Wood Stain Color Chart: What Wood Stain Is Best

Published on: June 3, 2022
Written by Eric Devin / Fact-checked by David Rowan

Wood stain provides a rich color instantly to all types of wood and revitalizes the look of older furniture that has faded due to time and exposure to the environment. However, you must first get some knowledge before selecting the appropriate wood stain using a wood stain color chart.

This unique form of paint is mainly for use on wood and comes in various natural colors. It’s the fastest and simplest way to completely transform the look of the furniture, flooring, deck, or any other wood exterior that needs some TLC.

wood stain color chart

There are many diverse types of [amazon link=”B01M71QJ9R” title=”wood stain” /] colors to pick from, and predicting how the stain color will look on a wood project can be tricky.

Moreover, you may be surprised to know numerous formulae for internal and exterior use, and many exterior wood stain colors come with a sealant to help the completed product last longer. Some of the critical parameters are given below to clear all your queries about wood stains.

Types of Wood Stain

To begin, as the wood stain’s name suggests, it is a product that alters the wood color. If you want to change the wood color and also want to protect the wood surface, then you can use both varnish and wood stain in two steps.

Seven kinds of commercial stains are available in the market, each with its own application and color. If you truly want to master staining, you must first comprehend the differences and learn how to recognize and select each type.

1. Oil-based Wood Stains

Oil-based wood stains take longer to dry than water-based stains, but they remain much longer once set. Oil wood stains penetrate the wood deeper and produce rich color. If you desire a modest hydrophobic impression on your workpiece, then use an oil-based stainer.

We recommend using oil-based stains for most exterior staining operations. But naturally, rot-resistant wood, such as cedar or redwood, doesn’t need an oil-based stain because certain woods don’t need extra protection.

But remember to choose an oil stain to use under any finish that isn’t water-based. It takes nearly 2 to 3 hours for an oil stain to dry. According to the manufacturer’s instructions, wait 3 hours before applying another coat of stain and 9-10 hours before applying a wood finish. It should always be dried at room temperature. Read more: 5 of the Best Oil Finishes for Wood Carving

Contain non-toxic linseed oil;Mould-resistant;
A level surface;The drying process is slow.
Enhanced Penetration;
High-quality durability.

2. Water-Based Wood Stains

Water-based wood stains are eco-friendly and suitable for indoor work. It is better for the environment since they contain less contaminated particles. These stains contain high-quality pigments that bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain.

Besides, it emits fewer expansive organic compounds and has a lower odour than oil-based stains; it also dries considerably faster. Because water-based stains dry quickly, it is a little tricky to apply. So the woodworkers divide the time into chunks to apply the stainer evenly across a large surface.

 Many woodworkers add a slow evaporating solution such as lacquer or propylene glycol retarder to offset its fast-drying tendency. The only drawback is water-based stains are less durable than oil-based stains. If you accidentally spill the water-based stain while working around the house, then you can easily clean it. The water-based stain has several advantages and disadvantages.

Quick-drying;Penetration is limited;
Mildew-resistant;It takes a lot of time to complete the process.
It is safe for the environment.

3. Gel-Based Wood Stains

Gel stains play a critical function in the finishing of wood. It is more reliable and straightforward than a wood conditioner before staining, which is the most common staining procedure. These pigments can be found in jelly-like forms. This keeps a gel stain even and prevents it from flowing or leaking like other stains.

It comes in handy when applying stain and giving you control over how much you use it. Their unusual thixotropic feature, which allows them to operate equally on porous and nonporous wood, makes them an outstanding stain for various wood kinds. 

When it comes to pine staining, these dyes are particularly popular. Most of the gel stains are oil-based, so mineral spirits need to thin and remove the stain. The mayonnaise type of thickness distinguishes the gel stainer from other stainers, and it’s messy to apply. To get the most satisfactory results, we suggest you always test a sample of gel stain on your wood before using it.

Excellent hiding feature;Stain with a long drying time;
The application is simple;Unable to be sprayed.
There’s no need to sand because there’s no dripping.

