Different Types of Wood Stain (With Examples)

When you want to change the color or shade of wood, professionals will advise you to go for a wood stain finish. But with so many types of wood stains out there, it becomes difficult to know which one to go for, but not to worry.

This article reveals the top 7 types of wood stain including a guide on the best type of wood stain for different wood surfaces. Let’s dive in.

7 Types Of Wood Stain

7 Types Of Wood Stain

Here are the best types of wood stains for wood:

1. Oil-Based Wood Stain

Oil-based wood stains are dissolved in oil-based solvents – The solvent can either be linseed oil or a mixture of other natural oils or varnish.

The presence of oil-based solvents in the wood stain makes the wood stain thick and strong. Oil-based wood stain can be used on busy wood surfaces including floors, decks, and outdoor furniture. This is because oil-based wood stain is durable and able to withstand wear and tear.

On average, a coat of oil-based wood stain will dry in 2 hours and can be recoated in 3 hours. It takes about 12 hours for the entire oil-based wood stain finish to fully dry but you should let it dry for 24 hours before use and cleaning.

You should know that the room temperature, weather, humidity, and the number of coats all determine how long it will take an oil-based wood stain to dry.

Pros of Oil-Based Wood Stain:

  1. Oil-based wood stain offers good wood protection.
  2. The wood stain covers wood properly with fewer coats.
  3. Oil-based wood stains are durable and able to withstand wear and tear.
  4. Oil-based wood stains are moisture-resistant (not waterproof).
  5. Oil-based stains prevent mold growth on wood.
  6. Oil-based wood stains help to highlight the natural beauty of the wood grain.

Cons of Oil-Based Wood Stain:

  1. Oil-based wood stains take hours to dry.
  2. Oil-based wood stains contain several additives and petroleum-distilled solvents that can make the stain toxic.
  3. Oil-based wood stain gives off strong fumes.

Related Read: Wood Stain Dry Time

2. Water-Based Wood Stain

Water-based wood stain is a natural wood stain produced by mixing wood dyes with water. This wood stain has a very simple and natural formula meaning that it doesn’t produce fumes and isn’t toxic.

However, you should know that water-based wood stains are thin meaning that you’ll need more coats for good coverage on wood. You can use water-based wood stain on any type of wood but the finish is better suited to indoor wood since it’s not very durable.

Water-based wood stains dry and can be recoated in about 90 minutes. The wood stain dries fast because it doesn’t contain petroleum-based solvents and it uses water as the solvent.

Pros of Water-Based Wood Stain:

  1. The formula is natural making the wood stain safe on just about any type of wood.
  2. The wood stain has a high level of color or pigments creating a colorful finish on the wood.
  3. Water-based wood stains dry quickly and you can apply up to 4 coats in less than 8 hours.
  4. Water-based wood stains can change wood color.
  5. The wood stain is affordable and it comes in several colors.

Cons of Water-Based Wood Stains:

  1. Water-based wood stains have low durability and poor wood protection.
  2. Water-based wood stain raises the wood fibers as it dries causing splinters.
  3. Water-based wood stain can only be used on indoor wood since it’s not weather-resistant.

Related Read: Oil-Based vs Water-Based Stain

3. Gel Stain

Gel stain or gel-based wood stain is used on wood to darken the existing finish on the wood or the wood itself. Gel wood stain contains thickening powder, resins, pigments, and in some cases, mineral spirits. Unlike other wood stains that penetrate the wood, gel stain stays on the wood. This is due to the thick flow of the stain making it impossible for it to penetrate wood pores.

Gel stain can be used on wood that doesn’t accept stain well like cherry and pine wood. These woods give a splotchy finish when coated with regular wood stain because the wood doesn’t absorb stain evenly but gel stain doesn’t need to be absorbed so it will work fine.

It takes gel stain 6 hours to dry enough for a recoat and manufacturers often advise leaving gel stain to dry for a minimum of 24 hours after application before light use. You should know that the thick texture of gel stain makes it very responsive to the room temperature and weather. So, avoid applying gel stains in cold temperatures.

