How To Finish the End Grains – Staining and Sealing Tips

how to seal end grains of wood

End grains are difficult to deal with when working with wood if you aren’t properly educated and prepared to deal with this issue.

A lot of the time, you finish sanding something and are pleased with the look and feel, but after you apply the finish, the product suddenly appears as if it was made from different types of wood.

This is because the end grain will often soak up so much of the stain or finish that it looks too dark and doesn’t blend in with the overall piece.

Sealing End Grains of Wood

Because the end grain is on a different area where shadows often occur, you can usually get away with the difference in color without anyone noticing.

On the other hand, there are still some occasions when the difference maybe is too apparent, such as on a door frame or the top of a rail.

Below, we offer some tips on how to stain and seal end grains.

Step 1. Sanding with high grit sandpaper

Sanding wood more than it needs to be can cause its pores to become clogged and in turn, reduce its rate of absorption.

This is due to the fact that a higher sandpaper grit creates finer sawdust, and it is more capable of getting into the pores of the wood.

This is beneficial when staining, as clogging the pores means less of the stain will soak into it, so it will match the rest of the piece.

You can choose to work with either 180 or 240 grit sandpaper to see different results.

If you sand with a grit higher than 240, you may even get better results than you were anticipating.

Take care to sand the ends in an even stroke, or else it can cause the end to look blotchy and uneven.

You can combine more than one sanding technique or even the sanding grit level to see if you can accomplish better results that way.

Step 2. Pre-seal with shellac

By sealing up the pores in the wood before applying stain, less stain will be able to get inside of them.

You can apply the shellac using a small paintbrush to keep it restricted to only the end grain and then let it dry.

Sometimes, you will notice that even with the shellac, it may come out looking a tiny bit darker than the other methods you might try.

Applying more than one coat of shellac is recommended to make sure the layer is thick enough to prevent the stain from seeping in.

Keep in mind that it can take about an hour for the shellac to dry, so you’ll have to factor in that extra hour when setting out to do your wood project.

This will add an extra hour to the time before you can really get to work on finishing the piece.

If shellac is the only option, you have available to you, then you can go for it.

That said, if you have any of the other options listed as an option for you, it may be worth checking one of those out instead.

If you’re going to use shellac, take care to choose shellac that is already mixed and is wax-free.

Otherwise, the wax can get in the way of adhesion later on.

Step 3. Dilute some glue

If you have ever tried to wipe some glue from your piece only to notice that it shows up again during the staining process, then you know that glue can easily clog the wood pores and prevent the stain from being able to seep down into them.

Ordinarily, this might be nothing more than an annoyance for you as you try to finish your wood project, but in this case, it is actually a good thing.

The glue will clog the pores of the wood, which, as you’ve learned, will stop the stain from getting into the wood.

In order to accomplish this using the glue method, you can start by mixing some glue with a little water to make the texture one that more easily soaks into the wood.

Then, brush that diluted glue down onto the edges of the piece of wood.

You will need to wait for approximately one hour for it to dry, which, like the shellac, might get in the way of a speedy wood finishing project.

Still, this is often considered worth it because it provides even coloring on the end and isn’t blotchy, and instead provides a more even finish across the entirety of the wood grain.

Even so, this method can end up giving you darker results than you might want.

A higher glue concentration with more glue and less water is thought to provide a better color outcome.

The lighter texture will do a better job of seeping into the pores to stop the stain you will eventually use from doing the same.

sealing end grains with glue

Step 4. Apply wood conditioner

Wood conditioner is beneficial because you don’t need to wait for it to dry before applying the stain.

While the application instructions for wood conditioners vary, it is usually recommended that you apply a stain right after application.

If nothing else, the conditioner should dilute the stain a bit to lessen absorption.

The result is an end grain that is usually a tiny bit blotchy but in a way that aligns with the natural grain of the wood.

This could end up providing a decorative effect that you may end up enjoying.

If not, you could combine it with other methods such as the sanding method or the rag method that might give you better results.

Be mindful not to combine the wood glue, shellac, or wood conditioner products, as they each rely on chemicals to clog up the pores.

You wouldn’t want to accidentally mix two products that may be dangerous if they are combined.  

Step 5. Apply the stain with a rag

You can apply the stain with a foam brush and wipe it away with a rag. You could apply this same method to the staining of end grains.

This tends to make it match the rest of the wood grain more than some other methods and it gives you better control.

For example, if the stain is too light on the first pass, you can just dip it in again and apply more of the stain on the end.

This isn’t an option when you’re using a foam brush, since the wood immediately will absorb everything applied right away.

If you want even greater control over the process, you can combine this method with any of the other ones mentioned earlier.

To do it, simply apply the stain with a rag by dipping it into the stain and then blotting it onto another rag.

Once the first one isn’t heavily soaked with a stain, it can be used to wipe onto the end grain.

The best technique for staining wood grain will depend on what you need to do, but using the rag tends to be the most popular technique.

 It is simple to control and you don’t have to wait around for it to dry.

The end grain looks the most like the rest of the piece of wood as well, which is ultimately the main goal.

Beyond this, the rag method can be used with any of the other methods that were mentioned in this article, providing you with even greater levels of control.

Furthermore, you likely already have some rags available to use, so you won’t have to go out and buy anything extra.

No matter which method you end up using, it is highly recommended that you test the methods out on wood scraps before you commit to staining your final piece with it.

If you do this, you’ll know just what it will look like before you continue, and you can handle any surprises you might run into going forward.

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