Tips For Refinishing Hardwood Floors – Add Stain To Polyurethane For A Gorgeous Finish

I was going to wait until this project was completely finished before sharing the results of refinishing hardwood floors in our house, but quite honestly, I was way too excited about my progress to wait. I was especially excited to share the small step I took that made the finish absolutely gorgeous — adding stain to polyurethane. I couldn’t believe what a difference this step made, so let me show you.

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Refinishing Hardwood Floors

Refinishing hardwood floors is quite a long process, but there’s nothing particularly difficult about it. Yesterday morning, I finished staining the floor in the breakfast room and pantry. And then I had to wait a minimum of eight hours for that stain to dry before I polyurethaned the floors. While I waited, I read comments on yesterday’s post, and some of you noticed (as I had) that the stain was uneven in places, like under the windows in the living room.

staining red oak hardwood floors - 8a - living room and entryway

I think that’s due to the differences left by the edge sander vs. the drum sander which cause the wood to soak up the stain differently. But in addition to that, the overall finish just wasn’t quite as dark/rich as I had hoped. Now I know that just adding polyurethane will add some depth/richness to the color, but I wanted the color evened out all over just a bit, and plain polyurethane won’t do that.

So I started thinking, googling, reading, researching. Should I add another coat of stain? I really did NOT want to do that.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me that the way to even out the color was to add some sort of colorant to the polyurethane. Was that even possible? And what would I use? I researched dyes, but the options mentioned weren’t locally available. Then I remembered that with Waterlox, you can actually mix stain in with the first coat of Waterlox, and then follow up with one or two coats of clear Waterlox. If you can do that with Waterlox, why can’t you do that with polyurethane as long as you’re adding oil-based stain to oil-based poly?

Adding Stain To Polyurethane To Refinish Hardwood Floors

I researched adding stain to polyurethane, and I did find several people who said, “No! You can’t do that,” but it seemed like they were just guessing and had never really tried it. Then I came across the last comment here by a man who says he’s been adding stain to poly for years with no problem, specifically in repairing/restoring trim in historic homes. And then I came across this picture showing floors that were sealed with a 50/50 mix of Early American stain and polyurethane.

floors coated with 50-50 mix of stain and polyurethane

So I decided to try adding stain polyurethane to see if it would even out some of the splotchy areas of my stained floor. (Note: This is definitely off-label usage of these products. Try at your own risk!)

I tested out two different ratios, and finally landed on an 8:1 ratio of polyurethane to stain. (I just used the same stain I previously used — 50/50 Dark Walnut and Special Walnut.) I poured an entire gallon of polyurethane (Mixwax Super Fast Drying Polyurethane for Floors) into my plastic bucket, added two cups of stain, mixed it together well, and was on my way.

I applied the stain and polyurethane mixture with an applicator pad with a long handle, applying about an 18-inch strip at a time, and then followed up with a paint brush (taped to the end of an extension pole so I wouldn’t have to do any work on my knees) to smooth and even out the poly.

The results were fantastic! You can see in the photo below of the music room floor the difference it made in the color. Of course, it did darken it, which was fine with me. But it also added a beautiful richness while evening out the color variations in the wood just a bit.

refinishing red oak hardwood floors - adding stain to first coat of polyurethane to darken the color - 1

The color difference was less noticeable in the entryway and living room where there’s much more light.

refinishing red oak hardwood floors - adding stain to first coat of polyurethane to darken the color - 2

And here is the living room and entryway with the entire floor coated in one coat of the poly/stain mixture. I took this photo this morning after it had all night to dry, so the sheen you see here is how the satin finish looks when dry. I do still have at least one more coat of polyurethane to add (just poly — no stain), so it should even out any differences in sheen that are still visible.

refinishing red oak hardwood floors - adding stain to first coat of polyurethane to darken the color - entryway and living room

The areas around the windows still aren’t perfect, but they’re much better. And heck, these floors ARE almost 70 years old, so I can’t expect perfection, right? 🙂

refinishing red oak hardwood floors - adding stain to first coat of polyurethane to darken the color - living room and entryway

Sorry for this dark picture. My music room light isn’t very bright, and you can see I took these this morning before the sun came up. 🙂

refinishing red oak hardwood floors - adding stain to first coat of polyurethane to darken the color - music room and entryway
refinishing red oak hardwood floors - adding stain to first coat of polyurethane to darken the color - music room

I’m so excited about how these floors are turning out! But now I have to get busy and get another coat of poly on these floors ASAP. I started applying the polyurethane at 10:00 last night (finished at midnight), and there’s a 12-hour window in which you can add a second coat without having to sand first. If you wait longer than 12 hours, the first coat of poly has to be sanded before adding the second coat. And I DO NOT want to have to sand these floors. 🙂

This is a multi-post project. Don’t miss the other posts in this project!

