A Colorful Child’s Bench


I learned a lot raising two sons, both of whom are now in college, but I especially learned how hard kids can be on furniture. I was an antiques collector and refinisher long before I became a father, but I was smart enough not to furnish my sons’ rooms with expensive antiques.

Instead, I turned to unfinished furniture, and if you would like to see how easily you can turn an unfinished bench into a bright, colorful addition to any child’s room, you can read more here.

Skill Level (1 – 5): 1

Supply List:

_____ Drop cloth

_____ Disposable gloves

_____ Rags

_____ Stirring sticks

_____ #180-grit Sandpaper (one sheet)

_____ Minwax® Water Based Wood Conditioner

_____ Minwax® Water Based Stains (Island Water and China Red)

_____ Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish

_____ Minwax® Polycrylic® Brush (synthetic)

Step #1 – Let’s go shopping!

I always prefer to pick out unfinished furniture in person. Online descriptions are often vague about the kind of wood they are selling. I have found that hardwoods, such as oak, maple, poplar and birch, will accept a stain better than softwoods, such as pine and fir, and will last longer. I avoid boards with knots, as they don’t absorb a stain evenly, and I check the interior, back and underside to make sure the piece was well constructed. Screws are always better than nails!

Step #2 – Preparing the wood.

There is an old saying: “The smoother the wood, the smoother the finish,” so I gave my unfinished bench a light sanding with #180-grit sandpaper. This erased any shallow nicks and scratches, and opened the pores to accept more of my stain and finish.

Quick Tip: Eliminating your sanding dust is critical, but does not have to be expensive. Pick up a used vacuum sweeper with a bristle attachment for a few dollars at a yard sale and use it to remove the sanding dust from the pores of the wood.

Step #3 – Conditioner isn’t just for hair.

Wood is unpredictable. The pores which give each board a distinctive grain pattern are often arranged unevenly. You won’t know just how uneven until you apply your stain — and see your board turn blotchy, like the board above.

To reduce the blotchiness on my bench, I first brushed on a coat of Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner after sanding, but before I applied my stain. I wiped off any excess conditioner that remained after three minutes, and let it dry (15-30 minutes). I then sanded it lightly with my 180-grit sandpaper to remove any fuzziness before staining.

Step #4 – Staining the Base

I always prefer to stain the base first, and generally turn the piece upside down on my drop cloth. This makes it easier to get into the joints around the rungs. I brushed on a coat of Minwax® China Red Water Based Wood Stain, let it sit from 1-3 minutes, then wiped off the excess in the direction of the grain to allow some of the wood grain to show.

Step #5 – Staining the Top

I selected Island Water as my stain for the top and applied it the same way: brush on, then wipe off. Since water based stains dry quickly, I don’t let them remain on the wood for more than 3 minutes before wiping off the excess — and it is always best to work on one small section at a time.

Step #6 – The Finishing Touch

One of the great things about water based stains is that they do dry quickly. After just three hours I was able to apply the first of two coats of Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish in semi-gloss sheen, brushing each one on with a synthetic bristle brush. The clear finish really brings out the color of the stain, and protects both the stain and the wood from wear.

All Done!

I love projects I can start and finish in one day, and this child’s bench was no exception. With more than 50 different Minwax® water based colors to choose from, I’m sure you will find a pair that would look great on any piece of unfinished furniture for your child’s room.

Until next week,

Good Luck!


3 comments on “A Colorful Child’s Bench

  1. jane peterson

    Where can I purchase the minwax China red stain? I have called local stores and looked on the internet and cannot locate it.

    Thank you.

  2. jane peterson

    I would also be interested in Antique Red stain. I cannot find it locally or on the internet. Where can I purchase this product?

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Hi Jane! Give the Minwax Customer Service toll-free number a call at 1.800.523.9299 and they’ll be able to point you in the direction of a local retailer that has the particular stain you’re looking for. Thanks for reading and good luck on your future projects.

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