Stains can make any woodworking project look professional and stand out highlighting the natural grain of the wood. Furthermore, this kind of coating protects wood from water and sunbeams. There are so many different formulas and types of stain that you can become overwhelmed with all of the options available.
Here are 10 best wood stains for various situations and an explanation of all the features so you can know exactly what you are looking for.
|Wood stain||Coverage (quart)||Recoat dry time (hours)||Colors|
|1||General Finishes Oil Base |
|150-200 sq ft||12-24||13|
|2||#1 Deck Premium|
|50 sq ft||2||4|
|3||Minwax Penetrating Wood Finish||150 sq ft||4-6||28|
|4||Rust-Oleum Ultimate||275 sq ft||1||13|
|5||Minwax Gel Stain||200 sq ft||2||12|
|6||General Finishes Water Base||100-150 sq ft||0,5-2||16|
|7||Defy Extreme||50 sq ft||2-4||7|
|8||Old Masters||75-125 sq ft||6-8||18|
|9||Ready Seal||50 sq ft||24||7|
|10||Varathane Premium Fast Dry||75 sq ft||1||10|
|11||SamaN Interior Stain||up to 200 sq ft||1||40|
|12||Varathane Premium Wood Stain||150 sq ft||1-2||25|
|13||Kilz Exterior Wood Stain||up to 75 sq ft||1-2||9|
|14||Thompson's WaterSeal Stain||up to 100 sq ft||2||5|
|15||Old Masters Wiping Stain||125 sq ft||12||19|
Below is the list of the best wood stains for your projects.
1. General Finishes Oil Base Gel Stain – Top Interior Stain For Pine and Difficult Woods
This option by General Finishes is the most popular wood stain. It’s a heavy-bodied formula that only penetrates just below the surface of your projects. It is a gel stain that’s designed to reduce spillage and uneven coating. By the way, you can apply it with any standard foam brush for staining or sponges.
This product works very well for more difficult to stain woods like pine. Gel stains like this one are great for woods that typically absorb a lot of stain. You’ll waste less product from over-absorption and spilling.
The shading and coloring leave a professional finish with minimal touch-ups. A single coating will give a nice finish, and 3 coats will yield the maximum richness that this tone of stain can produce. Drying time is around eight hours before you can add another coat. Above all, this product is perfect for interior wood.
Great to show woodgrain
This is one of my favorite products I use to restore wood furniture. I use it quite a bit on the tops of my furniture that I restore and there are a couple of things why I love this product so much. Number one – it’s affordable and number two – it’s just awesome.
General Finishes have got a whole line of different colors and Java is my favorite. I just love this color – it’s so dark and rich. Java color has really worked well with many of the paint combinations. It really makes woodgrain noticeable.
I know that some people apply this stain with rags but I find if I use a foam brush that I’m using less of the product. Some people may say ‘oh it’s not as fast’ but I’m okay with that, to me it’s all about application and getting it on evenly.
You should be careful when applying this product by making sure you don’t put too much on in a single coat. It may require more sanding than liquid stains because of its thickness.
2. #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain – Choice For Exterior Siding and Floors
You should use this product with softwoods in exterior projects. It protects against moisture and UV light. It has a low odor and is easily cleaned up with soapy water. It’s an average product without any other features that stand out from other brands, but it doesn’t suffer from any great downsides either.
This is for exterior use only. You can’t thin it with mineral spirits or else the sealer mixture will be deteriorated.
3. Minwax Penetrating Wood Finish – Decent Interior Stain For Furniture and Hardwood Floors
Minwax is the brand of choice for a majority of professional woodworkers. It penetrates deeply into most woods in order to bring out the grains to the surface. It’s designed to evenly highlight the greatest features and subtle styling of the woods you use. It’s meant to be used along with a sealer for a high-gloss finished product. The color scheme amplifies the existing qualities of your project.
