In woodworking or refinishing furniture, you sometimes hear people talk about raising the grain. What is raising the grain, how do you do it, and why is it important?
As part of the finishing process, it’s a good idea to raise the grain on your woodwork and then sand it off. This helps to ensure you will have as smooth of a surface as possible.
When you are finishing something made of wood, one of the last steps is to wet the surface with plain water. Tap water is fine for this. You don’t need to soak it, just apply some water to the surface with a damp cloth until you cover the whole surface. This accomplishes two things.
The first thing it tells you is whether you need to stain the wood. The water shows you what the surface will look like if you just apply a clear coat. There is a reason why oak colored wood stain looks the way it does. It imitates the natural book of oak. It wasn’t just someone’s arbitrary decision that that’s what oak should look like. People will sometimes stain oak with oak stain to ensure a uniform color, but it’s not strictly necessary.
If the wood looks nice with just water, you can skip staining and go straight to your favorite clear coat. That can be polyurethane, lacquer, Danish oil, or whatever you prefer.
Raising the grain to get a smoother finish
But the second thing wetting the surface does is cause the grain to pop out a bit. You want to do this yourself, so that humidity doesn’t make the grain pop later and ruin your nice surface. After the water evaporates, when you run your hand over the surface, you will notice it has a rougher, grainy texture.
At this point, all you need to do is sand it. Start with around 180 grit sandpaper, then work your way up to 400 and 600 grit to smooth the surface. Then wipe down the surface with a tack cloth, and you can stain the surface and apply a clear coat. Or skip the stain if you already determined the surface books good without it.