While browsing through Craigslist, I came across a listing for picnic tables. The post was for reasonably priced, custom built sets. A full 8 foot table with four benches was $600 unfinished. Although I’ve painted my fair share of walls and furniture, both indoors and out, I’ve never stained anything before. The craftsman who built the set gave me some suggestions. Armed with techniques from several random tutorials, blog posts and videos, I made my way to the hardware store to get started on my first staining project.

Since I deleted most of my social media years ago, I don’t have access to Facebook marketplace. Instead, I sometimes browse Craigslist and there’s a lot of good stuff that pops up. The following post shows up a few times a year. I assume it’s renewed by the craftsman when he gets time to build these on the side.

Craigslist Posting
Craigslist Posting

I was able to transport the entire table set in the back of my truck, with the help of some ratchet straps.

Table and Benches Loaded into the back of my Truck
Table and Benches Loaded into the back of my Truck

My first trip to the hardware store took care of the majority of the supplies I needed to finish this table set. I picked up cans of pre-stain, stain and water sealant, along with brushes, cloths and sandpaper blocks.

Material Cost
Paint Cup $2.97
Staining Cloths (10 pack) $6.98
Staining Pads (4 pack) $7.98
Plastic Drop Cloth (6 pack) $12.47
Track Cloth (3 pack) $7.96
Varathane Wood Stain $42.98
Varathane Urethane $58.68
Varathane Pre-Stain $18.38
220 Grit Sanding Block $5.98
Oil Sealing Brush $14.77
9 Piece Foam Brush Set $7.47
5” Stain Brush $16.97
Taxes $19.18
Total $222.77
Table and Benches moved to my Garage
Table and Benches moved to my Garage

All the pieces of this set are very well built and heavy. I took the approach of always starting with the bottom of each section, using track cloths to lift them up and flip them over. Doing this by myself required finding just the right pivot points to rock each piece over without having them land on my shoes. Here, I’ve finished the first coat of stain on the left bench, a second coat on the right bench (still wet) and started applying pre-stain to the long bench on the right. I sanded between each coat of stain.

Single coat of stain on the left bench, second coat drying on the right bench, and a long benched turned upside down with pre-stain coating. Table and second long bench untreated.

In the next photo, two coats of stain have dried on the small benches. The long bench on the right has a single coat on the bottom and pre-stain on the top.

Small Benches with Two Coats of Stain
Small Benches with Two Coats of Stain

I had to get some additional supplies at this point. I didn't thoroughly clean one of my brushes and the urethane sealant had hardened to make it unusable. I also purchased some mineral spirits to help clean my brushes going forward.

Material Cost
Additional Stain Brush $9.99
Mineral Spirits $9.59
Taxes $1.80
Total $21.38

I continued to stain and seal the long benches, leaving the table itself for the end.

Small Benches with Two Coats of Urethane and Long Benches with Two Coats of Stain

Here are three of the finished benches outside my garage, with two coast of stain and two coats of sealant.

Three of the Finished Wooden Benches on a Concrete Driveway Behind My Car
Three of the Finished Wooden Benches on a Concrete Driveway Beside My Truck

I'm not sure if the pre-stain really makes a difference, but I purchased another can and treated the table before staining it. I purchased another sanding block, as my first one was partially coated in urethane.

Material Cost
220G Sanding Block $5.98
Staining Pads (4 pack) $9.59
BEHR Pre-stain $18.38
Taxes $2.99
Total $36.94

I finished staining the table and treated it with urethane. Although I needed more pre-stain, I was able to finished the set with the original single cans of stain and urethane I purchased.

From start to finish, the entire staining project took a little over a month. I worked on it slowly and steadily.

Task Date
Deposit for Build August 6th
Picked up Set August 12th
Purchased Supplies August 19th
2nd Coat on Both Small Benches August 24th
1st Coat on Long Benches August 25th
Purchased Second Set of Supplies September 1st
Long Benches Coated, Short Benches Sealed September 2nd
Purchased Final Set of Supplies September 3rd
3 Benches Fully Stained and Sealed September 4th
Started Staining Table September 5th
Finished Staining and Sealing Entire Set September 8th
Moved Entire Set to Back Yard September 10th

It wasn't a cheap projects, after factoring in all the tools and supplies. Still, it was fairly reasonable considering the result.

Item Cost
Full Table Set $600
Stain and Tools $222.77
Additional Supplies $21.38
Additional Supplies $36.94
Total 881.09
Benches arranged on lawn
Full table set on lawn

Lessons Learned

If I attempt another staining project in the future, I’d probably buy an orbital sander. The sanding blocks take a lot of work and I know I could have gotten a smoother finish by applying multiple passes with varying grit wheels on a powered sander. I’m also curious if using water resistant outdoor stain would have achieved the same results with fewer coats than the stain and urethane. I would have also been more diligent of cleaning and storing brushes, as the urethane can be difficult or impossible to get off once it dries and hardens.


This was a fun project, and I hope the stain and sealant last for several years. If it doesn’t, I’ll just sand it down again and try something new. I didn’t build it from scratch, but I did learn about staining outdoor furniture. I’ve got a few other wood working projects in the works, and hope to have posts and build guides for them in the coming year.