Waxing Poetic on Too-Dark Stain
I stained a door and some trim in my house with Minwax, but when I finished I found it was way too dark.
What can I do to lighten it? The wood had some sort of pre-stain treatment.
You cannot lighten it; you must sand it all off to the bare wood.
The pre-stain treatment (with a stain sealer) was done to make the stain go on more evenly, and may also have reduced how much the stain penetrated, making sanding easier.
With the bare wood showing, find a lighter stain, and put it on sparingly.
The way to do that is to dip a cotton pad (made from a folded cloth) in the stain, squeeze it out and wipe on the stain. It is sloppy (wear protective gloves) but this allows you to control the amount of stain that goes on.
Do a small area before stepping back and admiring it. That will guarantee success.
Be careful of overlapping; the stain dries quickly and you will have trouble blending in the edges.
– From wire reports
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