How to stain a picnic table

Picnic Table Staining

This picnic table project shows you how to seal, stain and restore the luster of one of the most important of all summertime pieces of furniture, the family's aging wood picnic table; and with the Control Spray Fine Finishing Sprayer, you can get it done in half the time versus using a brush. So let's get started!

Tools & Materials

Like any project, you will need the right tools and supplies to do the job right the first time. Because the sooner you finish the sooner you can get on with well, anything you want.

Drop Cloth

Weed trimmer

Screw driver

Replacement boards


Safety glasses

Pressure Washer



Touch-up brush

Extension cord


Preparing and cleaning the surface is one of the most important parts of the staining process. Follow these simple steps to ensure your job looks great and lasts for years to come.

Step 1 - Preparing the table

We began preparing the surface of the table by sweeping it off to remove any loose dust particles and cobwebs that may be present and diminish our results. Next, we checked to see if any of the wood was in need of repair or replacement. Finally, we checked to make sure all nails, screws and other fasteners were properly seated and tightened. After our inspection, we found that our table was in pretty good shape, but if your table is in need of initial repairs you should finish them before continuing with the project. Additionally, you may choose to take the surface preparations to the next level by using a quality cleaning solution to remove any heavy material, such as mildew and mold, from the surface of the table.

Step 2 - Cleaning the table

An ideal product for this is tri-sodium phosphate, referred to simply as TSP, and can be found in the painting isle of your local hardware store. You may also desire to sand down any rough areas and use a power washer to really get a deep clean prior to spraying it; just be sure to leave adequate drying time to avoid issues with your material not properly adhering to the surface. Simply follow the directions provided by the manufacturer of the material you are using.


Now that you've completed the prep work, you're ready to begin staining.

Step 1 - Sprayer Selection

You need to determine the right sprayer for the project. To make certain you’re using the right sprayer for your project, you’ll want to consider the size of the project, the location in which you will be spraying by that I mean an interior vs. an exterior setting, and the material to be sprayed in choosing the sprayer. For our picnic table restoration, we chose to use the Control Spray, for its generous 1-1/2qt paint cup and for its simple-to-use design, which makes it easy to operate and clean. And, since our plans for this project include using a sealer and a stain to coat the table rather than paint, the Control Spray is an ideal choice since those types of materials are typically less viscous than paint, and will require less, if any, thinning and prep work.

Step 2 - Control Spray

Select the correct material for the project. For the picnic table project we selected a transparent acrylic waterproofing formula as our sealant, for its durable finish that protects the surface from UV damage, resists mildew buildup, and easily cleans up with water. For the stain we will be using, we selected an acrylic latex product that has been specifically designed for decks, fences, and sidings, and had it tinted to a rich brown color.

Step 3 - Material Selection

Next, we need to prepare the material for spraying by making sure that it is properly thinned. You can find a detailed chart for thinning requirements in the sprayer’s owner’s manual. Since we chose a clear sealant and an acrylic latex stain, we do not need to thin the material at all for spraying, so our preparations only require setting up the sprayer, filling the cup, and adjusting the flow rate However, we will walk through the steps for demonstrative purposes. Checking the material for proper thinning is a very simple process and the only tools you will need is a watch that displays seconds and the supplied viscosity test cup. Stir the material thoroughly, and dip the test cup completely into the material; now, time how long it takes for the material to completely run through the test cup. Match that time to the thinning chart, and thin the material as needed, following the manufacturers directions for doing so.

Once your material is properly thinned, you’re ready to assemble the sprayer and start your project. Since we will, at times, be spraying in more of a downward angle, we need to be sure that the suction tube is pointing forward to avoid excessive air getting into the system which may result in an inconsistent spray and a poor finish. Fill the cup with the material you are spraying to the top of the neck, attach the cup to the head assembly and the head assembly to the sprayer, and you’re ready to go!

Step 4 - Spraying Techniques

Now that the sprayer is ready to go, the next step is to adjust the sprayer to the appropriate material flow rate and spray pattern for your project. To set the spray pattern, simply rotate the air cap to one of the three positions: Vertical for a horizontal pattern, horizontal for a vertical pattern, or to the angled position for the round spray pattern. To adjust the flow rate simply twist the regulator knob located on the trigger assembly of the sprayer until you achieve a flow that delivers a nice, even coverage. If there are runs or drips means the flow rate is too high; and does not produce even coverage. If the flow rate is too low it won’t cover and protect the surface. It is recommended to start at a full flow rate and then adjust the flow down as needed, while practicing on some scrap material.Now that you have the flow rate adjusted and you’ve selected the spray pattern that best suits your projects needs, let’s discuss some techniques that will help you achieve the best possible coverage of your project.

First, keep the sprayer perpendicular to the project and maintain a distance of 1-12. The closer you keep the sprayer to the surface the less overspray there will be, but also the more material that will be applied directly to the surface, which may cause sags and runs; with a little practice on scrap material you can find the desired balance that works best with the material you are spraying.

Next, begin moving the sprayer along the spray path and then start spraying the material; likewise, stop spraying material slightly after you’ve covered the desired area and before ending your movement along the spray path. This will help to eliminate build up that can decrease your results. While spraying, maintain a consistent speed and distance from the surface, keep the sprayer perpendicular throughout, and slightly overlap each pass to achieve the best coverage.

Finally, it is recommended that you put down coats of the material in several thin layers, with adequate drying time between them, rather than try to cover the entire surface in one heavy coat. Thinner coats will cover the surface more evenly, and dry faster, than heavy coats which may also sag, run, or cause drips that will diminish the final appearance of your project.

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