Painting Furniture: Black Stain vs Black Paint

Remember my client’s house that I have been working on?  The one with the blue trimmed windows?  Well, I have been busy helping make it over step by step.  This week I updated two pine tables the homeowner had. When I was assessing what to keep – these two tables made the cut. They are clean lined and classic.  The natural pine finish just had to be changed to be updated to  look  more modern.


Two pine tables with a clear polyurethane finish.

Furniture Before staining with Classic Black Satin Minwax PolyShades Stain

I knew I wanted them to be black, but I wasn’t too hip on painting them black.   I wanted a sleeker look and knew I could achieve that with stain. Yes, stain. Not wood toned stain, but color stain. I particularly like Minwax PolyShades and have been using it for many years.

Black stain vs black paint on furniture -what I like about it:

1. It is thin and sort of sheer looking. It won’t look thick or heavy on your furniture the way paint sometimes does.

2. It is color and polyurethane applied in 1 step – which gives you a truly durable finish.  It does take time to cure  – a few days to a week before the finish is super durable.

3.  It can be applied right over any existing finish.  I usually just take a piece of fine grit sandpaper over the surface quickly to roughen up the surface.

4.  I love the results – smooth and factory finish-like!

The only thing I don’t like is the fact that it is oil based. Needs clean-up with paint thinner.  I don’t let this bother me too much though, because the finish comes out perfect – it is worth having to clean up or just throw out a brush.

If you don’t want to clean up a brush, you can buy a high quality foam brush.  I used one made by Wooster. It is a little more expensive, but you will get a nice even finish with it. I have also used this stain successfully with a Wooster bristle brush made specifically for staining.

Minwax PolyShades Stain and Polyurethane in 1 Step


1. Rub a piece of fine to medium grit sandpaper over the surface of  your piece. All it needs is a quick roughing up.  Clean off debris with a tack cloth.

2.. Make sure you stir the stain well before applying.  Dip tip of brush into can and start from the center of your piece out to the edges using long light strokes. You don’t want to apply it too heavily. 2 or 3 light coats are much better than a heavy coat.  Continue staining until the piece is covered.  Let dry.

How to stain furniture black instead of painting

2.  Since these tables already had a finish on them, you may get this spotting.  If that happens – don’t worry – you haven’t failed.  Let it dry and go over with the fine grit sandpaper again.  Clean the surface with a tack cloth to remove the sanding debris.  Apply another light coat of stain. Let dry.  It will be gone.  Apply another light coat of PolyShades if needed, making sure to use long light strokes.



DIY Decorating TipWhen staining or painting any piece of furniture black or a very dark color make sure you have a few good light sources directed on every side of the piece.  This way you can see if you are covering the surface completely and catch any drips before they dry.



Modern black tables.

How to stain furniture instead of painting it


The long table is going in the dining room.   I will show you the room when it is completed – this is just a sneak peek.

How to stain furniture with Minwax PolyShades in Classic Black Satin

I love the way it looks against the white board and batten walls.

How to stain a table black


Remember the blue trim on the living room windows and the 80′s country look?

Before Decorating Makeover


It is GONE!  The trim and walls have been painted, new wood blinds, furniture, and lamps added.  The black stained side table and rug are the only elements that were existing.

Minwax How to use stain over an old finish on furniture

The decorating transformation is almost complete – now it’s time to add the homeowner’s personality to the rooms. I will show you the “After” when it is completed.

Living Room Makeover


To see more about this house and the before photos click here-  A Client’s House:  Makeover




  1. Cricket says

    I am about to embark on a project as such . A coffee table, with stain and shine on it. I would call it danish modern. I can see it in black and it has a lip edge so I can add glass on top with black and white photos under that.
    I can see it looking so modern using the black stain. Wish me luck as I’m just beginning to lightly sand.
    I wish there was a way to share the end results as I get to that point.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience using the min wax polyshades. I will at least let you know my results. Thanks again, Cricket

  2. Jackie says

    Well, I finally got around to starting my chair. I have one coat on now and it is absolutely beautiful! I can still see the grain which I expected with one coat…so I’ll do another one in a couple days…I came down with a cold and can’t paint and sneeze at the same time, lol…I am soooo glad I found this site! I’m going to do more pieces black when I finish the chair…

  3. michelle says

    question…I am doing the exact same thing with 2 end tables that I bought from craigslist
    however…the top of mine does not look good. I sanded then did the polyshades black. it looked streaky especially when the light hit it. so I lightly sanded and did the second coat…still the same problem! I lightly sanded and did a 3rd coat on top…the same result!! What am I doing wrong? or is it just because the light is hitting it directly so it is noticeable?

