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How to Stain Wood with Water Based Stain – Our DIY Desks’ Surface

I’m a tease.  Hubby & I have finally put together the desk we have been planning to build since July.  BUT, I have to let the desk surface cure for a week (which is cruel and unusual punishment) before putting anything on it.  I don’t want to introduce you to the desk when it is naked.  I’m not “staging” it, but at least adding the lamps I bought would be nice.  Right now it looks so lonely.

Because the glossy top turned out better than I imagined, I thought I’d post about the surface today and then reveal the desk and the welding tutorial next week.  Picture me hovering near the desk, tightly gripping a lamp, in anticipation.

Without further ado . . . here is the desk surface, in our gloriously ugly basement, a.k.a the pit of despair (more on our basement makeover plans in the next couple of weeks too):

Whitewashed Wood

Whitewashed Wood

Glossy, no?

How to Cheat:

We had planned on building a surface, like Hubby did for my vintage treadle sewing machine desk, but while we were at Lowe’s shopping for lumber, we stumbled upon this display:

Seriously, look at the sweet price:

One of these pre-fab surfaces was the exact size we needed and it saved us hours and hours and hours of work in our freezing garage.  Sold! 

But it looked at little too knotty for my liking.  Hubby is against painted wood (hence the wood-y kitchen we’ve maintained) so, because it is his desk, I opted for a stain.

How to Stain Wood White:

1. We lightly sanded the top and edges because the board was pretty sharp as-is.

2. We wiped it clean with a dry cloth.

3. Pouring a bit onto foam brush at a time (as per the instructions), we applied Saman water based stain and it was fantastic! 

After the fact, I learned that this brand of water based stain can be mixed for custom colours.  I opted for “whitewash“.

Whitewashed Wood

How to use water-based stain

Why we loved this stain (and this is my own opinion, Saman execs don’t even know I exist, let alone that I’m giving the company mad love):

  • Water based = easy clean up
  • Low odour, making it perfect for indoor projects
  • No overlapping marks
  • Really awesome coverage

With just one 8 oz. bottle we applied four coats, making the wood almost opaque but still grain-y and wood-y for the Hubs.

How to Make a Varnished Surface Super Glossy:

We used Varathane brand (click here to see the can’s English side – oops) Premium Diamond Wood Finish in clear gloss.  It, too, is water-based and although meant for outdoor items, worked just fine for a desk.  The helpful salesman at Canadian Tire who sold me my tiny first can of varnish is not as obsessed with glossiness as me.  When I bought my second can, this time at Home Hardware, the helpful salesman there suggested I buy a bigger can.  I’ll use the rest, he reasoned.  He’s smart.

Oh, tiny first can.  How quickly we parted ways.

I applied EIGHT coats to get the desk surface glassy-glossy and I love the result.  In the office, it just glows.

How to Varnish:

1. Lightly sand any grain that has been raised during the staining process.
2. Wipe thoroughly with a dry cloth
3. Ensure surface is free of debris (I missed this step – crap).
4. Apply varnish using a foam or bristle brush (don’t go cheap – my brush left fuzzies I noticed too late – double crap)
5. Allow to dry (2-4 hours for this brand).
6. Lightly sand any raised grain, wipe clean (the manufacturer’s suggest sanding the whole thing if more than 24 hours have passed).
7. Re-apply varnish and continue until you can see your reflection (I used 8 coats).
8. Patiently wait for the surface to cure for one week.

Saman stain whitewash

Despite some mystery debris trapped beneath eight layers of varnish like some weird grime time capsule, I am happy with the results.  I’ll show you the whole kit & caboodle soon!  



  1. ashleesanders
    November 30, 2011 / 3:35 pm

    pretty, pretty.

  2. Faith
    November 30, 2011 / 3:45 pm

    it looks great! Can't wait to see the entire desk, with lamps 🙂

  3. elaine
    November 30, 2011 / 4:15 pm

    looks great. Can't wait for the full reveal!

  4. Amelia @ House Pretty
    November 30, 2011 / 5:18 pm

    Cannot wait to see the whole thing! Love the glossy finish.

  5. Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
    November 30, 2011 / 6:30 pm

    I know, I'm a tease. But this way, my post about the desk won't be 10,000 words long. I got the stainy-varnishy bit out of the way so we can talk about welding and how flippin' awesome the desk is next week. Because it is. Normally I'm all insecure about stuff (esp. my artwork) but the desk is 100% cool.

  6. Kirsti @Lovely LaLaLand
    November 30, 2011 / 7:11 pm

    I love the whitewash stain! My husband is also against painting wood–something I often do. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Julia
    November 30, 2011 / 7:26 pm

    Ahh! I need the whole tutorial like yesterday. We have to have a desk for our office/guest room done and video turned in by Friday morning. *triple crap*! Looks sooo lovely!

  8. Beatrice @
    November 30, 2011 / 7:30 pm

    Don't you just love the glossy look. I love it on our coffee table. Looks great.

  9. Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
    November 30, 2011 / 7:36 pm

    Sorry, Julia! But I think welding the base like we did would be too much hassle for a Friday deadline (yikes!). Can't wait to see what you come up with.Beatrice – your coffee table remake was lovely!

  10. Carol@TheDesignPages
    November 30, 2011 / 7:56 pm

    That is so delicious looking!! I have to tell you that you have far more patience than I do. I have ruined the top of my dresser being premature in fluffing. Good for you for waiting:)

  11. Sudha
    December 1, 2011 / 1:17 am

    ohmy you are a genuis :*

  12. Dana@Mid2Mod
    December 1, 2011 / 3:02 am

    Oh, wow…you two have done a great job on the desktop. I love the high gloss finish!

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