empty) bottle of water based poly that I had used on my paper bag floors.

Rustoleum water based poly for floors

It went on perfectly…UNTIL I went to lightly finish sand it before my final coat. Once I did that the whole thing turned white. It didn’t wipe off, it was just…white. Sound familiar? I swear, I feel like the poster girl for Murphy’s Law DIYing. So, just like on my paper bag floors, I had to stain back over the poly…

staining over poly turned white

So I decided to fall back on ‘ol reliable. Hello best friend…

Minwax Polycrylic - my favorite sealer


Make a wood counter out of hardwood flooring and how to stain maple

Here is a side by side of the stained maple, with and without pre-stain.

Maple countetop with and with out pre-stain

Quite a difference, eh? Adam approves, compromise accomplished. High fives all around!

And here is the counter – au naturale, and now…

tung oil vs stain

So. Much. Better.

Rustic wood countertop and modern fixtures

Wooden Bathroom Countertop - Dark stained maple wood flooring

And there you have it. Not the most mind-blowing post by any means, but another project-gone-wrong conquered.  Actually, I’m going to brag on myself for just a second. Brace yourself, here it comes… a lot of my projects go wrong. A lot. Like most of them (is that not how you brag? haha).  BUT, I always get them done and they always turn out well…eventually. I hope y’all find both of those things encouraging, sort of like “if that hot mess Ashley can finish a project disaster, so can I”.  Actually if you want a great example of a project gone wrong, go read about my bed. That was the closest I ever got to giving up… Adam offered to burn it for me multiple times. Okay, brag over. So, did y’all do any projects this weekend? Dish.

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  1. I just installed a birch butcher block counter top and used the pre-stain. It’s a great product. Since my counter is around my stove, I just used an oil to seal it and skipped the poly stage. Glad to see you got it all figured out.

  2. I love this! I think you just inspired me for what I’m going to do with my hideous green laminate top in my master bath! I have already been on the hunt for a dresser, but was stumped by the counter top. Thank you!
    I am wondering about the white occurring with the poly over stain. You are using oil based stain right? And then water based poly? That might be the problem. I have always been told to use oil with oil and water with water. Maybe try a test with oil stain and oil poly?

    1. Your welcome! And yes, your right about the water based and oil based stuff, they shouldn’t mix. BUT the poly I used was water based and the bottle said is is specially formulated to go over oil based stain. Still, I’m not sure I believe it. Come to think of it though, the polycrylic I so love and adore is water based and I go over oil based stain all the time with that. So0o, hmmm….

  3. It looks awesome! I’m glad you stuck with it. You sure have a lot more patience for projects than I do. I would have thrown it out the window in a second!

  4. What a rich looking countertop! Hey girl, be proud of your accomplishments and the guts to try it. You are the truest example of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again”. Most of us just sit here procrastinating, afraid we might mess up, so we either never try it or never get it done.

  5. I love your persistence….sincerely think you do great stuff…and you could come and brain storm my bathroom our baths are the last rooms of a year of do it over…or should I say 2 years of do it over…been in the house over 20 years…honestly nothing like your fun stuff but it suits a couple old folks..darn I said it…

  6. It looks great! I think we tend to appreciate things more when they don’t come easy…at least that’s what I tell myself because our projects always seem to go a little “squiffy” (that’s my nice word for screwy!) but they turn out good in the end! I liken it to the appreciation you have for something you’ve saved up a long time for…always so much more gratifying than if you charged it & knew you had months (years?!) before it was paid off!

  7. If at first you don’t succeed right? I love the new stain! It’s pretty and perfect – the clear was just too, well, clear (picture that in bold italics, underlined a couple times).

    It took me just about 9 months to get a coffee/cocktail table right. In my defense, somebody thought it would be a great idea to spray faux rock texture on the tray top…do you have any idea how difficult it is to get that crap off? I’m still contemplating a chalkboard finish for that part, but it’s pretty much done. Now to tackle that post!

    1. Yes, the clear was blah. The green and that color together looked kinda…ill? The first thing I ever stripped was this dresser and it was no fun at all, rock texture sounds like a nightmare!

