How to Stain a Fireplace Mantel

If you’ve never stained anything before, I hope this post gives you some inspiration to try it yourself!  To be honest, this was my first staining project and I could not be happier with the results!



So let’s start at the beginning. I recently did a lot of work in my family room, but one remaining project was to stain the fireplace mantel. This is what it looked like before:


The light wood mantel didn’t quite match our decor

Since we replaced the flooring upstairs with darker hardwoods, it was now time to darken the fireplace mantel as well.

Duration: 1 full day.  We sanded in the morning and applied the 1st coat of stain. Then I waited 8 hours and applied the second coat.  That did it.

Supplies: Several of these items you may have laying around your garage.

  • Sand paper and sanding block
  • Tack cloth
  • Painter’s tape
  • Steel wool (very fine)
  • Miniwax Polyshades Stain
  • Drop Cloth
  • Pack of Assorted Foam Brushes
  • Rubber Gloves (not necessary, but very useful)


As always, I first scoured the internet to find the best product. Did I want a water based stain with less fumes? Or a more durable oil based stain? Well, when I got to Ace Hardware to choose, the salesman recommended Polyshades, by Miniwax.  It is a oil based stain combined with a polyurethane finish. Normally I would have to stain the wood, wait for it to dry, and then apply a top coat of polyerethane. This product combines the two steps making it one-step process.

We chose the shade Tudor 360. It is a uniform, dark brown stain.

Sanding is not fun, but you will have to do it. I am so thankful that my awesome husband helped me out with this part. husbandsandsThis was the level of sanding that he did, it took him about an hour:


Great job, babe!

When you’re done sanding, use a tack cloth to clean up any sanding debris. This tool is awesome. It is a really sticky cloth that picks up any loose sand-dust that can contaminate your surface when you stain. This stain is very drippy so please do yourself a favor and tape the sides of your mantel.

Next comes the really fun part… Staining!  It’s really important to stir the can thoroughly before you begin. The stain separates over time, so make sure you have a uniform consistency.

stirthestainImportant Tip: Open your windows when you stain. I like to wear a face mask, because I hate breathing in fumes.

And onward with the stain! Apply a thin layer of the stain over the mantel. Use your brush to smooth out any streaks as soon as you see them.

IMG_8839I recommend using a foam brush for this project as you will not get brush streaks and it’s pretty good at absorbing any build-up that can form.  Be aware that the Polyshades stain drips. A lot. So make sure you have a big tarp under what you are staining.

So how did the Polyshade stain transform the mantel? After the first coat, I was very underwhelmed as it didn’t look much different than when I started:

1stcoatofstainThe mantel after the first coat, still wet.
Umm… did we do anything?

At this point, I started to doubt the Polyshades stain. We chose nearly the darkest stain possible, and it didn’t quite transform anything! But, patience… The stain gets a lot darker as it dries, and just wait until you put that second coat on, ok? :)

I waited the recommended 8 hours for the first coat to dry before putting on the second coat. It was about 10:30 at night, but hey, sometimes you just gotta get it in. I prepped the wood by rubbing on some steel wool. You may have doubts about rubbing steel wool on your newly stained wood, but it really does prep it for the next coat. First it smooths out the surface of the prior coat and next, it creates a porous surface to absorb the new coat. Make sure you clean up all the wool pieces when you’re done. Leftover pieces add to bubble build-up and a sloppy stain job.

IMG_8857The second coat, now we’re getting somewhere!

The second coat went on smoother and quicker than the first coat. After the first coat I had stain all over my hands (and believe me when I say it is quite difficult to remove). Lesson learned:  This time around I used rubber gloves.

And that ends your full day of staining.

It was such a treat for me to wake up the next morning and see how the wood absorbed the second coat! I was pleasantly greeted by this beautiful mantel:

IMG_8932After two coats of drying, it’s the look I was hoping for.

Here are the results. Based on my experience, you have to have patience and let your stain fully absorb into the wood to get your desired results.

mantelbeforeafterI couldn’t be happier! I love how the mantel now matches the rest of our decor:

IMG_8957Thank you so much for stopping by! And I hope you enjoy your future staining projects!


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