Spray-Applying Wiping Stains

Practical and economical ways to quickly apply wiping stains, with some related tips. November 15, 2010

I have to stain ten interior raised panel oak doors. I usually brush or rag my stain on, which takes a long time, so I was thinking of spraying it. The stain is oil base Zar fruitwood. I did not want to use my good spray gun, so I was thinking of buying a cheap Harbor Freight gravity HVLP gun.

What would be the best n/n to spray the stain? The spray room in my shop is not a dedicated spray room. I pull a goff curtain to separate my spray area from my shop and I cover the floor with rosin paper. Does spraying oil base stain make a big mess, or can you turn the air down and not atomize the stain?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor K:
Normally when shops switch to a spray only coloring system, it is done with a dye and not a normal stain. Normal stain will basically paint the surface and hide the grain. You could spray the stain and then wipe it off as if you applied with a rag or whatever. You will waste more product, but it is faster. Stain cleans up out of guns easily with lacquer thinner, and spraying it with your good gun really won't hurt. You will get more on your floor, but it's not all that bad. Use low pressure to keep from blowing it everywhere.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I do plan on wiping the stain off. I was just looking for a faster way to apply it. I have used dye stains before, but I never sprayed an oil stain and was just wondering if it was worth it to spray it, to speed things up. Also I did not want to make a make a big mess.

From contributor J:
There are a couple of ways to spray stain:

1) NGR stain is a very fast drying dye stain that can be applied by spray only, no wiping.

2) Vinyl or lacquer based spray stain has pigments added to a vinyl or lacquer base. The vinyl or lacquer base is used as a binder. These are spray only, no wiping.

3) Wiping stain is what you are referring to above, and here is how I do it. Use a cheap junk gun. Very low atomizing pressure so it is doing just a little better than sputtering. Spray the surface, and be sure to get the crack where the panel meets the frame (so you don't end up with a white line due to wood movement). Now take a fairly wet rag and smear the stain around, then wipe away the excess with a clean rag as you would with a wiping stain.

This is just a much faster method of applying the stain than by brush, sponge, or rag. These stains must be wiped off, as they do not contain a binder, and a topcoat finish failure will occur if you do not wipe away the excess. Tip size doesn't really make too much difference, as you don't really care how nice it goes on - you just want to get it on. I think my stain gun has a 1.4 tip. I use very low pressure so hardly any overspray is created.

Your floor will get covered in stain, so it is a good idea to put some paper down if you care about your floor. Be sure to let the paper dry before disposing so you don't end up with spontaneous combustion. Treat the floor paper just as you would your dirty stain rags and dispose with caution. Basically, spray on, smear around, wipe off. It's that simple and is a very fast way to apply a wiping stain.

From contributor C:
Get yourself one of those cheap pump sprayers at Home Depot - about $10.00. These are commonly used to apply plant food/pesticides. Usually they come with a few different size tips. Use the one that sprays a fan. The one I have sprays about a 15" wide fan. Pour in the stain. About 3/4 of a gallon is good. Screw the top back on and shake it up real good. Pump it up until you can't pump no more. Aim it at your target and press the trigger. Absolutely no overspray when you use a sprayer like this. They're quick, don't drip, don't require a power source other than a bit of elbow grease to activate them, and cheap.

From contributor J:
That's a great idea. Does the container hold up fairly well against the stains and thinner?

From contributor C:
In the 10 years I've used this sprayer, it's had water based dye stains, oil based stains, oil and water based varnishes. The containers are bulletproof heavy duty plastic and hold up to solvents. I haven't (nor would I) tried lacquer coatings, for obvious reasons. When I use oil based varnish, I spray it on and just tip it off. The unit I have was from Ace Hardware and the tips that came with the unit are made out of brass.

If I was going to do this job, I would place all the doors against the wall, spray all the face sides, wipe 'em down, flip 'em over, and do the other side. If you have a helper, you can start spraying while your helper starts wiping. Quick/easy, and profitable.

From contributor G:
I suggest using paint thinner instead of lacquer thinner for oil-base stain cleanup.

From contributor T:
Do you think that would work for spraying exterior stain on cedar siding?

From contributor E:
My dad sprays his cedar shingle house with one of those pump up sprayers. It works well.

From contributor C:
I don't see why you can't use it to spray stains on cedar siding. You can even clean the engine in your car if you want. Follow all common sense precautions when doing so; you know, like no flammable liquids, cover the distributor cap, etc. Simple Green works wonders on grease and oil.

From contributor D:
"These stains must be wiped off as they do not contain a binder, and a topcoat finish failure will occur if you do not wipe away the excess."

Not so. They certainly do contain a binder. The binder is what combusts spontaneously. And Zar stains certainly do warrant caution, especially with the wiping rags, even more than the floor paper. Dispose of those rags according to code, in closed metal containers that are filled with water. Laying the rags out to dry is not 100%, which is why OSHA and your fire department don't allow it.

Contributor C, your tip for using the bug sprayer to apply stain is excellent. Just excellent. This has to be in the category of why-didn't-I-think-of-that type of excellent.

From contributor J:

Yes, they do contain a binder, but not in sufficient quantity that you can apply the stain, not wipe it off, then apply a topcoat and expect it to stick. This is why it says "wipe away excess" on every can of wiping stain I have ever seen. Technically speaking, they do have a binder. Practically speaking, they do not have a binder.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I spray stain all the time and, like contributor K, just use one of my regular spray guns. To me it's no different than spraying anything else.

In the past, I used Zar a lot and my preference was to thin it about 50% with odorless mineral spirits. I used odorless just to keep the smell down; regular mineral spirits will work fine, or you could use naphtha, zylene, toluene, or even lacquer thinner if you prefer. Mineral spirits evaporate slower and gives you more time to wipe large surface like a full size door.

Like other consumer grade wood stains, Zar contains a fair amount of linseed oil (at least it used to), which dries more slowly than the production stains commonly used in finish shops. Once dry, it's pretty tough in the sense that you do need to use lacquer thinner to clean the spray equipment.

The slow dry time can be a concern if you're using a waterborne or catalyzed finish (pre-cat lacquer, conversion varnish, 2K PU, etc.) over it. Many waterborne finishes will not adhere well to drying oils (e.g., linseed or tung) that are not dried well. The same is true for catalyzed finishes. With catalyzed finishes, you can use the proper vinyl sealer over the stain, essentially treating it like an oil-base glaze. For water based finishes, I add an ounce of Japan Drier to each quart of stain before use (or thinning) and then let it dry overnight. In all but the most humid conditions, the stain will be dry the next day and you won't have any problems with the water based finish adhering well. If it is extremely humid, you'll have to give the stain extra time to dry.

From contributor R:
Get a pad painter from the house painting section. Up to 9 inches wide. They have a sponge backing that will really load up. You can do a 4'x8' panel with about 2 loadings. They work great!