First of all, always cover your hands with gloves. I prefer Nitrile gloves, because they tend to hold up better, but I'm using latex throughout this post.
I'd also really like to use more eco-friendly stain, but I can't figure out how to keep the color consistent for custom listings. And, all the research I've done on what is available in the market, has the same sort of problem. So, I use Minwax for now.
I first brush on the stain, in the direction of the grain. This helps get it into all the nooks and crannies of the carving.
Trying to take pictures with my iphone, with glove covered stained hands, is crazy hard!
After I have the front of the board fully coated, I use a paper towel to take off any excess. It's important to do this step. Wood can only absorb so much stain at one time. Pools of stain will not absorb, they just become sticky messes. It's best to do a second coat if you're unhappy with the depth of color. I find one coat, typically, is enough for my signs.
If you find a particular piece of wood isn't taking stain very well at all, you can dampen - and I mean dampen - a towel, and run it across the board. It'll help open up the pores. You just don't want to soak the board. That's never good.
I then repeat the steps on all sides and on the back, too.
The back won't be seen, so why finish it? Ya, I know. But, it only feels complete staining the back as well.
When it's done and drying, it looks something like this.
It's after this, and before finishing, that I'll use sandpaper to make the nifty rustic looking marks all over it. Or highlight the wording with paint.
For engraved pieces, I simply dip a paper towel in the stain, and run it across the board, without getting it in the wording.
That's sort-of easier said than done, if you've ever tried this technique! And, sometimes I fail.
But, if I do, then a little re-work with the dremel will save the lettering. That's the best part about woodworking. Sanding can clear up so many mistakes!
And, when it's done, it looks like this:
This is starting to become one of my favorite ways to stain. It's harder, but I love seeing the words pop on the board.
And, once the signs are all dry, they move on to the finishing stage!