This option works perfectly for new projects. It penetrates deeply into the wood and requires minimal sanding. You can use a foam brush, standard brush, or cloth rag to apply it. You can use this on cabinets, furniture, trim, and just about any unfinished woods. You’ll experience a very uniform coloring with one to two coats. It’s easy to thin with mineral spirits to get a lighter tone if you need to.
Minwax makes reliable products that will work great for new projects. This is a good option for those who already have experience in woodworking.
4. Rust-Oleum Ultimate Stain – Great For Wood Floors and Indoor Furniture
Rust-Oleum is highly-regarded for their exceptional quality stains and paints that are one of the best paints for wood on the market. This one focuses on a fast drying time and is intended for single-coat applications. It features a rubberized utility coating with a medium-bodied thickness that will seal against water and help fill existing cracks.
Rust-Oleum stain seals against leaks and moisture damages. You can apply it with any standard brush fairly easily. It’s thick enough to fill gaps and cracks in hard to reach areas when used liberally. A standard application will usually dry within one hour after applying. You can expect to get great coloring from a single coat. This product works best with wood floors, indoor furniture, cabinets and more.
You’ll get great results on interior projects. Dry time is fast and convenient with no sealing necessary.
5. Minwax Gel Stain – Good Choice For Interior Doors And Vertical Surfaces
Minwax gel stains are suitable for a variety of materials. You can apply this product to wood, fiberglass, metals, and more. It features an easy-to-use no-drip formula. It is heavy-bodied and can be applied with a standard brush, roller, or cloth.
You can use this option with any indoor project that isn’t exposed to the elements. It doesn’t necessarily require multiple coatings for even coverage. You can apply it with a regular brush or roller without much spillage.
You may have to do a lot of sanding if you intend on adding a sealer. For fine woodworking projects, you may need to wipe down the area after you finish each coating to remove excess stain. You shouldn’t add mineral spirits to this product. You may experience streaks and runs on your project if you don’t wipe away the excess of your product.
You’ll get the most out of this gel stain by using on projects that suffer from a lot of wear in normal use. It’s a good option for interior banisters, doors, and trim.
6. General Finishes Water Base – Great Option For Hard-To-Stain Woods Like Maple
Water-based stains from General Finishes don’t have any harsh chemicals or toxic vapors. They’re intended for indoor use only and is made to be easy to clean up if you have any spills. This package comes in a one-quart container. It is a medium-bodied water-based stain.
Some water-based stains are very watery, but this Whitewash from General Finishes is much thicker than other brands. It’s easy to apply with sponges and cloth rags. You can use it with a roller if you apply it slowly. You can blend and thin this one with mineral spirits as much as you’d like to. The thick formula makes it simple to get an even coating with little sanding between coats. You’ll get a really good finish on softwoods and hardwoods alike.
You might want to apply a sealer for your final finish on certain projects because this product isn’t hard to smudge and wear off. You might have to apply multiple coats to darker woods. This option won’t cover non-wood surfaces very well. It’s only suitable for indoor use.
Do-It-Yourself woodworkers will really enjoy using this stain to add a rustic feel to their home. It has a very traditional look if you don’t add a sealer.
7. Defy Extreme – Perfect For Exterior Decks And Pressure Treated Wood
Wood grains show through a semi-transparent layer with a matte finish for a natural look. High-Quality Resins in this formula add durability against weather and scratching. The resin also fights against fading. It includes zinc nano-particles that reduce the growth of mold.
You’ll get a lot of value from this stain on outdoor projects that experience a lot of constant moisture. It will seal and protect against the elements exceptionally well. It’s best used on pressure-treated woods that are meant for exterior use. It has great features like added zinc particles that reduce mold and mildew.
The resin in the formula stops fading, so you’ll get a longer lifespan from this option on decking than most other brands on the market. Cleanup is easy because it’s water-based. You can use a standard brush to apply it. You don’t need to strip this stain when putting on a maintenance coat later on. No Sanding Is Required.
A new deck project would be ideal for this product. You’ll need to completely remove your previous stain or finish if it’s not Defy brand. Maintenance is simple and it lasts a very long time.