    • says

      Hi Michelle – The only thing I can think of is that the Polyshades may need to be stirred more and stirred throughout the application process. It could also be the brush. Many factors – temp in room, etc. It should not look streaky, but an even smooth coat of color. I have heard from another reader that they thought it could be a bad batch of Polyshades. I am not sure. I have used it two times so far and have not had the streaking problem.I even had the pieces out in the sun and the color was even. I think what you have done, sanding and reapplying is exactly what I would tell you to do. My next step would be to try a different brush and stir the can frequently.

      • michelle says

        thanks for taking the time to answer me so quickly. I just tried it again and got the same results. I think maybe I sanded the original table too much to begin with and I am seeing the “scratches” from the sandpaper. Live and learn!!! Next time I will just rub the really fine sandpaper very lightly.

  4. Stephanie says

    The table I want to stain has a small spot on it about the size of s 50 cent piece that my son scratched with a fork. What should I do to this area before using this product on the table?

    • says

      Hi Stephanie – To smooth out the scratch, just run a hand sanding block with medium grit -100 grit sandpaper over the surface. It will smooth out the fork marks. Once it is smooth – continue to rough up the rest of the surface so the paint has something to adhere to. If the fork marks are very deep, you can fill them with wood filler putty first. It is sold in the paint and stain aisle. Put the putty in the marks, let dry and then sand smooth then sand the rest of the table before staining.

  5. Matt says

    hello, I just purchased a house with, dark brown knotty pine cabinets. i would like to stain/ paint then a dark grey/ black, what would u recommend, i have a have grey (barn board coloured hard wood floors in mind) and stainless appliances.

  6. Cricket says

    Ok, just finished the sanding on my danish modern coffee table yesterday.
    Did the clean up and started the first coat of min wax polyshades/black.
    This is working great for me. I might have gotten a little thick on the top
    as it nearly looks like finished product. I will lightly sand in a day or two and do just one more coat. Thanks Diane for this awesome idea.

  7. Melissa says

    I am planning on refinishing a dresser I had purchased at a garage sale and had a few questions for you. I plan on lightly sanding the top to get an even finish, as well as the drawer fronts, but would i also need to sand in the corners and small areas of the dresser design or could i just stain right over it without sanding first?

    Also, I saw that you can also buy the polyshade classic black satin in a spray form – have you tried that before and if so how does it compare to the painting technique? I cant decide if I want to spray paint it or brush it.


    • says

      Hi Melissa -

      I have never used the spray version, but think it would work just as well. Use long strokes as you spray, don’t hold the nozzle too close or in any one spot for a long time. This will help you get a smooth even finish. Follow what ever the label says about how long you should wait to re-coat. I would sand over every part of the dresser. It is needed so the stain has something to adhere to. You don’t have to get it down to the bare wood, but just enough to rough the surface up. If the corners are ornate or decorated, cut up the sandpaper into smaller pieces and fold it so you can get into any grooves.

      If you are hesitant – try it on a small area or least seen area of the dresser first to see if you like it.

  8. Wendy says

    Hi Diane

    I am planning to do my bedroom furniture black. I was going to paint til I came across your blog. The top surfaces of the furniture however are VERY slick and may be laminate not positive. My question is…is there anyway for the stain to work on this? My plan is to have the whole piece black except for the drawer facings… which I am leaving wood color. I will be making the wood a little darker, right now the wood is lighter than I would like. I wasn’t sure if the stain would work on the tops of the bedroom set. If I just the stain I may have to leave them as tbey are or decide to do paint to cover it all.

    • says

      Hi Wendy – I have only used the black stain over wood. I am not sure how it would adhere to slick laminate even with sanding. You would have to do a test and wait a few days to see if it adheres or not. Most laminate surfaces need to be roughed up and primed with a gripping type primer before painting. You may have to do this with the black stain also and then that would take away the reason to use it in the first place (thinner coat – no paint build up) I think I would go with gripping primer and paint over the laminate areas.

