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Painting Furniture: Black Stain vs Black Paint

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How to use black stain instead of black paint on furniture to achieve a super smooth durable finish.

I updated two pine tables for a client’s living room. When I was assessing what furniture to keep for the room’s makeover, I thought of a way to make two country pine tables she had take on a more modern appeal.

Sealed pine tables before using solid black stain to change the color

These pine tables with a clear polyurethane finish are clean lined and classic in form.  The natural pine finish just had to be changed to update to look more modern.

I knew I wanted them to be black, but I wasn’t too hip on painting them black.  If you have ever painted furniture with latex paint then you know it can get thick since you need two light coats of primer and then two light coats of paint.

4 layers – makes any piece look painted. I wanted a sleeker look and knew I could achieve that with stain. Yes, stain. Not wood toned stain, but solid color black stain.

two brands of black stain that can be used over pre-finished furniture.

I particularly like Minwax PolyShades in Classic Black and have been using it for many years, but have also found that General Finishes Gel Stain works just as well or even better.

Black Stain vs Black Paint on Furniture – What I like About It:

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

2. The black stain I use has 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 or more depending on the humidity level before the finish is super durable.

3.  Black stain 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 before I apply the stain.

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

The only thing I don’t like is the fact that it is oil-based. It needs to be cleaned-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.

How to Use Black Stain On Wood Furniture Instead of Black Paint

Minwax PolyShades Stain and Polyurethane in 1 Step and a foam paint brush on pine table.

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.  Stir…stir… stir.   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 to 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 using Polyshades. Black stain on half the table.

3. Since these tables already had a finish on them, you may get this spotting.  If that happens – don’t worry – you haven’t failed.

air bubbles showing up in first coat of black stain on table after it dried.

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.

Black Staining TIP:

When 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.

Black Stained Furniture Makeover After

No more country pine… hello… modern and chic black tables.

Finished black stained tables. i

You can see how smooth the finish is… black stain is so much better than paint when you don’t want a “painted furniture” look.

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.

Minwax PolyShades in Classic Black Satin stained tables in a dining room.

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

Newly stained black table against a white wall in a dining room.

Living Room Before

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

Before Living Room Decorating Makeover

Living Room 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.

After shot of living room makeover showing black stained table next to a light brown sofa.

The decorating transformation is almost complete – now it’s time to add the homeowner’s personality to the rooms.

Living Room Makeover AFTER - Green painted wall, new sofa and black stained table.

Image graphic showing one step in the process and on the bottom the finished tables.

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  1. What a big difference in that room Diane! The molding is just beautiful. The tables came out great! I never would have thought of stain for them; it’s amazing how you changed them from country to modern chic with a new color.

  2. It’s gorgeous! It’s gotten me thinking about a couple of projects also. I love everything you’ve shared on this blog. You have some wonderful ideas!

  3. Diane that is awesome. I’ve been considering using that for a project but wasn’t sure if it would really hold up over a finished surface. Do you go over the entire thing with clear poly after? And, if it is oil based, if your surface was finished with a water based product, will it adhere? (I guess it depends on how long that finish has cured…?) Great project and thanks for the information. I’m so excited now because I think my plan will work! Yeah!

    1. Hi Sandra-

      The PolyShades brand by Minwax has the polyurethane in it already. So no I don’t add a coat of poly after. The label says – Stain and Polyurethane in 1 Step. It goes on very smooth. If you have a water based finish you can lightly sand it, but you don’t have to go to the bare wood at all. It adheres beautifully.

      1. Can I rough up a PAINTED piece and also use that black stain successfully? I just bought an old dresser that is off white and want to paint it black for a tv stand. I thought I’d add some old glass knobs just to off set it. Or I heard of stenciling in a glossy black over a more matte finish on the front of the doors/drawers. I didn’t want that thick paint look so this might be what I’m looking for. Thanks for any advice. I haven’t done much furniture re-do cuz I usually LIKe the wood look. haha But I’m converting! :) Darla

        1. Hi Darla –

          Stain alone won’t go over paint, it is meant to penetrate wood, but the Polyshades that I used did work for me when I wanted black chairs. It was what I tested it out on before I used it on the polyurethaned tables that I posted about.

          After I used it to paint a previously painted white chair, I thought it was a fail since the Polyshades scraped right off after it was dry. I put the chair in my basement and forgot about it. A few weeks later I was going to paint the chair and found that the Black Polyshades finish was smooth and shiny and was adhered. I could not scrap any of it off. It just needed time to cure. If you want to use it over paint, then just know you have to wait a few weeks for it to cure before using it. I always sand and clean a piece well before I stain or paint anything.