Once upon a time, stain was colored liquid. It changed the color of wood just fine, but was messy and tended to drip. Eventually, gel stain appeared on the horizon, offering less drip and a bit more convenience. Now Varathane, one of the most respected names in wood finishing, has gone a step further. Say hello to Foam Stain.
Grab the unusually shaped aerosol can with its slender waist, put it up to the wood, and press the tip. Out comes colored foam as fluffy as whipped cream. I decided to call Matt Moon, the senior brand manager for wood care products at the company, to get the lowdown on this very odd, very fun version of wood stain, and as a bonus, got a quick history lesson as well.
“Until 2001, when it was acquired by Rustoleum, a division of RPM,” Matt explained, “Varathane was part of the Flecto company. At the time, Varathane made only clear finishes. We both improved the clear formulas and added new products, including stains, gel stains, touchup and repair products, and tinted topcoats. We are constantly adding new products that we think will make wood finishing easier, more convenient and more enjoyable. To that end, our latest new product launch is Varathane Foam Stain.
“Instead of a drippy, sloppy traditional liquid stain, Foam Stain comes out of an aerosol can with the consistency of whipped cream. It penetrates as well as a traditional liquid stain, but is less messy and is easier to control. Spray out a dollop of foam, and it stays just where you put it. All you need do is take a soft cloth and rub the foam into the wood. Unlike traditional stains, there is no excess to wipe off. All of it will be absorbed into the wood as you rub. Additionally, the rag absorbs some of the stain as you work, and once it absorbs enough, it becomes a stain-charged applicator so that there is little if any waste.
“You can work a small area, then move on to the next because Foam Stain does not leave overlap marks. We suggest you start with a golf ball sized dollop and work with it until you get a feel for how it handles on wood. In other words, don’t try to spray on enough to do the whole piece at once. At that point, you can decide how much you want to work with, but you’ll find that it goes a long way.
“What customers tell us they like best is that there is no stirring, there’s less potential to make a mess and no chance to tip the can over. It takes the dread out of staining because it behaves so well; it goes only where you direct it to go with the rag. Even complete novices have an easy time of creating ideal results with Foam Stain. In a field that too many people regard with distaste, this stuff actually makes staining fun. By November, we expect Foam Stain to be available at Home Depot, but you can always locate a retailer on our website.
“Unlike traditional oil-based stains, there is very little odor, and you can clean up with soap and water while it is still wet, in spite of the fact the it is an oil-based stain. It still has the same penetrating quality of our other liquid stains. Leave it to dry overnight and you can use it under any finish: water-based, oil-based or solvent-based. Shelf life is at least three years, so there’s no need to use it all up. It certainly won’t dry in the can because someone left the lid unsecured. We think Foam Stain will change the way people think about finishing. It takes away intimidation and uncertainty, puts something in your hand that gives you complete control, and makes staining more enjoyable than it has a right to be.”
“Another recently introduced product,” Matt told me, “is an aerosol version of Varathane One Step Stain & Poly. Back in 2005, we created an oil-based stain and polyurethane mixture that combines both stain and top coat in one product. The idea is to eliminate one step in the process: you can stain and apply finish in one operation. By continuing to add more coats, you can make the finish as dark as you want, since each coat will add more color. Once the color is where you want it to be, the job is done. In cases where you hit the color you want in the first application, you are free to add clear coats of polyurethane atop for more protection.
“While it was a great product, there was a minor problem. While the first coat is easy to get uniform, poor brush work on subsequent coats can lead to uneven bands of color. That becomes a bit more tricky on vertical application, since drips and runs become very obvious. In short, it is a great product, but has its challenges.
“Enter the aerosol version, which we released in April of this year. Aerosol application is much faster and makes it vastly easier to get uniform color without drips and runs. And, because it is both color and finish in one, there’s no need to buy both a top coat and stain separately, nor do you need worry about whether the two are compatible. It saves both time and money.
“One the most sought-after uses for One Step is to change the color of your furniture or kitchen cabinets without first removing the existing finish. While that was possible with the liquid one-step, the aerosol makes it considerably easier. On top of that, there’s no spilling, no need for brushes or applicators and little or no clean up when you are done. And, as is always the case with aerosols, material won’t dry up and go bad because you did not reseal the can properly.”
While we were on the subject of aerosols, I asked Matt to tell me about another aerosol I had seen advertised on television called Rustoleum Universal.
“Although it is not your typical woodworker’s finish,” Matt admitted, “paint is still something we often reach for around the house and shop. For those situations, Universal is often just the ticket. First introduced last February, Universal is just what its name implies: a paint that will go over any surface, from plastics and metals to wood, glass and concrete, and is both an interior and exterior coating. In most cases, you don’t even need a primer under it.
“Even the can is unique. There’s a patented trigger delivery system that eliminates finger fatigue thanks to an ergonomic grip, and offers precision control. Another slick feature that makes spray painting even easier is that you can spray with the can in any direction, even upside down.
“This is the one spray finish that we feel eliminates the need for all others. One can on your shelf replaces primers and top coats of both indoor and outdoor paints. It’s the ultimate in flexibility and makes choosing the right paint as easy as remembering the name Universal. It’s available in a variety of colors in gloss and satin as well as in hammered texture and metallic colors. You might have seen our ads on TV already, and you can find it at all the major hardware stores and at home improvement centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s®.
“The bottom line,” Matt pointed out, “is that we understand how much of a challenge finishing is to many woodworkers. To that end, we’ll continue to come out with products for our consumers that make finishing more fun, easier and deliver better results.”
Editor’s Note: Disclosure: Michael Dresdner is a consultant to the Rustoleum group. The three products featured in this article are a radical departure from items currently on the market and do not directly compete with other finishes.