  9. Wendy says

    Thanks Diane

    Do you think that its going to look okay with using the gripping primer and paint and stain the wood areas? Or are you suggesting paint all of the furniture or did you mean use the gripping primmer and the stain. Sorry for all the questions.

    • says

      Hi Wendy – I think it will look great – a two toned look. The top, sides and front could be primer and black paint and the drawers fronts can be stained. With some interesting pulls or knobs, it will look very chic.

  10. YaYa says

    I love this idea! I am creating a nursery for my sister and I was wondering if this stain would be okay in a nursery and if so does it need to be completed a certain amount of time before it can be put into the nursery?

  11. Holly says

    This looks easy and fantastic! I read where the MinWax was only supposed to be applied to “naked furniture”. I’ve got an old buffet that I want to make a little more “with it” looking – I think I’m going to try this. Thanks!

  12. Nay Doud says

    I used wood paint stains over laminated surfaces. What is the best method to treat or remove the stains layer to avoid staining other contacting surfaces or leaving prints on clothes

    • says

      Hi Nay – I am not exactly sure what you are asking. I would use Painter’s tape to mask off any areas you don’t want stain to get on. After placing the tape on, seal the edge of the tape by running a finger nail or the edge of a credit card over it. Then add or remove the stain.

  13. Jenny says

    Hi Diane!!
    Loved your blog. I’m doing my first paint job of furniture ever. Do you think a stain like you used here would work on a same colored wood dining table?

    Here is a picture I found of someone else’s blog with the same exact dining table I have and want to paint black- . She used sanding and then painting with General Finishes milk paint in Lamp Black. She says that looking back on it, she would have used primer and maybe a top coat. If you think it will last with a stain alone (or primer/stain or stain/topcoat), I would obviously just use that . :) What do you think? Thanks in advance!! – Jenny

    • says

      Hi Jenny – She did a fabulous job. She used many coats of sealer on the top that is labor intensive.

      The stain works beautifully, but you do need to have nice long strokes for large areas to get a smooth streak-free finish. You also have to let it cure before using or it may chip off. Up to 3 weeks. This may be hard if you use the table.

      Another way I would recommend that is super durable is to use chalk paint. Many think that chalk paint has to be distressed or aged, but it does not. If you want black black, I would buy it and not make it yourself. Making black chalk paint sometimes ends up lighter since you need to add white powder to make it. You can roll it on and then use an angled brush on the rungs or chairs and table legs. For shine – use a non-yellowing water based poly like Minwax Polycrylic or Zinseer Ultimate Polyurthane to seal it.

      Sand the table first to rough up the finish – a hand sanding block with 100 grit sandpaper will do the job. Then two thin coats of black chalk paint and then 2 light coats of poly.

      For this dresser:
      I used DIY chalk paint, I aged and glazed it, but I am showing you it so you can see how smooth and thin the paint went on. It is not sticky, thick or rubbery like regular latex paint cures.

      • Jenny says

        Thanks for your helpful tips, Diane!

        So do you think the results with the stain and the chalk paint are about the same–except that the stain needs longer time to set and long strokes?

        Do you like the chalk paint over the milk paint that the girl in the blog used?

        And lastly– do you think primer is necessary for any (stain, chalk paint, or milk paint) ?

        Thanks again :D

        • says

          Hi Jenny – I do think if you use thin coats of black chalk paint – you will like the results after the poly is on. The finish will be flat until you seal with wax or poly. The stain can streak on large flat areas – so if you have never used stain before, you may have to practice on a board first to get the staining technique down. Milk paint is thiner than chalk paint, but you do have to have a binder mixed in it so it will stay on – otherwise it will chip off easily. Some like this chippy look. Since the photo you showed me was a shiny black table and chairs with no aging or distressing you would have to make sure to use a binder. With chalk paint, you do need to sand it well to rough up the surface but do not have to remove the finish to the bare wood. You do not need a primer with chalk paint.

          With that said – a primer is never a bad thing. Since you are not distressing -you could use a gripping primer after sanding. Glidden Gripper is one of my go to primers. The other is Kilz. Roll it on very thin. Get it mixed to a grey formula – don’t use white. It will be too hard to cover with black.

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