4. Varnish Stain

Varnish stains are almost like oil stains in every manner. Polyurethane is a synthetic resin that can be used as a liquid plastic. Heat-resistant polyurethane varnishes provide excellent resistance against acid and chemical spills.

But varnish stains only use polyurethane varnish as a binder, so they dry harder than oil stains. As a result, a varnish stain can be brushed on wood and left to cure without wiping away excess oil stain.

Because varnish stains and oil stains both employ the same mineral spirits thinner, most producers label their varnish stains to identify them. You will get less time to wipe away excess varnish stains, so sometimes varnish stains are more difficult to use than oil stains. Read more: Finding 6 Best Varnish Removers for Wood.

 Brushing and then letting go of the surplus frequently results in noticeable brushstrokes that stand out due to their color. If you want a resistant and sturdy coating on the wood, go with a varnish stain that cannot be easily chipped.

If you’re dealing with an already stained or worn-out wood surface, varnish stains are recommended for a bit of woodworking project. The stainer should be applied in the direction of the wood grain.

Hard dry, natural appearance;Formation of bubbles;
Cleanliness and water resistance.With time, it turns yellow.

5. Lacquer Stain

Lacquer stain contains very fast drying binders and solvents. This stain is popular among professional finishers because it can be applied in about 15 minutes. They are made up of fast-drying varnishes, primarily xylene and ketones. A colored lacquer can be made by mixing xylene and ketones with a dye.

The stain reacts with lacquer to provide a “toner” that is mainly used to correct color between finish applications. Lacquer stains are distinguished by their robust and pungent stench created by the solvents. Lacquer stains are thinner than oil stains, allowing them to penetrate woods more easily and requiring only two coats. 

Bubbles might emerge on your wood surface when you use a lacquer stain. It is challenging for a beginner to work with lacquer stains since it dries so quickly. If you want to speed up the staining and finishing process, go with a lacquer stain. Someone asked me, What is the best deck stain color type?

The answer is lacquer strainer is the best deck wood stain for its long-term protection from sun and water. But, try to keep the ambient temperature low or use lacquer thinner to thin it down.

Easy to apply;Bubbles appear on the stained surface;
Quick to dry;Over time, discoloration occurs.
Professional finishing.

6. Water-Soluble Dyes Stain

Water-soluble colors are found in powder form in the market that can quickly be recognized. It is also called “aniline dyes.” It was invented in the late nineteenth century to use in textiles, but it was gradually used in wood staining.

Because of its richness, wide range of shades, and ease of usage it is famous among small-shop woodworkers. It’s super easy to prepare; simply dissolve the powder in water to get a liquid color. 

Usually, a primary color is created by dissolving one ounce of powder in one quart of water, but you can melt more or less powder to produce an extra intense shade. This powder is more readily dissolved in hot water.

If your tap water changes the color by metal debris, try to use distilled water. Both powder and liquid forms of this powder stain have an immense shelf life. So you can keep in the store for a long time.

The biggest advantage of this dye is, as the dye contains no binder, you can darken, lighten, or change the color on the wood even after it has completely dried. If you want more color control after applying the stain to the wood, go with a water-soluble dye.

Color diversity;Fade when exposed to UV light;
Will not cover the wood;Doesn’t conceal the entire wood surface.
Maintenance is simple.

7. Metalized Dyes Stain

Metalized dyes are normally found ready to use, diluted with acetone in the market. When working with naked timbers, these stains are ideal. It refers to “non-grain-raising”(NGR), which is widely used in industries and businesses that spray their stains.

You can directly spray the dye on the wood to act as a stain, and it dries quickly, allowing you to apply the finish in minutes. The dye can also be sprayed as a toner after being mixed with lacquer. 

Metalized dyes are also available as thick liquids that can be diluted with alcohol, water, acetone, or lacquer thinner. Using water gives you more time to apply the product. If the stain dries too quickly, add a 10% retarder to the stain to slow down the drying process.

Super-penetrating stains, ultra penetrating stains, and Solar-Lux are the most prominent brand names for these wood stains. Use a metalized dye stain if you want a darker or more even color than you can get with pigment.

It’s best for naked woods;Too quick to dry;
Quick to dry;Over time, discoloration occurs.
It doesn’t fade.

