Best Wood Stains 2019 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Best Wood Stains 2019 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

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.

Best Wood Stains in June, 2019

 Wood stainCoverage (quart)Recoat dry time (hours)Colors 
1General Finishes Oil Base
Editor's Choice
150-200 sq ft12-2413 Check Price
2#1 Deck Premium
Editor's Choice
50 sq ft24 Check Price
3Minwax Penetrating Wood Finish 150 sq ft4-628 Check Price
4Rust-Oleum Ultimate275 sq ft113 Check Price
5Minwax Gel Stain200 sq ft212 Check Price
6General Finishes Water Base100-150 sq ft0,5-216 Check Price
7Defy Extreme50 sq ft2-47 Check Price
8Old Masters75-125 sq ft6-818 Check Price
9Ready Seal50 sq ft247 Check Price
10Varathane Premium Fast Dry75 sq ft110 Check Price
11SamaN Interior Stainup to 200 sq ft140 Check Price
12Varathane Premium Wood Stain150 sq ft1-225 Check Price
13Kilz Exterior Wood Stainup to 75 sq ft1-29 Check Price
14Thompson's WaterSeal Stainup to 100 sq ft25 Check Price
15Old Masters Wiping Stain125 sq ft1219 Check Price

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.

Someone who doesn’t have much experience in finishing woods will be able to easily work with it without making a big mess because it applies very well with a cloth rag or foam brush.

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.

Pros
  • Heavy-Bodied
  • Easy To Apply
  • Great For Interior Wood
  • Cloth/Foam Brush Application
Cons
  • Easy To Over-Apply
  • Requires Extra Sanding
  • Not Suitable For Thinning

2. #1 Deck Premium Wood Stain – Choice For Exterior Siding and Floors

This #1 Deck product is an all-in-one stain and sealant. It is a semi-transparent finish with a flat and natural look. It’s water-based and environmentally friendly.

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.

This is just an average product. There aren’t any great advantages or extreme disadvantages to using it. It’s somewhere in the middle and will be best suited for quick outdoor projects.

Pros
  • Sealant And Stain
  • Uv Protection
  • Moisture Resistance
  • Exterior Use
Cons
  • Not Suitable For Thinning
  • Not Ideal For Interior Applications

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.

Liquid stains won’t apply easily with a roller. It’s easy to spill so you’ll need to be a little extra careful when using a brush. Older woods that are very dehydrated might take a liberal amount for good results. It doesn’t show up well when applying to an existing finish.

Minwax makes reliable products that will work great for new projects. This is a good option for those who already have experience in woodworking.

Pros
  • Deep Penetration
  • Great For New Projects
  • Suitable For Cabinets, Trim, Furniture, And More
  • Best Used With Sealer
  • Enhances Visibility Of Grain
Cons
  • Easy To Spill
  • May Suffer From Over-Absorption
  • Not Suitable For Covering Existing Finishes

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.

It’s not suitable for exterior wood projects. You should only use this for interior projects. It may be easy to apply too much and experience runs on your finished product.

You’ll get great results on interior projects. Dry time is fast and convenient with no sealing necessary.

Pros
  • Seals/Protects
  • Fills Cracks
  • Fast-Drying Single-Coat Application
  • No Sanding Required
  • Can Be Applied Over Existing Stains
Cons
  • Not Suitable For Exterior Wood
  • Not Suitable For Thinning
  • Easy To Over-Apply

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.

The average woodworker will find this formula very easy to use on most projects. It’s perfect for doors, banisters, trim, and other vertical surfaces.

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.

Pros
  • Suitable For Interior Doors, Banisters, And Trim
  • Easy To Use
  • Single-Coating Works Well
  • Used For Various Materials
  • Suitable For Covering Existing Stains
  • Use With Brushes Or Rollers
Cons
  • Not Suitable For Thinning
  • Requires Sanding
  • May Experience Streaking/Runs

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 can use it indoors with little ventilation because it doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals that create toxic vapors. You can clean up spills with mild-soaps and water. You’ll get the most out of this product on natural wood walls, trim, and interior doors.