      BTW, the name if your blog is PERFECT.

  8. The darker stained countertop looks AMAZING! So much better than the natural maple. I’m so glad you stuck it out and got it to look the way you wanted it. :)

  9. I feel like that’s such the mark of a tried and true DIYer: someone who screws up at least once on almost every single project but still manages to make beautiful things. It’s part of the process! If I had given up every time I messed up on something I was making part of the way through, I don’t think I’d have a single project to show for myself. I think people give up way too easily and then convince themselves that they’re just not creative or crafty enough, they just don’t realize that perseverence is the key to successful projects hehe… Way to go for sticking with it, that’s a lot of frustration to have worked through I’m sure. It looks beautiful!

    1. SO true. I have to laugh when people think I’m just naturally good at DIY. I’m good at coming up with ideas and terrible at executing them… I’m just persistent!

  10. That looks gorgeous now, Ashley! I was looking at the first dark coat, wondering why it looked so familiar. Then it hit me, I have two dressers my parents stained when I was a kid that look EXACTLY like that. I remembered that they are maple too – it was one of those things where you buy the furniture in it’s raw state, then finish it yourself. My folks didn’t do much DIY in terms of furniture, so I guess they thought that was the best they could do. And now I know I can change that! I’m hoping to make two kick*ss dressers like your beautiful countertop. And you’ve made all the mistakes for me! Thanks :) (Actually, no doubt I will find plenty more of my own – lol.)

    1. That’s too funny! I actually didn’t mind the first attempt, I thought it looked rustic-y…but Adam insisted I could do better. He was right, as usual, and I have to admit that it looks 1000 times better now.

  11. Yay, congrats! This post is actually REALLY helpful! I love when people post their bloopers because it keeps me from making them too :) We recently tried Minwax stain+poly and it was awful. So I’m spreading the word to everyone: don’t go there!

    1. The polyshades? I’ve never tried it and haven’t heard good things about it. Two in one stuff normally doesn’t work as good as doing it in separate steps…how many women do you know that use 2in1 shampoo/conditioner? None, cause it sucks, lol.

  12. I found you through pinterst and you’re awesome, Thanks for sharing your experience on DIY. Your stuff, Beautiful. I have a house that I would like to DIY all over and you have provided lots of inspiration!

  13. What a lovely resolution. :) Your persistence has encouraged me to try things and to have faith that with patience, there is always a solution and so far, we’ve found no dead end. =D Looking forward to seeing that bathroom transform.

  14. I never have a project go smoothly. Something ALWAYS happens. I actually think the failed stain looks pretty, but I can see why it isn’t the look you were going for. The final stain is gorgeous!

  15. I love how that turned out! So much better than before and I am glad you did not have to settle on the light wood that you didn’t want. What a perfect solution. Looks fantastic with the green. I love that you got the knob moved on the door too. Looks terrific!

    1. It is loads better isn’t it? The knob looks better moved too…it didn’t get my bar (they’re like $20!) but it looks just fine. Thanks!

  16. Great tutorial! I had a sanding and staining FAIL on a dresser top. I’ve never heard of pre-stain, what a difference it makes! I’ll have to give it a go for the dresser…after I’m done being angry at it! lol

  17. I’m impressed with your perseverance!!! I think it’s awesome that you posted what happened and how you corrected it. I think that’s very helpful to people! We have found when working with maple to ‘pop the grain’ with water (just run a wet rag over it) before staining. It opens up the pores so the stain can get into the grain/wood. That’s probably what the pre-stain does. I’ve wondered about that product. We had the same thing happen with the ‘beading’ on a spray painted project and just finally changed the top! UGH! I just refinished my grandmother’s maple chest (the ones with the orangy finish?) into a very dark stain and used the MinWax polyurethane over it. Turned out fabulous! Of course, I failed TOTALLY on the first round of my stain. That orangy kept coming through. KEEP sanding! lol Love your bathroom cabinet and countertop!