The following mentioned stains are just a few of the options available in the market. Some stains are designated as sealers because they are mixed with a sealer. So spend a few minutes planning and reading the labels because not all of them are easy to use or guarantee good results.

When Should You Use a Strainer?

As we mentioned before, staining depends on the wood type and the places. There are numerous formulae for internal and exterior use, and many exterior stains come with a sealant to help the completed product last longer.

Also, the interior wood stain colors are a little different from exterior wood stain colors. One important consideration is the object’s location, as an indoor piece will have a higher demand for beauty while an outdoor object will have a more increased need for durability.

Both may be equally significant in some instances. Below we consider a couple of real situations that need staining:

An Item of Antique Wooden Furniture

Let’s imagine you have an old reading table that needs to be refinished. It seems well-made, but the finish has faded off in certain areas, making it unappealing. Because this is primarily an aesthetic procedure, staining takes priority over sealing.

The initial stage in the process will be to sand away the previous finish with care. After sanding, you’ve prepped your surface, now staining is the next relevant step. Choose your favorite color stainer and stain it. Unless you plan to put this old reading table outside, there’s really no need to use a sealer on it.

A Deck for an Outdoor Patio

The best stainer and sealer available should be used when building a new patio deck or repairing an existing one. If you don’t do this, moisture will be trapped inside the wood, causing it to rot from the inside out, defeating the entire sealing point.

The stainer for a patio deck should be good and thick, with multiple layers. When it comes to staining, we suggest you choose from branded exterior wood stain color charts to ensure quality. Matching the tone of your wood to the overall look of your home is a wonderful idea. 

Putting Up a New Shed

We all know the importance of a shed to store a motorcycle, bicycle, other small vehicles or store old items. You don’t want to build or repair a shed more than once because a shed isn’t precisely a high-priority job.

A good stainer can help you get a long time out of it. When choosing the color of the stainer, it all depends on how close the shed is to your house. If the shed is visible from the house, it’s ideal for matching the color to the overall tone of the house. As it exposes to water, dirt and sunray, use a good strainer that protects the shed for the long run.

Making a Door

The majority of people nowadays don’t create their doors because they are comfortable using metal and glass doors, which are a little more challenging to deal with than wood. However, the construction is likely to be similar whether you’re creating a door for your shed, basement, or front porch. For protection from heat and water, it’s advisable to use a good stainer that can protect your door for the long run.

Constructing a Doghouse

Because a dog doesn’t care about appearances, the construction of a doghouse should be simple. It is satisfactory to build a simple wooden box with a good roof.

But you can’t compromise with the stainer because the dog house may faint if rain or snow settles upon it. So it needs to use a proper sealer. Apply many coats of an excellent stainer to the whole exterior surface of the doghouse. It’s not essential to seal the inside, so don’t worry about it.

A stain is quite crucial when it comes to something that is supposed to look great. You can require both or (like in the case of the door) merely a partial seal for some items.

What Is the Most Popular Wood Stain Color

what is the most popular wood stain color

The goal of wood staining is to change the color of the wood’s natural surface. Because it is thinner than paint, it may have a different feel. Depending on how dark you want the color to be, the stain comes in a variety of tones. If you are thinking, “what colors do wood stains come in?” Then below, we discuss some of the popular color types for both indoor and outdoor projects.

Greige Wood Stain Color( for Interior)

Grays are a popular choice for furniture, cabinets, and floors. Nowadays, gray hardwood floors are popular among modern homeowners because of their neutral tone, which provides relaxing effects and peace to space. A rustic beige is a terrific option if you combine brown and gray to produce a versatile, on-trend color.

Flagstone Brown Stain Color ( for Interior)

Flagstone is a warm stain shade that looks great with light colors in transitional home design. It’s an excellent stain for furniture projects or for recreating the look of old wood. The warm tones in the stain work nicely with other neutral tones and complement the light shade on your home.

Gray Stain Color (for Exterior)

Interiors aren’t the place to use dark stain shades. Small projects with a unique or colorful finish are a great way to make an outdoor space reflect your personality. For instance, a Gray exterior wood stain is popular for decking, fencing, and siding.