Pros of Gel Stain:

  1. Gel stain is used on detailed woodwork and designs to highlight markings and carves in the wood.
  2. Gel stain holds up well to water and is almost waterproof.
  3. Gel stain is easy to apply – In most cases, all you need is a rag to rub the gel on the wood in a circular motion.
  4. Gel stain can be used on finished, stained, or bare wood.
  5. Gel stain offers good wood protection since the finish stays on the wood surface.
  6. Gel stain can be used on wood that doesn’t accept stain well like pine and cherry.

Cons of Gel Stain:

  1. The wood stain takes several hours to fully dry.
  2. Gel stain attracts dust while drying due to the jelly-like texture of the finish.
  3. Gel stain is more expensive than other wood stains.

4. Lacquer Wood Stain

Lacquer stain is a quick-drying wood stain that gives a transparent finish. Lacquer is usually oil and solvent-based.

The wood stain also has a high level of additives including xylene which makes the wood stain dry quickly. You should know that lacquer also produces strong fumes due to the presence of solvents and additives in the wood stain.

Lacquer can be used on both finished and bare wood. The finish is strong and waterproof so you can use it to protect a wood finish.

It takes lacquer between 15 minutes and 30 minutes to dry. Painters advise leaving 30 minutes between each coat of lacquer wood stain. On average, the entire lacquer wood stain application doesn’t take up to 4 hours and the reason for this quick dry time is the quick-dry additives in the lacquer paint.

Pros of Lacquer Wood Stain:

  1. Lacquer stain is waterproof.
  2. Lacquer stain can be used to highlight bare wood or stained wood.
  3. The wood stain dries quickly.
  4. Lacquer is durable and withstands frequent use and cleaning well.
  5. Lacquer stain protects wood from dents and scratch marks.

Cons Of Lacquer Wood Stain:

  1. Lacquer stain produces strong fumes due to the high amount of solvents and additives (chemicals) in its formula.
  2. Lacquer dries very quickly meaning that there is no chance to fix mistakes.
  3. In large amounts, lacquer fumes can be toxic.

5. Varnish Wood Stain

Like lacquer, wood varnish also gives a clear finish to the wood. There are several types of wood varnish stain and each type has different qualities. But, the most common type of wood varnish stain is polyurethane varnish. All types of varnish contain essential oils or solvents which make the stain thick, strong, and waterproof.

You can use varnish indoors and outdoors. The strong and waterproof finish can protect indoor furniture and outdoor wood. For outdoor wood, you should only use exterior varnish.

It takes varnish wood stain between 24 hours and 3 days to fully dry. On average, a varnish coat will become dry enough for recoat in 6 hours but the entire finish should be allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before use.

Pros of Varnish:

  1. Varnish offers good waterproofing.
  2. Varnish protects wood from damage.
  3. Varnish prevents mold growth on wood.
  4. Exterior varnish is weather friendly and UV resistant.

Cons of Varnish:

  1. Varnish takes days to dry and can accumulate dust during this time.
  2. Varnish application is time-consuming.
  3. Varnish contains a high volume of synthetic paint chemicals making it toxic if inhaled.

6. Water-Soluble Dye Stain

Water-soluble dye stain comes in powdered form. The wood stain is mixed with water before it is applied over the wood. Since you are to mix the wood stain powder with water, you have more control over what the finish will look like.

You should use water-soluble dye stain on woodwork, décor, artwork, and other wood items that wouldn’t be used or walked on. Since the wood stain isn’t very durable, you shouldn’t use it on wood floors or furniture that will see high traffic.

Water-soluble dye stain dries in 30 minutes. The quick dry time is because the paint is water-based and has no oils or slow-drying solvents in its formula. You can recoat water-soluble dye stain in about 15 minutes but you should leave the finish to cure for at least 2 hours before sealing or using it.

Pros of Water-Soluble Dye Stain:

  1. You have control over the color and shade of the finish.
  2. The stain is natural and safe to use on any type of wood furniture.
  3. The wood stain is easy to apply and you can finish its application in less than 2 hours.
  4. Water-soluble dye stain gives a colorful finish to the wood.
  5. The wood stain doesn’t give off fumes and is non-toxic.

Cons of Water-Soluble Dye Stain:

  1. The wood stain finish is not durable.
  2. The wood stain is not water-resistant.
  3. The wood stain doesn’t protect wood from dents or scratch marks.
  4. The pigments or color of the wood stain fade easily when exposed to UV rays so you can only use the stain on indoor furniture.