8. Old Masters – Gel Wood Stain Both For Outdoor and Indoor Use
Old Masters gel stains are highly pigmented and oil-based. The focus of this product is providing intense colors on virtually any surface. You can use it on interior or exterior projects. It’s suitable for woods, metals, fiberglass, and composite materials. A single coating is all that’s needed in most applications. This package contains one-quart of exceptionally-rich Dark Walnut stain.
The best quality of Old Masters products is their incredibly rich colors. This product is extremely thick which makes it perfect for exterior applications with minimal fading over long periods of time. You can simulate a realistic wood grain over painted surfaces using the Old Masters Woodgraining Tool. It’s easy to apply and isn’t likely to drip from your brush.
Someone who wants very distinct coloring and doesn’t mind the extra work involved will find this stain really useful.
9. Ready Seal – Top Exterior Stain for Wooden Fence And Siding
The Ready Seal good proof application doesn’t require any primer before using. You can apply this stain at any temperature. It has a built sealer. This deal includes a one-gallon container. It is an oil-based all-in-one stain and sealant.
Ready Seal Has outdone themselves with this product. It features all of the best characteristics woodworkers are looking for in one product. It offers a streak-free and runs free-formula that’s great for beginner hobbyists.
The sealant is built-in and deeply penetrates the wood to provide exceptional water resistance. It has anti-mildew and anti-mold properties. This product even protects against harmful UV rays and reduces fading over time. You can apply it at any temperature with no difference in results.
It’s worth using on exterior projects, especially fences. It’s a medium-bodied formula with above average coloring. There’s a lot of value for the price of this product. Sanding is optional but results in a more professional-looking finish.
Anyone will see a lot of value in this product. It simplifies the process of wood staining with a professional quality end result. It’s perfect for exterior projects.
10. Varathane Premium Fast Dry Stain – Inexpensive Option For Interior Wood
This option is suitable for cabinets, doors, trim, and paneling. You should only use it for indoor projects. It dries to the touch in one hour. You can use thinning solutions with this stain. Any form of application brush or roller can be used. Cleanup is very easy.
It doesn’t have very strong pigmentation. Your end result will look very dull if you don’t apply several coats. Direct Sunlight will cause this stain to fade eventually.
You should not use this product on exterior projects even with sealant top-coatings because it will fade. It’s necessary that you excessively sand the wood surface with increasingly finer grit sandpaper before applying the first coat. The product has to be applied within temperatures of 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
11. SamaN Interior Water Based Stain – One Coat Formula
The SamaN Interior wood stain is a water-based formula that is designed for use on all types of interior wood; woodwork, moldings, doors, cabinets and furniture. It is designated as a translucent wood stain.
This Stain is offered in 42 colors to include natural wood grain hues such as various shades of walnut, maple and cherry. There are also several colors for individuals looking to find colors that are outside of the usual selections for customers seeking a look that is a bit outside of the box; lime, azure, mauve, turquoise and raspberry.
Time-saving and Safe
This SamaN Interior Water Based Stain has several features that set it apart from its competitors. One big advantage is that there is no need to deal with applying a conditioner, which saves you the additional cost of buying another product as well as the time savings in avoiding an additional step. Additionally, this product only requires that you apply one coat – again saving time and money. The product provides exceptional coverage and an impressive end result.
The only obvious downside in considering the NamaN Interior Water Based Stain is that while it can be used on all types of interior woodwork, best results are achieved when using on fine wood. This may not be ideal for lesser quality wood.
12. Varathane Premium Wood Stain – Rich Color and Penetration
Varathane Premium Wood Stain is a translucent stain designed for use on all interior wood products. This soy-based formula results in deeper penetration within the wood grain and results in truer colors.
This soy-based stain is offered in 25 colors. In this case, the color choices are all natural wood grain stains. The color palette reflects various shades of natural wood types; cherry, maple, mahogany, pine, oak and pecan. None of the color selections reflect colors that deviate from the natural and typical wood grain hues.