This solid gray color stainer offers both stainer and sealer options to provide long-term sun protection while also concealing most wood grain. The finish is mould and mildew resistant as it’s an outdoor stainer.

White Stain Color (for Exterior)

For external finishes on outdoor furniture and decks, lighter-coloured woods are much popular. Summer is linked with white and light colors, and you can use this white shade stain color inside and outside the home on various surfaces. You can blindly use the white shade if you need a soothing and inviting appearance in the entrance or outside deck.

Blue Wood Stain Color( for Interior)

Vintage Blue brings the colors of nature indoors, and with its use, your indoor furniture or floor appears a modern trendy look. This oil-based stain covers a variety of interior wood projects with just one coat. Vintage Blue is a natural color with faint gray undertones that blends nourishing green and revitalizing blue. You can easily find this color in the Minwax stain color chart, which is trending and affordable.

Furthermore, wood stain color is available in a wide selection of colors to complement all sorts of wood. You can choose a range of colors like Antique pine, Dark oak, Mahogany, Walnut, Teak, White ash, Rosewood, etc., from different manufacturers’ wood stain color charts for your indoor or outdoor usage.

If you can’t find your desired one, you can mix the various colors to achieve the exact wood stain colour you require. Whether you have Oak, Beech, Mahogany, Walnut, Teak, or Pine, a wood stain can be used on many varieties of wood, including hardwoods and softwoods.

Step by Step Process of Wood Staining

Wood staining is a simple process. After you decide what type of wooden piece you want to stain, simply follow the below steps to get the result ideally. 

i) Select a Stain

Choose a stain color depending on how it will seem once it has dried and been completed. Keep in mind that after applying a finish or sealant, the color will appear slightly darker. When it comes to furniture, make sure it matches the other wood items in the room.

ii) Protective Clothes and High-quality Brushes

Put on some gloves and clothes that you don’t mind staining before you begin staining your wood. Be careful of staining your hair, skin and clothing are all readily stained. Also, a bristles paint brush is nearly tough to remove stains, so use a foam brush instead. To save time and effort, wipe up the extra stain with a paper towel rather than a cloth. 

iii) Sand and Clean

You should clean and lightly sand the wood surface before applying the stain. This will aid in the staining of the wood. To avoid scratching the wood, sand in the same direction as the grain. After you’ve finished sanding, use a moist towel to wipe the wood clean. It’s best to wait a day after sanding and cleaning the wood to make sure it’s entirely dry.

iv) Stain in the Direction of the Grain

If you’re staining wood, make sure you go with the grain. This will not only help the color soak into the wood more easily, but it will also make any streaks blend in with the wood grain. If you want an even color, you’ll need two or more applications of wood stain. Make sure each coat is completely dry before moving on to the next.

v) Make Use of a Sealant

If the stain you’re using doesn’t come with a sealant, you’ll need to apply one in order to achieve an excellent glossy finish. If the wood you’re staining will be exposed to the outdoors, the second coat of sealer will assist in protecting it.


Here, we attempted to explain numerous types of wood stains, wood-stain color charts, and what wood stain is best in specific situations. Oil-based and water-based stains are the most often used wood stains. We suggest you always test a small amount of the stain you’re about to use. As a result, you’ll always know how a particular stain will react to your wood.

Staining a piece of hardwood furniture can dramatically improve the overall look. Though it may take some time to prepare your piece for staining, it will be well worth it once you see the lovely color. Finally, because each project is unique, we hope you will be able to select the appropriate stain color for your furniture or other woodworking projects.

Featured image credit: Amazon.com

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About This Writer

author eric devin

Hi, I am Eric Devin and I am a professional interior architect. Since childhood, I've always enjoyed DIY projects! And, I have loved to solve simple household problems using essential tools and equipment. I have also acquired a lot of information about basic household tools settings by working with contractors.

Hi, I am Eric Devin and I am a professional interior architect. Since childhood, I've always enjoyed DIY projects! And, I have loved to solve simple household problems using essential tools and equipment. I have also acquired a lot of information about basic household tools settings by working with contractors.

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