How to Get a Light Modern Stain Finish in 4 Easy Steps

June 30, 2022

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Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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Sharing with you today the best light modern stain finish to bring new life to any old furniture piece.

light modern stain finish

A light modern stain finish is a timeless option for any furniture piece. This easy technique will bring new life to an old wood finish. I have applied this finish to a few of my pieces lately and will break down this easy four step process with you. 

You are going to learn the process I use to get this beautiful light stain, the best products to use, and tips on how to get the perfect finish. If you’re starting with an already stained piece, I’ll also be sharing the easiest way to remove the old stain.

After learning the easiest technique to a light modern stain finish, you’ll be eyeing other furniture pieces you can bring new life to. 

This post is all about the easiest process to a light modern stain finish.

Affiliate links included in this post

Easiest Light Modern Stain Finish

A few years back I built this table for our deck and while we love the size and style of it, I was ready to give it a new finish. I wanted to lighten it up and get rid of this two-tone look….


Table with bench

Recently, I’ve fallen in love with this easy light modern stain finish that I stumbled upon over on Instagram. You might say, I’ve gone a little stain happy in finishing all of the furniture pieces in my home this light color. Over the winter I built this coffee table and end table for my family room and had to try out this technique for the first time. I love how these two pieces turned out….


light wood stain coffee table


wood stain finish

I even finished my countertop for my kitchen island using this light stain technique…..

kitchen island with pendant lights

And with my new counter stools, it’s even better….

modern stain kitchen island


Oh and this bed/loft that I built for my friend, Savannah. Yep! Same light wood finish…

light wood stain bed

Materials Needed for Light Modern Stain Technique:

Paint Stripper

Plastic Scraper

Paint brush (2)

Orbital Sander

60-Grit Sandpaper

220-Grit Sandpaper

Wood Conditioner (Pre-Stain)

TinSmith Gray Stain (I was unable to find this available on Amazon; I usually get mine at Lowe’s)

Special Walnut Stain

Sanding Pads (2)

Old Rag

Poly (TopCoat)

Foam Roller

400-Grit Sandpaper

1. Removing the Old Wood Stain

When it came to changing up my outdoor table, I had to remove the old stain and paint first. I started the removal by first applying paint stripper. I like to use this product by Klean Strip. While this process is easy, it is rarely ever fast. I have yet to find a product that takes off the stain in one application. Most of the time it takes a few coats before it’s completely gone.

Paint stripper is very easy to use:

  1. Simply apply a thick coat to a small section (about 3ft x3ft max.) with a paintbrush. Brushing in one direction.
  2. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove loosened finish with a plastic scraper. Make sure to scrape in the same direction of the grain. (Be sure to use plastic gloves)
  4. Repeat this process until all of the wood stain or paint are gone.

Klean Strip has a strong odor and probably isn’t the best for projects needing to be done indoors. But I found this product on Amazon with excellent reviews. The process is pretty much the same, with the only difference being the wait time. They recommend waiting 30 minutes to even 24 hours. The key is not to let it get completely dry. Therefore, be sure to apply it on thick (as with Klean Strip too).

Stripping table down to bare wood

Because I was impatient and up against a time crunch (my daughter’s graduation party was in just a couple days), I removed as much of the stain and paint as I could with just a couple applications and then moved onto my sander. If your project is outside, sanding is by far the fastest way to remove old paint/stain. Use a 60-grit sandpaper and an electric sander and watch that finish come right off. I do recommend still taking off the top coat as much as you can with the paint remover first. This will make your sanding process go much faster. And you’ll go through less sanding pads too.

Here’s what the table looked like after the paint stripper….

light modern stain

Here’s the table almost sanded down with the 60 grit paper….

sanded table

Once all of the old stain and/or paint are removed, sand your piece down with a 220-grit sandpaper. This will give your furniture piece that smooth furniture feel. Thoroughly wipe off any excess dust and now you’re ready for the staining process.