This results in a long-lasting translucent stain, truer colors and enhanced wood grain detail. This formula also provides you with the advantage of an “anti-settling” technology. This alleviates worries about the constant need to stir and remix the product. This wood stain also dries to the touch in as little as 1-2 hours.
This product does not have any strong negatives; however, it is advised that a re-coat be applied to the project two hours after the first coat is applied. I can say that a second or even third coat may be needed to get the desired color. Even in the two coat scenario, this clearly presents more effort and cost than the one coat alternatives. The fact that the color choices are limited to traditional wood grain hues might also present a downside for those wanting unusual colors.
13. Kilz Exterior Wood Stain – Semi-transparent Waterproofing Option
Kilz Semi-transparent Waterproofing Exterior Wood Stain is designed to treat and protect outdoor wood products. The formula is 100% acrylic and provides protection from rain, snow and sun damage for decks, railings, siding, shingles, patio furniture, shakes and fences.
This stain is offered in 9 colors. Each of the color choices appear similar to traditional wood grain color hues. The listing of color choices available does not specifically state what wood type they are trying to emulate. They do not specifically designate what wood type the stain is reflecting; pine, oak, walnut or maple.
Durable Exterior Protection
This Kilz exterior wood stain presents many positives. It offers a durable waterproof and mildew-resistant finish that can stand up to rugged outdoor conditions.
You should take heed that while this stain can be used on exterior wood surfaces that range from new to moderately weathered and unsealed for products that have anywhere from 0-10 years of exposure; however, unless the product is brand new and clean you can expect extra prep work before being ready to move ahead with the staining process.
14. Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain – All In One Application
The Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain is somewhat unusual as it is touted as a wood stain & sealer all in one. This presents both savings in cost and labor. The all in one formula negates the need to first stain the project and then a second product to seal and protect the stain. It is designed for use on all exterior wood projects.
Thompson’s WaterSeal Stain is offered in five different color choices and each of them is a natural wood grain hue. The product is an exterior wood stain and wood protector that allows some natural wood grain to show through while enhancing the appearance by adding subtle natural color to the surface of the wood.
Both Stain and Sealer
And it adds a measure of assurance to know that the product exceeds Industry Standard ASTM D-4446 for waterproofing wood. Additionally, the same advanced polymer that provides the waterproof feature also provides fade-resistant color Thompson’s WaterSeal is also mildew resistant and offers protection from UV damage. It also dries to the touch in 1-2 hours.
This product does not have any obvious negatives. The only attribute that has merit in mentioning as a downside is the stain’s coverage and appearance. While this product is categorized as transparent, manufacturers literature specifies that it will allow “some” natural wood grain and texture to show through. This could be no different from all stains – whereby they all add subtle color to the wood grain and could be viewed as slightly diminishing some of the wood grain to show through.
15. Old Masters Wiping Stain – Oil Based Slow Drying
Old Master’s Wiping Stain is designed for interior applications but can be used as an exterior stain as well if topped with a clear protective finish. Unlike the previous products, Masters does not dry quickly and presents a much different angle on staining.
This is designed to be a slow drying wood stain. In contrast to the fast drying thin translucent stains mentioned previously, this product offers a heavy-bodied, controllable interior wood stain. This product can be used on old or new bare wood but can also be used on finished wood. Additionally, it can be used for applications beyond traditional wood finishing. It can be used on obtaining a wood grain appearance on steel doors as well as other projects.
Both for Interior and Exterior Use
This stain also has the positive attribute of being an option for use on materials other than wood. The characteristic of deliberately being a slow drying controllable and heavy bodied stain could also make it a preferable choice for those do-it-yourself customers with less experience where a product that is more forgiving and easier to work with is a positive factor.
This product like most of the others does not have any strong redeeming negatives. It does not offer any non-traditional choices among the color palette. For customers wanting a quick drying time – this would clearly not be a good choice. It could also be seen as a negative if the user doesn’t like to work with a thick-bodied stain.
