Staining objects

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Forum topic by Pdl posted 01-12-2011 08:58 PM 1155 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Pdl's profile


89 posts in 2989 days

01-12-2011 08:58 PM

Ok. My wife and I are having a major debate on staining. I am making a headboard for my mother. It is the kind that is used against a wall. She wants me to stain and finish the back. I told her no. I sanded the back and stained and polyed an inch strip of the back near all edges, but not the entire thing. The question I am posing is, is this ok? Should I stain the back if there is no chance for it to be seen? Or is there some structural properties I need to consider for wood movement by finishing or not finishing back of a project. Help me out guys.

Thanks in advance,

15 replies so far

View darinS's profile


713 posts in 3069 days

#1 posted 01-12-2011 09:10 PM

My understanding, and I could easily be wrong, is that without staining and finishing the entire back you will have problems. Due to changing humidity in your Mom’s house, more moisture will be able to enter from the backside of the headboard causing the moisture content to be unbalanced. This could potentially lead to the headboard warping, cracking, or a host of other things.

Keep in mind, I am not a professional. I will bet there are many more who are better qualified that will answer your question. This is just my take on things.

-- They say many people die because of alcohol. They never realized how many of them are born because of it.

View tomd's profile


2175 posts in 3972 days

#2 posted 01-12-2011 09:18 PM

I agree with Darin, you do not have to finish it to the same degree as the front just seal it the same. The same number of coats of poly you used on the front use on the back.

-- Tom D

View Pdl's profile


89 posts in 2989 days

#3 posted 01-12-2011 09:20 PM

Thanks fellas. I was under the same impression but i wanted to be sure.

View KnickKnack's profile


1094 posts in 3768 days

#4 posted 01-12-2011 09:25 PM

I asked a somewhat similar question a while ago (wow, it was 793 days ago), here
conventional wisdom was that it was important to finish the hidden bits. Staining I’d have thought not, but just about everyone here knows more than I do.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View TominTexas's profile


42 posts in 3038 days

#5 posted 01-12-2011 09:42 PM

This can be a controversial topic. There is another opinion expressed by Bob Flexner that offers that there is no reason to finish the hidden side (check Flexner on Finishing in PW). He is a widely respected finishing expert but this topic reveals supporters in both camps. I’ve finished both sides on virtually all of my projects just because it gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that the project is completely done even the areas that are not easily visible. However, I have several antique pieces that are well over a 100 years old and the underneath surfaces are completely bare yet the panels/tops are still flat – so there must be something to what Mr. Flexner says. Our woodworking ancestors produced furniture to sell and wasting time and material to finish surfaces that were never seen just didn’t make economic sense to them.

Just another opinion.


-- East Side of Big D

View Arvid's profile


17 posts in 3212 days

#6 posted 01-12-2011 09:43 PM

I’ll start by saying I’m not a professional either, but your answer is, “It depends”. First, it depends on the type of wood used to make the project. Problems from humidity or moisture will affect different woods differently. If your headboard is made from solid wood it will move more than if it were made from engineered lumber (plywood). It also depends on the environment in your home. Generally, the inside of your home is a stable environment and should minimize movement. Finally, it depends on how it’s mounted. If it is attached directly to the wall, there may be even less chance for it to move.

Bottom-line, if you want my advice, I would seal the back. I wouldn’t put multiple coats or even stain it, but I would at least put a sealing coat of finish over it.

-- Arvid, Washington DC

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3488 days

#7 posted 01-12-2011 10:50 PM

This is only my personal opinion, although I am a professional. I would stain the back and at least seal it for reasons already mentioned. The main reason is that whenever I moved the bed, I would regret not doing it.
I look at projects now that were done years ago when I wasn’t as picky and wonder why I didn’t spend just a little extra time. You are right that it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t show. The question is, does it matter to you? ( Or to her) In staining the rest you will naturally get some on the back anyway. Sometimes it is easier to do it all than to be careful of the unfinished parts. I would not completely finish the back however.

I have become pretty anal about a lot of things that didn’t matter before. Sometimes what you can’t see makes the difference in the long run. I judged a high school woodworking show years ago. Many projects appeared equal and we had a tough time deciding the placing. We began to look at those small details—-backs, under drawers, inside, etc. Guess who won!

Bottom line, does it matter—-I don’t know, does it?
I ask you this, if it doesn’t show, why did you sand it? No one will see or feel it.


View Pdl's profile


89 posts in 2989 days

#8 posted 01-12-2011 10:59 PM

This is EXACTLY why this is my favorite web site. All of the responses are extremely helpful and i thank you. I think i am going to leave it be. I was thinking along the same lines as the 1st couple of comments and sealing it up, but TominTexas sealed the deal. I have seen MANY projects where parts aren’t sealed and they are more than fine. I llive in Nevada and it is rarely humid so i tend not to freak out too much about it. I still do all i can to prevent problems though. I am puting the final coat on the project tonight. I’ll post some pics this week end. Again, thanks to everyone.


View childress's profile


841 posts in 3743 days

#9 posted 01-12-2011 11:14 PM

One thing not mentioned is whether or not this is mostly constructed with plywood or solid wood. If it’s solid wood, I would at least put a coat of poly (or whatever top coat you’re using) on it, of not two…

-- Childress Woodworks

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4329 days

#10 posted 01-12-2011 11:16 PM

I’m viewing this forum from my computer that is next to an oak desk that was made in 1895 (I actually found the original invoice in one of the drawers). There is no finish on the undersides or in the drawers. The original finish appears to be shellac.

I would stain the backside of a bed headboard just for appearance, then seal it with a coat or two of shellac.

-- 温故知新

View tbone's profile


276 posts in 3886 days

#11 posted 01-12-2011 11:35 PM

I agree that it’s not necessary, but I always seal and finish the unseen parts just like the seen parts anyway. Why? Probably because I have an oily rag in my hand and a can of oil in front of me. It’s as simple as that.
Plus, as you know Lenny, if the wife ever asks you about it, you can say you did it and there’ll be no debate.

-- Kinky Friedman: "The first thing I'll do if I'm elected is demand a recount."

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3276 days

#12 posted 01-12-2011 11:55 PM

I have a friend who actually makes a good living doing artistic woodwork. He was once asked about finishing in the areas that people will never see. He said he always does and it’s a point of personal pride. Maybe no one will ever see, but he knows what he did (or didn’t do) and he does not feel right about not finishing everything.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3975 days

#13 posted 01-13-2011 12:24 AM

I think it should be finished. Helps eliminate warping and I think it is part of being a good craftsman. It might not have to be as smooth as the front but it is seen when you are carrying it in.

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 3159 days

#14 posted 01-14-2011 12:09 AM

Wow, my first thought had nothing to do with all of these great answers. Mine was based on 2 things… first, you are debating with your wife; and second, you are discussing an object for your mother-in-law. So I would advise to do as she wants, making your future liability nil and voiding any future statements as to how you did it “wrong”.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 2892 days

#15 posted 01-14-2011 11:58 PM

I agree with Nomad62. I’ve been married 25 years! But let me ask you this…
Would you leave the back of the couch unapholstered because it might always be against a wall?

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

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