2. Apply Wood Conditioner Before Modern Stain Finish

Why?  When starting with raw wood, I like to use a wood conditioner before applying my stain. You may be wondering, is this step really necessary? The short answer to that question is, YES! Most of my building projects are made with pine wood. (It’s easy to use, readily available, and less expensive than hard woods). Pine (along with many other wood types) is a very porous and soft material. Without wood conditioner you run the risk of a blotchy and uneven finish when applying the wood stain. Wood conditioner is necessary for evening out your stain. Applying wood conditioner first, fills in porous spots and helps you avoid a blotchy and uneven look.

Wood Conditioner is very easy to use:

  1. Apply with a rag or paintbrush in the direction of the wood grain.
  2. Let sit for no more than the time advised on the can. Usually 15 mins to no more than 2 hours. I actually prefer to start applying my stain right after I finish covering my piece with the wood conditioner.

QUICK TIP: When using oil based stain, use oil based wood conditioner. When using water based stain, use water based wood conditioner.

pre stain

3.  Apply Stain for Light Modern Finish

Now you’re ready for the good stuff! This is so stinkin’ easy with such amazing results! I know you’re going to love it!!

Applying the stain for a light modern finish is so easy:

  1. Apply Tinsmith Gray, with a rag or sanding pad ,in the direction of the wood grain. Working in small sections (approximately 2ft by 2ft), wipe it on and then go back and immediately wipe it off. Repeat this process until you’ve covered the entire piece with the Tinsmith Gray stain.
  2. With no dry time needed between this step and the last step, you’re now ready to apply Special Walnut stain. I like to work in larger sections (approximately 6ft by 6ft) for this step, allowing the stain to sit for a longer period of time. Note: the longer it sits, the darker it will be. You can always go back over it again and apply more stain, if you want it even darker. Apply stain in this large section, using a rag or sanding pad, and then go back and wipe off with a rag (after finishing your 6×6 section). Repeat this process until you’ve covered the entire piece with Special Walnut stain.

Here’s a look at the table with the Tinsmith Gray applied…

modern stain finish table

Here’s a look at the table with Special Walnut applied over Tinsmith Gray…

modern stain

4. Apply Poly (TopCoat)

After allowing your piece to dry completely, you are ready for the last step–Poly. AKA: what gives your furniture piece it’s protective coat and smooth finish. So Good!!

My favorite go-to Poly is General Finishes High Performance (water based) Top Coat. This poly is amazing! It provides such a strong protective finish (making it less likely for your furniture piece to scratch) and will not yellow over time (like many polys do). I swear by this stuff and have used it for years! For furniture, I like to use a semi-gloss finish. Or if I want little to no shine, I’ll go with a satin finish.

Applying the topcoat is very easy:

  1. Using a foam roller, apply the topcoat (poly) evenly over the entire surface of your furniture piece.
  2. Wait 30 minutes and sand lightly with a 400-grit sandpaper. Wipe off excess dust.
  3. Then apply another coat. I generally apply 3-4 coats to my tabletops and 2 coats to the legs, etc. Sanding in between each coat. Do not sand after your last coat of poly.

topcoat finish

And that’s it! How simple was that!? Ready to sand down all your wood furniture and apply this easy light modern stain finish? Haha! Ok, that may be a little too much! But I hope this post gave you the confidence to grab an old wood furniture piece and bring new life to it….

modern finish table

light modern stain finish table


(Affiliate Links Included)

Black Metal Dining Chairs

Pendants above kitchen island

Rug (While I was unable to find my exact rug, I love this one! And the price is really good too!)

See “Materials Needed” section above for the links to all of the supplies needed for this project.

Until next week,

Happy Building, Friend!!

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Hop over to Instagram to see all of the RL behind the scenes. What am I working on now?….come check it out!

More Great RL Outdoor Posts:

Restaining Hardwood Floors–The Easy Way

The Easy Way to Restain Hardwood Floors-An Update

Easy How to Make a Modern DIY Planter Box



















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