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How to Select Wood Stain

How to Select Wood Stain

Nothing is more beautiful than the look of rich, warm wood. However, light-colored, untreated wood doesn’t achieve that desirable look by itself. To get the deep, warm browns that one associates with hardwood, the lumber must have at least one coating of stain. Meanwhile, darker woods such as cherry, maple or mahogany are best left with less apparent finishes so their natural beauty will be more noticeable. Like many other items, no two stains are alike. Whether you are staining a floor, furniture or other DIY project, here is how to determine which stain is best for your needs.

Four Main Factors of Determining Wood Stain

When choosing wood stain evaluate these four factors:

  • Wood texture

  • Desired stain coverage

  • Area lighting

  • Personal color preferences

The first factor to consider are the various physical characteristics of the wood being stained, such as qualities like the type of wood, how porous the material is and its smoothness. Afterwards, it’s important to consider how light or heavy of a stain you plan to apply. Lighter stain coverage will highlight more of the grain, while a darker stain will highlight the color of the stain.

Another important consideration is how light will affect the appearance of the stain. Typically, direct, bright light will make a stain appear lighter, while softer or dimmer light will make stains appear darker. Because of this, you should consider the brightness of your work area compared to the area where the wood will be on display and factor in for any discrepancies between the lighting of the two rooms. Additionally, you should consider personal preference for certain colors compared to the color of nearby woods to help create a consistent color theme in the room (or be purposefully different if you prefer a contrast).

Types of Wood Stains

Once you review the factors, it’s time to choose your stain. Some choices you face will include ease of use and the type of finish you want to achieve. Make sure you read labels carefully before you buy. The most crucial consideration is deciding if you want to use a polyurethane varnish to complete your work, as not all stains are compatible with polyurethane. For stains that are not, choose a clear, penetrating resin sealer.

The main types of wood stains are:

  • Non-penetrating pigmented oil stains, which are inexpensive and easy to apply, but blur or mask the grain pattern.

  • Penetrating oil stains, which tend to penetrate unevenly, are best used on softwoods.

  • Non-grain-raising stains are more expensive and can be difficult to use, requiring quick, thin applications for best results.

  • Sealer stains give you a one-step process, as no additional sealer is required.

  • Organic stains, made from tobacco, bark, roots, berries, tea and more have become increasingly popular but are not recommended unless you are an experienced refinisher.

Are you still confused? No problem. Simply stop by your local Doug Ashy store where our associates will be happy to help you choose the right stain for your project, as well as help select the proper tools for applying the stain and finishing the project.


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