I am going to be staining an unfinished alder table this weekend. Do I want oil or water-based stains? I want a light brown on the top and seats, and the table and chair legs to be a forest green.
Also any tips or tricks on staining will be welcomed.
My experience leans heavily toward the oil based ones. The water based ones didn’t like to soak in well at all, while the oil-based ones soaked in much better and more evenly. I haven’t had anything but good results with oil-based stain. The water based varnishes are fine, but teh stain didn’t work so well.
Hand rubbed urethane finish looks very good, by the way, although on the tabletop, you may want to look at several coats of slightly diluted spar urethane varnish. (dilute it so that it goes on smoother and with fewer brush strokes.)
The most successful water-based stains I have used were actually dyes. Unlike stains, which sit on top of the lumber (and can be sanded away usually), dyes chemically become part of the wood fibers. The look from dyes is different and I have mostly used them to create more artistic-type of colors, instead of the traditional colors based on different types of trees. I think this may work nice for your green chairs.
The dyes work really well and don’t impart a toxic smell to the working area, but like all water-based products, they raise the grain–so you have to sand or scrape the work prior to a finish coat.
I do prefer a water-based poly finish because it is faster and easier to use with small children around the house and shop. Used alone, these kind of finishes can impart a slight blue cast to the work. A wonderful and pretty easy solution is to first apply two thin coats of dewaxed shellac to the work and then put 3 coats of water-based poly over that. You get a nice depth of grain.
Highland Hardware is a good resource for more info and products.