Frustration: Do I Glue or Stain First?

Evening the Tone on Drawer Fronts


One of the questions that comes up most often for builders of The House of Miniatures (THoM) kits is: “Do I stain or glue first?” Should we stain the pieces before building or build and then stain. The instructions say to assemble your kits, then stain. That is because glue does not stick well to the oily stain. The glue can’t sink into the pores of the wood well when stain is already in there.

However, you will soon find out that stain won’t sink into glue, either. That means the best thing would be to never get glue anywhere but inside the joint you are gluing. But there is always some that squeezes out or gets into the wrong spot. And even if you wipe it off right away it has still sunk in, at least to some degree, which will make your finish uneven. Are we doomed to blotchy finishes on stained pieces? Is the best answer to just paint our completed kits? No!

Tinted Glue to the Rescue

The right answer is: tinted glue. If the glue is a near match for your stain then you can sand it down and blend it in when it is time to apply the finish. So, where do you get colored glue? THoM used to sell several shades back in the 70’s and 80’s, but you really can’t find it easily anymore, and when you do it is expensive. Plus, who needs a pint of dark mahogany glue sitting around? Don’t despair. You can make your own custom tinted glue in very small batches and for very little investment in time or money.

You’ll want to decide the stain color you will use on the finished kit first and then color your glue to match. Stain won’t penetrate glue, so the seems (and the glue that seeps out of the joints) need to be close to the color of the final finish. In the pre-stain image below is the Chippendale Flat Top Highboy, THoM kit #40022 I wanted to stain it a dark, walnut color (second image). You may be able to see the dark blotches in the joints of the first image. Just as you can see the dark against the unstained wood, if I had not used the colored glue you would have been able to see the bare wood color against the dark stain on the finished build.

Make It Yourself

How do you color glue yourself? Glad you asked. The Americana hobby paints work great and you may already have Burnt Umber in your supply. Mix more or less with white glue to match your stain color. How do you know what your stain color will wind up looking like? Well, it is best to test your stain by putting two coats on a test piece, right? A drawer bottom or interior panel from the kit makes a great test piece. Just stay away from the gluing surfaces, because glue doesn’t stick to stain very well. Which is why we glue before staining in the first place.

Now let’s go build better kits!

Pre Stain
Glue Seeping from Joints
After Staining
Tinted Glue Matches Stain


  1. This article has been a tremendous help as a newbie to the world of miniature furniture making. To make sure I’ve got the right order.
    1) dry fit all the pieces
    2) lightly sand the area to give a smooth finish
    3) glue together using a tinted wood glue. Recommendation is Americana Hobby Paint
    4) stain the furniture piece to desired finish
    5) upholster if needed

    My questions-
    1) The Americana Hobby Paint – should this be acrylic, gel stain or varnish
    2) what stains do you recommend to use on the wood pieces, water-based, oil-based or gel and is their a particular brand and color line that is true to the period pieces
    2) do I need to lightly sand between finishes? If so, with what grade of paper
    2) do I need to apply a sealant or varnish after finish the piece.

    Thank you in advance for all your help.

    1. 1) Acrylic paint. Add it by the drop to a dime-sized dab of wood glue
      2) Minwax oil-based stain for me. But the water based Polyacrylic finishes are good. Smells like floor wax.
      3) After first coat of stain you do need to use a 320-400 paper to knock off the hair-like wood strands that pop up. I use hobby sanding sticks. Before first coat of poly I sand with 800 grit, but I seldom sand between coats of poly.
      4) As above, Minwax Polyacrylic is great and very low odor

    1. They are well beyond their shelf life, but if they have never been opened they may still be useable. Test before doing anything that will be visible on the finished kit.

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