Well, those floating shelves are finally finished, and I am more than happy with the outcome. Behind the scenes, they definitely have their flaws (I’m talking, screws that completely stripped before I got them 100% of the way in, a crooked bracket, and shelves that went on tighter than I would have liked) but, in the end, the look is exactly what I was going for.
Not so perfect
After I put all of the shelves up, I realized I really messed up on one of them. I made the marks for drilling on the wrong side of the shelf and drilled the holes for the brackets on the side that I actually wanted to face IN. The side that I wanted facing in, had a big rut in the wood that wasn’t exactly pretty. When I put the shelf up, I noticed that I drilled on the wrong side and the rut was facing OUT. I’m not going to lie, I was really upset about it. I had drilled the holes perfectly… I mean this was the only shelf that slid on to those brackets with absolutely no stress on either bracket. The perfect fit and I had messed it up. I had to find another way to fix the mistake besides drilling a new board.
Filling in the Gaps
I’ve used wood filler before, but it never turned out quite right. No matter how much I stained it, the wood filled part was always too light. This time, I went to the hardware store and asked a few people. One of the ladies working there pointed me to Zar wood filler. She said it works better for staining because it is made of actual wood particles. She also suggested mixing it with a drop of the stain (which I never thought of doing).
I bought the filler and got to work mixing in a drop of stain and filling the holes. It worked well, but since the rut was so deep (I should have used a few layers) it took a while to be completely solid. Like a day and a half. I wasn’t in a huge rush so it wasn’t a big deal.
After seeing that it was completely dry, I got my sander ready, put on some 120 grit sandpaper and got to work sanding each board. I sanded all of the edges and corners so that they weren’t as sharp, and each surface including the one that I used wood filler on. About a half hour later, I was happy with the smoothness of the boards and moved on to staining.
Stain it the Foolproof way
It’s cold outside here in Pennsylvania, which is the worst part of staining in the winter, so I moved my work to Bryan’s garage instead of my usual workspace (the sunporch) and got all of my staining gear together. I started by using a microfiber cloth to clean the wood shavings off my boards. This is an important step so that it doesn’t mess up your stain. I also like to use gloves while handling wood that is going to be stained so that none of my fingerprints leave oil on the wood that will affect the stain.
Conditioner is Key to Beautiful Hair AND Wood
After using the microfiber cloth, I used one of those cheap paint brushes to brush Wood Conditioner onto each board. I also turned the board to get the conditioner on all sides. The wood conditioner makes the wood damp so that the stain goes on evenly with fewer blotches. I used the microfiber cloth to wipe off any excess conditioner after a few minutes.
Next, it was time for the wood stain. I love using gel stain because the gel controls the amount of stain that soaks into the wood. This makes for an even finish that is the color you want. I’ve always ever done 1 coat, but you can do another coat if you like it darker. The gel stain requires about a minute or two of mixing before it is smooth. Even then, you might still have a lot of lumps in it, and that’s ok.
I used the same brush that I used for the wood conditioner to apply the wood stain (I used walnut stain). Using the same brush never seemed to matter for me, but if you are worried about it, get a new brush. I do one board at a time, and brush stain all over the board. The first time I used Minwax Gel Stain, I freaked out because it looked like I was painting the wood a super dark color. But don’t worry! Once you wipe off the stain it will be the beautiful color you were hoping for.
Look it over
After brushing the stain over the whole board I waited a few minutes. It says to wait for 5, but I didn’t want it too dark so I probably only waited 2-3 minutes. I then used an old cloth (I like to use cut up T-Shirts) and wiped all of the excess stain off. I also stained the bottom of the board where the brackets will go quickly and wiped it off. When I was finished, I looked at the board and turned it over to make sure I got all of the excess stain off and that it was the color I wanted. I did this for each board, one at a time. (I should note here that I have never tried this kind of stain on a wood other than pine… I’m not sure if gel stain acts differently on different types of wood!)
The boards came out just like I wanted! There were no blotches, and the wood filler worked great. You can see where I filled in a little bit, but you probably wouldn’t notice unless I told you! No big deal.
Protecting the wood
The last job was adding polyurethane to make the shelves strong, slightly shiny, and harder to damage. I actually used clear polyurethane for floors because I bought a gallon when I did my steps, and the leftovers have lasted me years, so why buy another kind? You can use another kind, but I like to use clear poly so that I can be sure that it won’t change the color of my wood. I also use poly on painted projects once in a while, so if you buy the clear kind, you can use it on projects that are painted too (like this farmhouse table). The oil based poly will dry yellow and turn more yellow as time goes on.
I waited 1 day before applying poly because it is important to let the stain dry. I put my shelves up because I figured it would be easier to put poly on them when they were already floating. The process was pretty easy and straightforward. Mix the poly, brush it on with a foam brush, wait 2 hours for it to dry, repeat. I repeated 4 times and sanded after the 2nd coat and after the last coat with a 220 grit sanding block.
The shelves are officially finished! Yes, it was lots of work, but it was also lots of reward. I can’t wait to style these shelves differently like 20,000 times!
How to stain your own pine shelves or any furniture project!
What you need:
How to prep and stain:
- Use wood filler (I’d recommend Zar wood filler) to fill any holes in your project. Use some of your stain to add a small dab into the wood filler, mix around and apply as instructed.
- Wait until the wood filler is dried, then sand the corners, edges, and faces, of your project with 120 grit sandpaper. An electric sander works wonders!
- Put on latex gloves and wipe down your project with a microfiber cloth
- Use a cheap brush to brush the wood conditioner on your entire project. Wait a few minutes and wipe off excess with the microfiber cloth.
- Stir your Minwax gel stain for a minute or two and apply to your project with a cheap brush. If your project is large, do this in sections at a time. Wipe off excess after 5 minutes or less. (really make sure all of the extra conditioner is off, otherwise, it will continue to darken in those areas) Stain again if you want a darker color.
- Wait for the wood stain to dry for 24 hours.
- Apply clear polyurethane with a foam brush. Wait 2 hours between coats (or as instructed) sand between the 2nd and 3rd coat, and again at the end (unless instructions on the can say otherwise)
- Admire your hard work!
Have you stained another kind of wood (like oak or walnut) with Gel Stain? I’d be interested to hear how it worked!