There’s something about when you put a stain on natural wood and you get to see that woodgrain pop, it just gives you goosebumps. If you restore furniture you know what I’m talking about.
When it comes to stains you can honestly have the best qualities of both worlds. You can have a durable product that also looks professional with enough care taken during the application.
How to determine the type of your wood
The first thing you need to do is determine what type of wood you’ve got. Softwoods like pine will absorb a stain much easier than a hardwood and thus could come off looking quite dark with even one coat of stain. Hardwood like oak and cherry on the other hand does not absorb stain as well and you may need to put several coats to actually get it to darken up to any significant extent.
So here is how you determine what type of wood you actually have whether it be a hardwood or softwood. It’s easy to actually tell for the most part by just looking at the grain of the wood. With hardwood you’ll notice the grain is rather consistent throughout whereas softwood frequently can be blotchy and the grain isn’t consistent throughout the length of the bore.
What level of protection to choose
You should only choose a non-protective stain for aesthetic purposes when you want a very flat finish. For all other applications, you should just pick the best looking product with the most protective features possible.
What type of stain to purchase
There are two main factors that will help you decide what type of stain to purchase.
The first key point is the level of quality you want to see on your finished project. Fine woodworking projects like furniture and cabinets are typically going to need to look amazingly finished. Outdoor projects and trim isn’t going to be seen as closely, so it really doesn’t matter.
The second key point is going to be how resilient you need your stain to be. An outdoor application should absolutely incorporate UV resistance, mold resistance, and water-proofing. Combination sealant and stain are usually going to be your most solid option for exterior products. Some brands that work for exterior applications might not look very great on finer quality woodworking projects. So I suggest you choose one of the wood sealers for your exterior wood to give it the protection it deserves.
How to prepare wood for staining
Because softwood can sometimes have an uneven grain or kind of a splotchy appearance it’s better to usually use some type of pre-stain conditioner on the wood itself prior to applying the stain. This will allow a more even look. Prior to actually stain the wood it’s important that it be sanded to the level that you’re looking for.
Sandpaper is going to allow for a more difficult time for the stain to absorb into the wood and thus you’ll have a lighter appearance. If you use a coarser grade the wood will have a better ability to absorb the stain but it will have a rougher surface so you have a darker surface but a rougher looking texture.
What you need to stain
The supplies that you’re going to need: a foam brush or a regular brush, a pair of disposable gloves and lots of rags. Remember rags should not be too big because if you deal with a large one and you try to drag it and wipe the stain off you’ll find that the larger the rag some of it will get caught in the stain and then you’ll be dragging it all around the top of your piece so you’d like to have more control on the rags that you use. So cut them in smaller pieces that work for you.
Safety precautions before staining
You can use a kind of a sponge brush or a regular type of stain brush and rags. The sponge brush absorbs some of the stain so that you can spread it evenly over the wood. Because stain is difficult to get off your hands it’s better to use a pair of vinyl or latex gloves to protect your hands from getting a stain on. In addition, it’s better to work in an open area or a bit well-ventilated area as the fumes from the stain are quite strong.
How to apply a stain
To actually apply the stain you have to soak up some of it on the brush and rub it along the line or grain of the wood. Apply a liberal amount on the surface and let it sit on for approximately 5 to 15 minutes. The longer you wait the more time the stain has to absorb into the wood. Particularly with hardwoods because of the difficulty in absorbing into the surface you may need to put several coats on.
So give 5 to 15 minutes of rest and then wipe it down with the rag. Use a clean rag and wipe down the stain in the direction of the grain of the wood. If you choose to put on a second coat to darken this up wait 4 to 6 hours and then apply a second coat again in the direction of the grain and let it dry for another 15 minutes and then again wipe off any excess stain.
After you’ve got it darkened to the level that you’re interested in you can let this sit for approximately 8 hours or so and then put a couple coats of polyurethane on it to give it a shine and a protective finish.