Refinishing Hardwood Floors

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60 Comments

  1. Beautiful sheen! Those floors look so rich and pretty – love, love, love them. As far as the inconsistencies, that is the charm of ‘old’ hardwood floors. Great job Kristi!

  2. I am so happy that you stained these floors. I was very unsure of the orange/red, so this is HUGE for me!! Great job!! And, about the variations under the window, I definitely think they are less noticeable now and once you get the room filled, they’ll be practically unidentifiable!

  3. So pretty! I really don’t think you’ll notice those inconsistencies in color, especially under the LR Windows, once you get all the furniture back in there. The color is just right!

  4. BEAUTIFULLY DONE!!!!!!
    I am so happy that you had that comment from that gentleman…..isn’t know.edge from your fans just FABULOUS!!!!!
    LOVE LOVE LOVE the floors doll….way to go!!!!!

  5. Love it! Honestly, once you add draperies and furniture to the room most people will probably never notice any color variations. 🙂

  6. Kristi!
    The floors are beautiful and you are so smart to do your own research and figure this out for yourself. Not to mention most of the outer edge of your floors will have furniture placement and the view will never be an empty room to compare lights and darks and textures… so the portions of your floors that get the most viewing will be absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I love them and I’m so impressed with your hard work and ingenuity. You are my hero!

  7. Beautiful!!!! I agree, they’re old floors, so you should be able to accept some imperfections. My 91-year-old floors desperately need to be re-finished. Just can’t see doing it myself, like you are -what a goddess you are!!!!

  8. Well done! And thank you for trying new things and taking us along for the adventure 🙂 I love learning new things – especially when someone else has taken the risk for me – lol!

  9. The floors look fantastic and I think imperfections are to be expected – not only because your floors are old, but because wood is a natural product anyway… I love the colour and richness the floors gained – I was a bit dubious about them being too dark (and I normally love dark colours) but I think you managed to balance desired depth and colour very well. Congratulations!

  10. The floors look fantastic and I think imperfections are to be expected – not only because your floors are old, but because wood is a natural product anyway… I love the colour and richness the floors gained – I was a bit dubious about them being too dark (and I normally love dark colours) but I think you managed to balance desired depth and colour very well. Congratulations!

  11. The floors look beautiful, Kristy! I’m curious, if you used an oil based stain and poly, will you have to repaint the baseboard with an oil based paint? Pretty hard not to get any of the finish on the baseboard, so usually that gets repainted eventually.

  12. Wow, Kristi, they look gorgeous! I’m glad you hired someone to do all that sanding. It let you do the most beautiful and artistic part of the job. I absolutely love the color!

  13. They look gorgeous and I think any slight variation in color won’t be very noticeable once the furnishings and drapes are in place.

  14. The floors are so beautiful! I tried to refinish my living floor and within a with months they just start peeling up! I don’t know what went wrong in the process, so discouraged!

  15. Just beautiful!! I know you don’t like the word rich when describing your home, but your floors are such a pretty rich color!!

  16. Loving the new color! Looks great. I wouldn’t worry too much about slight variations in some spots. Once the room is furnished, you will never notice them.

    So have you decided on the wall color for the music room? Can’t wait to see what you do to the piano too.

  17. Kristie, the floors are absolutely beautiful!!! You have such a strong mind at figuring out how to do so many projects. I can imagine the smile on your face and the light feeling on your heart!

  18. I’m not normally fond of dark wood floors but these are gorgeous! I think it’s because there’s just so much depth to yours. They feel very “rich” you know?

    Beautiful work as always!

    Mark

  19. You inspire me. I’m pleased your labors have been rewarded with such beautiful results. I always look forward to seeing your progress.

  20. What a clever solution! The area under the windows looks so much better and the floors are rich and beautiful. Great job!

  21. Wow! I thought yesterday’s pics were transforming…you have outdone yourself. Such depth and richness of color. Can’t wait to see them completely finished.

  22. Goodness; the floors are beautiful! Did you scream with glee when you stood back and admired them? I know I would have!! Wonderful job.

  23. The floors look beautiful. When you get furniture and rugs placed in the room, all the imperfections won’t be noticeable.

  24. I love how they’re turning out. The floor color looks so lovely in the room with the fireplace, against the wall color, etc… Well done!

  25. Looks like you found your beautiful color. Once you add furniture I think you will be happy with your floors even more. You go girl! Beautiful job!!