7. Metalized Dye Stain

Metalized dye stain is similar to water-soluble dye stain but it doesn’t fade as much. The wood stain is termed “metalized” because there are metals in its formula including cobalt and nickel.

These metals are present to reduce the rate of fading and make the finish more durable. You can use metalized dye stain on indoor furniture but the finish is more suited to unfinished or bare wood.

Metalized dye stain dries almost immediately after its application. The metals in the stain increase the rate of oxidization making it dry very quickly. You should know that metalized dye stain should never be brushed – Since it dries very fast, you won’t have time to brush it on so you have to spray it.

Pros of Metalized Dye Stain:

  1. The dye stain dries quickly and you can finish its application in less than an hour
  2. You can mix the wood stain with varnish or lacquer for improved durability
  3. The wood stain is easy to apply
  4. Metalized dye wood stain is affordable.
  5. The wood stain doesn’t fade easily under UV exposure

Cons of Metalized Dye Stain:

  1. You can only spray the wood stain
  2. The wood stain isn’t very durable and offers poor wood protection.

Types of Wood Stain For Different Types of Wood Surfaces

Wood Furniture?

The best type of wood stain for wood furniture is oil-based wood stain. Oil-based wood stains will penetrate the furniture properly and give a smooth finish that will protect the wood. Oil-based wood stains also give a smooth and rich colored finish to the wood furniture.

Wood Trim?

The best type of wood stain for wood trim is polyurethane varnish. Varnish will give a glossy finish that will repel stains and protect the wood trim. Varnish is also clear and reflective so the markings and detail work on the wood trim will be highlighted.

Wood Doors?

The best type of wood stain for wood doors is oil-based wood stain. If it’s an exterior door that will be exposed to the elements, you should seal the oil-based wood stain with varnish or a combination of varnish and metalized dye stain. This is to protect the wood from the harsh exterior environment.

Wood Floors?

The best wood stain for wood floors is oil-based wood stain with a varnish top coat. This is because the wood floor will be made to support weight, foot traffic, and lots more so you need a strong wood stain like varnish on the floor. You also need a wood stain finish that will be easy to clean and maintain in case of spills.

Wood Table?

The best wood stain for a table is lacquer wood stain. This is because lacquer is durable and water-resistant so the finish will protect the wood from occasional drink spills and cleaners. Also, lacquer is a clear finish that will reveal the natural beauty of the wood table.

Wood Cabinets?

The best type of wood stain for cabinets is oil-based wood stain. Oil-based wood stain will protect the wood from stains, grease, and steam, especially for kitchen cabinets. You can also use a water-based wood stain on the wood cabinet but you’ll have to seal the finish with varnish to protect it.

Pressure Treated Wood?

For pressure-treated wood, you need exterior varnish to protect the wood from cracking, moisture, and UV rays. You should remember to let the wood dry properly before staining – This is to prevent a patchy-looking finish.

Unfinished Wood?

For bare and unfinished wood, you can use metalized dye stain. If the unfinished wood will be used outdoors, you should seal the metalized dye stain with exterior varnish since it contains UV blockers. You should sand the unfinished wood before staining – This is to smoothen the wood and remove splinters.

Fake Wood?

For fake wood, you should use a water-soluble dye stain. This is because these stains don’t penetrate as much as other types of wood stains and they also stick to just about any type of surface. If you use a regular wood stain on fake wood, the wood stain will not stick because it can’t penetrate the fake wood the same way it would penetrate real wood.

Pine Wood?

You should only use a topical wood stain like gel stain on pine wood because pine wood doesn’t absorb regular stains evenly. If you use regular wood stain on pine wood, the finish will come out splotchy and amateurish.

Painted Wood?

You should use gel stain on painted wood since gel stain will not be absorbed in the wood. A few coats of gel stain on painted wood will preserve the paint and also protect the wood. If you use regular wood stains on painted wood, the wood stain will not penetrate.

Final Words

In summary, the best type of wood stain for your wood depends on the type of wood. For indoor wood that wouldn’t be exposed to traffic or frequent use, you can apply a water-based wood stain.

For outdoor wood, you should use a wood stain that is weather-resistant and has UV blockers like exterior varnish. Finally, for wood that will be used frequently, you should use an oil-based stain and for high-traffic areas like floors, you should use varnish.

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