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.

Pros
  • Thick And Easy To Apply
  • No Harsh Chemicals
  • Rustic/Traditional Looks
  • Suitable For Thinning
  • Minimal Sanding
Cons
  • Requires Multiple Coats For Darker Woods
  • Easy To Smudge
  • Add Sealer For Good Results

7. Defy Extreme – Perfect For Exterior Decks And Pressure Treated Wood

This product by Defy Extreme is a water-based exterior stain. It features an environmentally friendly formula that’s mainly intended for decks, pressure treated wood, and wooden patio furniture.

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.

This one is somewhat more complicated to apply than others. You’ll need to make sure that you evenly coat your project a few times to get the best mildew-resistance. Striping isn’t necessary when maintaining, but you will have to purchase Defy Wood Brightener that needs to be applied before you do a maintenance coating. You can not apply this stain to an existing finish that isn’t of the same brand.

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.

Pros
  • Environmentally Friendly
  • Resin UV Resistance
  • Great For Pressure Treated Wood
  • Ideal For Decks
  • Low-Maintenance
  • Minimal Sanding
  • Easy Cleanup
Cons
  • Defy Wood Brightener Required For Maintenance
  • Complex Application
  • Not Suitable For Covering Other Stains

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.

This option is not weather-resistant. The colors last a long time on outdoor projects, but you’ll absolutely need to add a protective sealer coating. You can’t add any thinning solutions to this mixture. Cleanup is tough. You’ll need to use a strong cleaning solvent or mineral spirits to clean up any spills if you make a mess. You’ll need to wait for a minimum of 24 hours of drying time before adding a top-coat. You have to sand the surface of any wood projects before you apply the first layer of stain.

Someone who wants very distinct coloring and doesn’t mind the extra work involved will find this stain really useful.

Pros
  • Thick Formula
  • Heavy/Rich Colors
  • Resistant To Fading
  • Great For Painted Surfaces
  • Use With Brushes, Rollers, Sponges, And Cloths
Cons
  • 24 Hour Dry Time Before Top-Coating
  • Not Weather Resistant
  • Sanding Required
  • Tough Cleanup
  • Not Suitable For Thinning

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.

It can’t be thinned at all. If you add mineral spirits you’ll degrade the sealer, and reduce performance against the elements. It’s also very hard to clean up, so try to be extremely careful when applying. It’s not suitable for use with a roller.

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.

Pros
  • All-In-One Sealant And Stain
  • Above Average Coloring
  • Ideal for Wooden Fence
  • Professional-Grade Finish
  • No/Priming/Sanding Required
  • Anti-Mildew/Anti-Mold
  • UV Protection
  • Water-Proof
  • Deep Penetration
  • Great Value
Cons
  • Tough Cleanup
  • Not Suitable For Rollers
  • Not Suitable For Thinning

10. Varathane Premium Fast Dry Stain – Inexpensive Option For Interior Wood

This Varathane Premium is one of their fastest drying oil-based formulas. It’s enhanced with microscopic pigmentation particles that give it a deep tone on any woods.

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.

This stain will be good for someone who is just trying to get a project done quickly and save a few bucks in the process.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Fast Drying
  • Very Easy Cleanup
Cons
  • Indoor Use Only
  • Temperature-Specific Application
  • Excessive Sanding Required
  • Fades Easily


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.

Because of the water-based nature of this wood stain, it also has the advantages of being odorless, safe for the Earth and safe for people and pets.

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.

Pros
  • Made for all types of interior woodwork
  • No need to use a conditioner
  • No overlapping marks
  • Needs just one coat
  • Does not raise the wood grain
  • Stain is odorless
  • Safe for the Earth
  • Safe for people and pets
Cons
  • Product is recommended for fine wood for best results


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.

Deep Penetration

As a soy-based stain, the Varathane Premium Wood Stain formula that provides deeper penetration resulting in an enhanced display of the wood grain and truer colors. The soy-based formula and translucent pigments foster many enhancements to the overall appearance of the stain.

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.