  26. They are turning out beautifully! And if there is any qualms about them not being evenly stained, forget about it. Floors are just a backdrop to your furnishings & decor. Once the room is loaded up with your things, nobody will notice.
    But I think even if the room is empty, they look great.
    Will you need to repaint your baseboards when the floors are done? Or did you tape off your baseboards to prevent stain from getting on them?

  27. Poly that is tinted has been available comercially for some time and I have used it on shelves and other items with good results. I can’t see why that would not transfer over to floors. They look beautiful so far and I can’t wait for the finished product!

  28. I’ve added Universal Tint Colorant to water based polyurethane many times to tweak a finish in one step, so it doesn’t surprise me to learn that you can do similar with oil products; thanks for all that research. Your floors turned out beautiful and the color is warm and inviting.

  29. Love the color! Love the old,new look. Imperfections are expected in old floors. Don’t let any naysayers get to you 🙂 it is astounding!! Great job!

  30. Your floors are absolutely beautiful. Ours have to be done but currently we are in the middle of a snow storm in Connecticut so I will have to wait until Spring.

  31. My husband is a professional floor sander for 40 years. He only mixed stain with urethane for me when I insisted the pine boards he installed were too light and he is not a fan of staining soft wood. They turned out beautiful. Your floor sander should have been able to get those sanding lines out from the difference between edger and drum, but it is a much more labour intense sanding job to sand for stain rather than clear coat. Usually couple dollars more per square foot. Everything is looking great and really coming together. You amaze me!

  32. You work so very hard, so I am glad that your experiment is a sucessful. It’s really coming together and looking great!

  33. You are such an amazing problem-solver. Your solution worked so well, and the floors look beautiful. I like them darker too. I think the wood near the windows, though, darkened simply because of its greater exposure to light. That happens with most wood floors–put a rug down under a nearby table and when you pull it up its outline will be there, most visible close to the windows where the UV rays have darkened the wood even more. I think walnut it the only wood that gets lighter instead of darker the longer it’s exposed.

  34. At Last!!! I know about this.
    About 1997, my floor expert did exactly as you did. (And he was the Floor Guy for the movie stars. He just happened to live in my town.) He gave me the option of adding one quart, two quarts, etc. to the poly.
    Good Job! You’re a woman who works hard and you do great work.

  35. I think they are beautiful, and, in my book, the color variation only adds character. Once you get furniture, drapes, accessories, etc. in the rooms, there will be no way to distinguish the uneven areas. Look forward to seeing it all finished.

  36. Your floors are looking gorgeous……you are doing an amazing job, yet again!!!!! Love the color! So excited to see these mains rooms all come together with your new vision and plan. I think 2017 is your year to really get your decorating groove on!!! And I know I don’t say this often, but, I just love your blog and always look forward to your posts!

  37. Beautiful! What exact poly did you use and how has it held up? I’m in the process of doing this and it has been the most stressful thing I think I have ever done. Absolute nightmare! Issues with sanding, stain, color..you name it, it’s gone wrong! I have a terrible feeling I threw away a lot of money and might end up just ripping these hardwoods out in 5 years or so. Long story short, I’m hoping I don’t mistake with the wrong poly. I love the way the water based looks, but worry about durability. Thanks for your help!

  38. Hello, I’m using minwax as well and when I initially did my test swatch, the instructions said to wait some minutes (I think up to 15) before wiping off, so that’s what I did. Now I’m noticing everyone wiping off stain immediately. Will I need to wait 15 minutes for each section to get the color I want or does wiping off almost immediately yield the same results? Thanks!

    1. I don’t think I would wipe it off immediately, but I don’t ever remember waiting 15 minutes, either. I think as long as you’re consistent it will work out fine. In other words, work in sections that take you a set amount of time to cover — 5 or 10 minutes, and then go back and wipe off the excess. The start the next section of the same size that takes the same amount of time. That way it’s all consistent. What you don’t want to do is do one section, leaving it on 5 minutes, and then do another section, leaving it on 15 minutes, and another section at 10. That would leave you with inconsistent color.

      1. Thanks so much, that is helpful. Another thought I had was how large an area I should do. Should I only do what is in arm’s reach to avoid stepping on stain? If it takes me 10 minutes to do a sizable area but then I have to step on some of the stain to wipe it up, I shouldn’t be doing that, correct? Stepping on portions of stain to get to other portions to begin wiping up might make it uneven?

      2. I also forgot to ask… when wiping up the stain, do you wipe hard pr just enough so there isn’t stain pooled on the board? I noticed the harder you press when wiping, the lighter and streakier the stain tends to get. My husband says that he feels you have to wipe hard or firmly so that the board is practically dry. I worry that will result in uneven color as you press harder and make lighter spots but he says any unevenness will just be the grain of the wood.