  18. Thank you for showing the whole project–mistakes and all! So many people think that DIY’ing should look perfect the first time through and then when they hit snags they give up and think they aren’t capable of doing great things. I don’t think I’ve EVER managed to make something look perfect on the first attempt–and I’ve done thousands of DIY projects over the years. Your posts are so much more realistic and show people how to problem solve their mistakes and keep on working towards a great finish–instead of giving up and feeling like a failure! I love the sink redo–I’m going to be making a counter for my kitchen soon and have been looking at different ideas for that so this post was spot on!

  19. Its funny – the first one, that you didnt like – is the trendy look everyone seems to want now. I’m actually trying to do a rustic kitchen table. So I was wondering which stain you used first on your “oops?” that’s kinda what I’m going for.

    1. Haha, love it! I didn’t mind that first one either, but my husband vetoed it immediately. For the rustic look it just stained the maple with “dark Walnut” by Minwax. It looked so rustic because maple doesn’t stain well…plain cheap pine acts similarly if you don’t prep it.

  20. I’m a wood flooring contractor, for staining maple we water pop it with a 50/50 mix of distilled water and denatured alcohol. Soak a towel or rag in it, ring it out and wet the wood down, then let dry completely. The water raises the grain which lets the stain sink in deeper and more evenly. Your samples all would have been darker. Another approach to follow that with is mixing transtints with your waterbased finish. Again, the aim is even application of color rather than the undulations in grain that you get with maple taking the stain at different rates, which gives it that blotchy appearance. Tinting the finish is basically a perfectly even film of color, and if you do it in multiple coats it gives the color an amazing depth at different angles in the light. One of the most difficult tasks we’re faced with as wood floor finishers is matching existing flooring. You learn lots of tricks along the way. lol Btw that’s strange that the durafail crawled on the stain like that, we apply waterbased finishes and sealers over oil stain all the time with no problems whatsoever. Are Bona products available at the big box stores in your area?

  21. I love the ‘final’ of your bathroom cabinet. I found pre-stain about 5 yrs ago and won’t stain anything without it now simply because its gives such a better finish. Soft woods it stops the timber from soaking up too much stain and in hardwood seals it a little and helps give a smoother finish. The difference is amazing as we can see on your cabinet top. I’m in Australia. We don’t have furniture ‘wax’ here. Stains, oils and varnishes -oh and sanding sealer and pre-stain. I have used oils and simple bees wax. Can you tell us a bit ore info about these wax plz? Are they liquid or solid?

  22. This is a perfect post for us DIYers! I plan to do something very similar to my bathroom vanity. Just wondering how the top has held up since it’s near water?

    1. It’s holding up well, but it does need some more sealer. If you end up doing this make sure you use oil based sealer instead of the water based stuff I used, I think it would hold up perfectly if you did that.

      1. Hi Ashley! I have an old dresser/vanity that already has a nice color to it, but I need to seal it from water. When you said to use the oil based sealer instead of what you used, are you talking about the “Minwax, Polycrylic Protective Finish”? I can’t decide whether to use a poly type finish or a wax. The vanity will be getting plenty of use so I want to do it right the first time! Well, at least I hope to!! Lol! Thanks!

  23. I love this! I also just love that you keep it real and show us all the trials and tribulations of DIYing lol! Way too many blogs just show the perfect 10th attempt with no warning of what will most likely go wrong and how to fix it and we’re on the other end of the screen like…. “uhhhhhh.. why do I suck so bad at crafting?!” So yeah, new follower right here!

  24. I learned about pre-stain many years ago when a friend asked me to refinish some gun stocks.
    what a mess I had, so back to the paint store, where the women laughed and said, “All hardwoods need pre-stain!

    I was wondering what glue you used for this project, I am thinking about making cabinet doors
    out of hard wood flooring?

  25. Thank you! I’m refinishing a kitchen table for someone and I carefully sanded it all the way down, but when I stained it, it is coming out blotchy! Your advice helped. I’m off to Home Depot!

  26. I’m interested to know how the wood countertop holds up? What about getting water, perfume, etc. on the top?

  27. I worked at a cabinet shop for a while and can verify that the pre-stain is a must have. We used it for every project. Glad you got it figured out! Cheers

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