How to finish sapele wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Sapele wood is a fine-grained African hardwood used throughout the world as a medium-hard flooring choice. It's easy to work with, creating smooth, stable floorboards. But like any other hardwood, it requires finishing to extend its usefulness and attractiveness. The finishing process doesn't differ from that used with other hardwood flooring types, though the rich colours of the sapele wood may require a lighter touch when staining. After finishing, the wood will last for years, requiring only minimal maintenance due to normal wear and tear.

Clear the room of any furnishings or other items that sit on the sapele floorboards. Remove any baseboards mounted to the wall around the floor, using a pry bar. Place the pry bar between the moulding and the wall. Apply pressure to the bar to pull the baseboard from the wall by the nails. Set the board aside for reinstallation after finishing the floor.

Remove any dirt or debris from the sapele wood by sweeping the boards with a broom, then mopping with a pH-neutral cleanser. Damp-mop the floor with the cleanser, using a light liquid approach that doesn't saturate the wood. Rinse the cleanser residue from the surface with clean water, then pat the wood dry with a clean towel. Allow the floor to dry completely before continuing.

Sand the surface of the floor with a floor sander to remove any roughness. Make multiple passes with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper, starting with 36 grit, followed by 60, 80 and finally a fine 100 grit paper. Each run with the sander should be in rows along the grain of the floor, moving the sander in small circles along the row and overlapping each row by about 3 inches to prevent the creation of visible lines in the floor surface. Sweep away any sanding residue from the floor.

Stain the floor if you wish to add colour to the boards. Apply the stain using a squeegee. Work the stain into the boards with light, even strokes along the wood grain. Overlap the stain rows by half the squeegee width, so you won't leave lines in the surface from the edges of the squeegee. Use an oil-based stain for deep colours, or a water-based stain for a more translucent appearance. Allow the water-based stain two hours drying time, or the oil-based stain 24 hours, before applying the finish. Add additional layers of stain to increase the colour depth, allowing the same period of drying time for each.

Use a squeegee to apply a polyurethane finish over the stained sapele. The finish protects the colour of the stain from fading and provides a water-resistant layer over the wood to protect it from moisture damage and staining. The finish also creates a use layer over the wood that absorbs normal wear and tear, preserving the wood's surface from damage. Spread the finish in the same way you spread the stain. Use three thin layers to build up a solid coating of the finish, allowing each layer to dry for the time recommended by the manufacturer. Wait 72 hours after the last application before allowing light use of the floor. Complete curing will take three weeks.


Wear work gloves, safety goggles and a face mask during the finishing process to protect against injury and harmful fumes.


Make sure the area is well-ventilated before using wood stain or finish. Staining sapele may darken the wood to the point that the wood grain is difficult to see.

Things You'll Need

  • Pry bar
  • Broom
  • Cleanser, pH neutral
  • Mop
  • Rags
  • Floor sander
  • Sandpaper
  • Floor stain
  • Squeegee
  • Polyurethane finish
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Larry Simmons is a freelance writer and expert in the fusion of computer technology and business. He has a B.S. in economics, an M.S. in information systems, an M.S. in communications technology, as well as significant work towards an M.B.A. in finance. He's published several hundred articles with Demand Studios.