Pros
  • The anti-settling formula allows for less stirring
  • Applies evenly without blotching
  • Dry to the touch in as little as 1-2 hours
  • The soy-based formula provides truer colors
  • The translucent stain uses premium pigment for deeper colors
  • Penetrates up to twice as deep as competitors
  • Provides long-lasting translucent stain
  • Colors preferred 2 to 1 over competitors color choices
Cons
  • Re-coating is recommended after 2 hours for best results
  • Color choices are restricted to natural wood grain shades


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.

The colors are less specific and are given somewhat generic names; chocolate brown, Gray Wolf/Slate Gray, New Oxford/Dark Chocolate Brown or Red Fox/Dark Cherry. They still present a very traditional wood grain look. There are no unusual non-traditional colors offered.

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.

It protects exterior wood from rain, snow and UV damage and is warrantied for up to three years on decks and up to five years on fences and siding. The stain additionally provides waterproofing.

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.

Pros
  • Provides UV protection
  • Mildew resistant finish
  • Easy water clean-up
  • The acrylic formula protects from rain, snow and sun
  • Warrantied for up to 3 years on decks/ 5 years on fences and siding
  • Kilz brand has a 40-year history in the paint industry
  • Designated Paint Brand of the Year in 2015
Cons
  • For best results, wood preparation must be done prior to applying the stain


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

An obvious positive in choosing Thompson’s WaterSeal is that it is an all in one application. The customer avoids the cost and labor of needing to do to two steps of both staining and sealing the wood.

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.

Pros
  • Prevents water damage
  • Advanced polymers provide fade-resistant color
  • Finish resists mildew and UV damage
  • Can Apply to Damp or Dry Wood
  • Exceeds Industry Standard for Waterproofing Wood
Cons
  • For best results, wood preparation is required prior to application


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.

This line of stains is offered in 19 wood grain color options; walnut, cedar, cherry, oak, maple pine, pecan. With the exception of the Pickling White color choice, they are all natural wood grain colors. The stain is designed for easy application and claims superior color control. 

Both for Interior and Exterior Use

One strong positive that sets this product apart from other stains is that it can be used on both interior and exterior projects. If used outdoors, it does require that you add an additional coat of a clear protective finish.

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.

Pros
  • Easy application & superior color control
  • Can be used for both interior and exterior use
Cons
  • When using this product for an exterior application, it requires an additional step
    of adding a protective coating – requiring an additional product which increases
    cost and time.

Buyer’s Guide

best wood stains buyers guide

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

stained woodTo 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.

11 thoughts on “Best Wood Stains 2019 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide”

  1. What a great article, William. I need your advice. I moved into a new house 3 month ago. There are beautiful pine cabinets in the bathroom. The walls and floor are pretty dart so I’d love the cabinets to be darker to make the bathroom look lovely-lovely. Should I paint them some dark color or stain? What do you think?

    • Hi, Valeria. Choosing wood finish depends on what you want to get in the end. Definitely, wood stain is for you if you want to keep the natural wood grain visible which I think the most important and beauteous thing of the wood piece. Stain will show the wood grain and make it look darker just as you desire. On the other hand, paint will cover wood grain but there are much more colors to choose from, but paints got less dark colors than stains. None of this should be surprising, stains are designed especially to make your wood look darker. Also, each paint has different gloss whereas stain barely gives you any shin.

      So if you can’t decide what to choose then I suggest you using wood stain. As I already told you it reveals the natural beauty of the wood, in my opinion it’s much more beautiful than painting. You said you want your cabinet to be darker, remember? Stains have a lot of dark shades you will definitely love. Furthermore, you’ve come to the article about wood stains, right? 

      So for you, I suppose, the General Finishes Gel Stain will be the best solution since it’s well suited for hard-to-stain woods like pine. There are several deep dark colors available, but java is my favorite. I can guarantee you will love this murky brown color, it turns out a little bit lighter after you apply it, but it still looks awesome.

