How to Stain a hunka wood that doesn’t wanna be stained.

I knew when I was making this birdbath that I wanted the legs to be a brown – almost black stain.  So I grabbed me a can of very dark stain and tried it on the dowel.  I could see instantly that it wasn’t going to soak in and was basically going to look like crap.

So I  hammered the lid on the can of stain.

In this photo, along with my boob, you might notice the stain splattered all over me. This was removed with a very toxic blend of Varsol and swear words.

So since staining wasn’t going to work, I came up with this little method to make uncooperative wood dowels appear stained.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t invent this technique and it’s been done before but it’s darn effective.

Follow along if you would like some wood that appears to be stained but is actually painted with some folk art paints you bought at a garage sale approximately 7 years ago just KNOWING one day you’d have a use for them.  Cause you sure weren’t gonna use em to paint folk art.

Whenever I do something like this I mix my paint on an old ceramic tile. Nice and smooth, plus easy to wipe clean.

I added a blob of dark brown, then a blob of black. Sorry for using all these technical terms.

Since I want the paint to act more like a stain I dilute it with a few sprays of water.


sprayyyyyyy again.

Look. Art. Pretty, huh? This paint/water blob is now my screensaver.

Mix up your colours. Or colors. Depending on where you're from of course.

Paint's still too opaque and not dark enough.

Another spritz of water to thin it out ...

... another few drops of black to darken it up.

Better. Much better. Time for a snack. Back in a second.

now the important part. to really make the paint look like a stain, as soon as you apply it, wipe the paint off with a paper towel. The harder you rub, the more paint you'll take off. If it's still too opaque you can spritz the dowel with water and wipe again.

your fingers will look like this. deal with it. For an even better shot of my hands go to The Art of Doing Stuff Facebook page. There's also a story about my Simian line to go with the pic. I'm part monkey.

You need to varathane it if it's goin' outside. Yeah it's a spray, yeah it's probably toxic ... too bad. that's what I had in my basement so that's what i'm using.

try to look away or hold your breath ... whatever you need to do and then spray it! I gave it 3 thin coats.

Done dowels.

Now lets go make a birdbath!


  1. Langela says:

    Why wouldn’t it take the stain? Would roughing it up (with sandpaper) have made the stain penetrate better?

  2. says:

    kinda looks like liverspots Karen..just saying

  3. Jan says:

    I do think it was clever of you to wear a brown tank to do the stain job. The spots…well, you’re just trying on your 70-something skin. You could wind up on a special slide in a dermatology class.
    Who needs the fame of Canadian television when you could be on a poster of skin diseases?

    • Karen says:

      Now wouldn’t you feel bad if I DID have some kind of rapidly accelerated liver spot disorder I was too embarrassed to tell you about, so I blamed it on stain? Huh? Well wouldn’t ya? And I happen to think there’s a certain cache attached to being on a skin disease poster. But the truth is I don’t have a skin disorder. I have a brain disorder which I have chosen to call “stupid”.

      • Jan Smith says:

        Now I have guilt. Is there a special ribbon we should wear on our lapels? Maybe stain-coloured?

        • Karen says:

          Hah! I’ve actually stolen your Live Traffic Feed plugin, but I’m having trouble getting it to upload to my site in the pretty colours like you have. I’m supposed to put it in my wp-content/plugins folder but um … I have no idea where that is! Just uploading it within WordPress dashboard didn’t work. This is going to drive me crazy!!! Oh and … it’s pretty obvious this is all your fault. 🙂 The live traffic feed thing that is. I’m not about to blame my craziness on you.

        • Jan Smith says:

          So is this you asking me for help? Huh? Well, of course(especially in light of your condition) I am happy to help.

          Our version of WordPress* does not support java plugins (the bum), so here is a link to the non-java version.
          Not sure why they make it so hard to find.

          You customize it all pretty-like, then copy the code, then paste that into a text widget (under appearance). You will feel like a genius. If it doesn’t work, you will feel stupid. Oh. Wait–sorry, I am wearing a ribbon for that.

          Actually, I am just guessing. Do you have a plugins folder? Under appearance? If you do, well, you are in a shee-shee neighbourhood and I cannot help you.

        • Karen says:

          BINGO!!! I didn’t know there was also a non-java version and couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to do it. I had my colours all selected and everything. I just needed the html version, which I probably never would have found. You may take your stupid ribbon off. Mine will remain for now. T-H-A-N-K-S!!! Oh! And I do have a plugins folder, but it wasn’t compatible with the uploaded version the Feedjit gave me. I shall go formally thank you on my Facebook Fan page now!

  4. betty says:

    Looking at the photo where you are spraying the Varathane on the dowels, I’m just wondering how that plant in the background is doing? 🙂

  5. Flavia says:

    Hey please contact me I would like to share pics of my prize birdbaths for
    Less than $20 I have an idea id like to share with you

  6. Debbie McDonald says:

    Thank you for the tips on the dowels, I was about to start cussing. Very last piece of the project of course! You saved the day.

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