This is part two of a post, where the previous one focused on how to sand wooden floorboards. Now we need to finish them off. This is how to stain and varnish wooden floorboards.

What finishing options exist for flooring?

Before we jump into the step-by-step guide, it’s important to understand that there are a few options available when you’ve sanded the floorboards even when you’ve picked your colour.

  1. Use coloured varnish

    This is the quickest way to finish the job and works well on areas with high levels of footfall (like the living room, kitchen or hall) but the big drawback is that if/when the varnish chips, it leaves the original colour exposed and makes the damage more obvious. Varnish typically comes in gloss or satin finish, where satin looks a bit more contemporary because it isn’t as shiny.

  2. Use wood stain, then clear varnish

    This is good in areas which have high levels of footfall as well but protects the colour underneath and chips and scratches aren’t as obvious. You can also put more layers of varnish to harden the area without darkening the colour. This is what I’m going to use.

  3. Use coloured (or plain) oil

    This is the best looking option in my opinion. The oil really brings out the colour and texture of the wood and the finish is very natural. It is the least hard wearing unfortunately and will show wear and tear relatively quickly. This would look great in rooms not used as often, like bedrooms or studies, or on wood that isn’t a floor.

Instead of varnish, you can also use very heavy duty finishes like lacquer which is made of shellac, but that’s beyond what I needed.

Stain the wooden floorboards to the colour that you want

Equipment needed

You will need the following equipment:

  1. Wood stain – I used Rustins Wood Dye light oak, but there is a  wide range of colours available. A good tip is if you have offcuts of the wood you want to stain, bring it to a shop like Stillorgan Decor who will stain the samples you have if you ask them nicely enough!
  2. Rags
  3. Knee pads
  4. Gloves – I used latex gloves and they were terrible. Wear proper gloves that won’t tear when you’re scrubbing.


Firstly, open all the windows – your house is about to stink. The method is incredibly simple but very time-consuming.

Pour a small amount of stain onto the rag.

Rub the stain onto the surface of the wood, making sure you go with the grain. Avoid blotches – make this as consistent as possible.

Start in a corner or somewhere that you know you will cover with furniture so you can test the colour. Be aware that it will slightly lighten when it dries.

Finally, don’t paint yourself into a corner! Work backwards towards your exit – leave a pathway like the photo above and finish it last.

Simple as that. It took me about 4 hours to do one coat on about 25sq meters, so plan a bit of time for this one.

Varnish the wooden floorboards

Once you have the colour you want, it’s time to protect the floor.

Equipment needed

  1. Varnish – I used Dulux Diamond Glaze Satin finish with no colour in it
  2. Mohair roller head (different to the normal kind you’d pick up in a DIY store)
  3. Brush
  4. Paint Tray
  5. Pole
  6. Sandpaper


The good news is that this is the simplest and the least physical part of the whole flooring job. You’re nearly done!

You will need to do 2-3 coats of varnish, depending on how much footfall you will have in the room. I’m doing a living room, sitting room and hall, so I need to go with the three coats. Varnish dries quicker than emulsion paint on the walls, so I can recoat after about 2 hours. To make sure I don’t leave a mark I’ll do the second and third coats in my socks!

Once you have the three coats, you should be able to have light foot traffic on the floor after about 24 hours, but do try and avoid putting furniture and rugs back in the room for 7 days. I know that’s a long time and it’s a real pain, but the floor will harden further over that period and ultimately will be longer lasting.

The most important thing about varnishing a floor is you need to keep a “wet edge”. This means that you do the full room in one go – no stopping for lunch in the middle. This prevents obvious marks where you’ve overlapped the varnish.

When you open the varnish it will be an opaque milky white liquid like PVA glue.

Using a normal paint brush, paint this liberally around the edge of the room where your roller won’t reach, making sure you go with the grain. As long as it’s smooth and clear you’ll be ok – it will be obvious when it’s too thick as it will be a milky white colour. Smooth this out and avoid touching your skirting boards.

Once you have finished your edging with the paint brush, then move onto your roller on a pole. Make sure it’s a mohair roller brush as it will give a very smooth even finish. This is the easy part and you’ll race through the room – again, making sure to go with the grain. As with staining, make sure you don’t paint yourself into a corner.

Great. Now let that coat dry.

Your second and third coats will be even easier to apply than the first coat, but you need to add one more step. You need to gently sand the floors between coats – again, going with the grain.

This seems really counter-intuitive since you’re trying to give the floor a sheen, but this creates as “fix” and lets the next coat of varnish stick to the one below.

I used a medium grade sandpaper (100 grit) and gave each board a light rub – this took about 10 minutes to cover 25 sq meters – don’t go too mad. Then give the floor a quick wipe – you can use a bit of paint thinner on a brush to pick up dust, but I didn’t.

Varnish is very easy to clean off brushes – soap and warm water will do the job very quickly.


Finally, the end result!

So, in the end between sanding and varnishing, we could have spent €1,000 (plus materials) and got someone in to do it but would have missed out on this HUGE learning experience. We spent €360 in the end – €130 on renting the two sanders and sandpaper, €200 on wood dye and varnish, €20 on brushes and €10 on a six pack of beer when we’d finished.

Here’s what the floors look like now – hope you like them half as much as we did.


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