    • Hi. Staining doors isn’t as common as staining any other wooden piece but the outcome is always astonishing. Without a doubt you should go for gel stain rather than water-based, gel stains are well suited for vertical surfaces, I think you only will mess thing up trying to apply a water-based solution to your door. As I already said, gel stain is perfect here, so General Finishes Gel, Old Masters or Minwax Gel are out of the competition. But Minwax Gel Stain will be the best option for you since it’s designed just for vertical surfaces. Pick up the color you like and you’re ready to go.

      It’s a good thing you mentioned what door you’re going to finish. Bathroom doors have to deal with constant moisture and warm air which cause wood corruption. Of course, it won’t happen in one day but it’s better to do your door properly right away so that it will last for a long time. So, if you want to protect your door then you should apply an extra topcoat after applying stain. You may have heard of wood sealers, they are the perfect finishes against the moisture and rotting, furthermore, they have a clear formula which means you will keep desired stain color.

      So for you, it’s pretty simple: stain the door, wait for it to dry completely and then apply wood sealer. I’ve got the article where I reviewed top sealers https://woodimprove.com/best-wood-sealers/. I think Waterlox will be perfect indoor sealer for your piece.

  2. Love your blog, William. I finally got my Old Masters stain two days ago to finish my porch oak table. I started staining the underneath and I realized that applying gel stain using a bristle brush is quite difficult for me. Stain kinda sticks to the brush and covers the wood unevenly forming rough level. What brush is more suitable for gel stain?

    • Hi, Rebeca. It’s better to use foam brush or rag to apply gel stain but some brands may be applied using fine bristle brush without problems. By the way, I applied Old Master last time using exactly bristle brush, finish went easily and evenly.

      I suppose Old Masters might have changed their formula so that consistency of the product got more sticky. But most likely your stain wasn’t warm enough for proper finishing. It’s spring but weather is still chilly so do not use finishes once you get them delivered, let them warm up at room temperature. If you do so, the finish will perform at its best.

      So, try to warm up the stain. If it doesn’t work, you need to switch the bristle brush with foam brushes and rags. You might have already seen my article on brushes for staining https://woodimprove.com/best-brushes-for-staining-wood/. Please, take a look, you will find at least one foam brush option there. What about rags, so I think it isn’t a bit deal to get them 

  3. Great post, go on writing, William.

    I’ve got a quick question. My VERY old wooden fence was barely finished as a result it started rotting and fall apart. The best solution was to replace it with new fence completely which I did. Now I want to finish it properly to avoid the same problems in the future. What stain would be the best for staining a fence? Also I know that sealer is must have for exterior wood that’s subject to weather and moisture. Wait for your answer, thanks.

    • Thanks, Jacob. Glad to see you on my blog. You made the right decision: when wood starts decaying because it wasn’t prepared the right way initially it’s better to do all from scratch again. But sometimes it’s possible to repair wood using putty and other material, but fence isn’t a subject in this case: too much work, you know.

      You’re right, it’s highly recommended to use sealants for exterior wooden projects. But many exterior stains can seal wood too. ‘Ready Seal Stain and Sealer’ seems to be made especially just for you. It’s great for exterior pieces like fence. Furthermore, it both stains and seals the wood so you won’t need to seek for good sealer. So pick up Ready Seal and you’re ready to go.

      Anyway, if you want to fint out more about sealant, you may read my article on them https://woodimprove.com/best-wood-sealers/

      Good luck.

  4. Hey William thanks for putting together some great resources. I am in a pickle. We have 3000sqft of new pressure treated pine fence. I want to take the steps to protect it. I would like to try and preserve its color along with protecting the fence but I am on a budget and if I can only do one I’d rather protect it from rotting. I know ready seal seems like the go to option for me but with the amount of coverage I need and how expensive/lack of coverage per gallon ready seal offers I’m looking at other options. Also if you buy stain and a clear sealant separate which one do you apply first?
    What do you recommend for me?
    Thank You!!

    • Hi, Avery.

      For you I would recommend Agra-Life Lumber Seal . It’s a sealer which covers 2-3 times more than Ready Seal stain/sealer does. So if the coverage is your main concern then Agra-Life is the best choice, it’s great for fences.

      Apply sealer first, after that apply water-based wood stain.

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