Are you looking to stain some wood? If so, you might be wondering what the best wood for staining is.

The answer depends on the look you are trying to achieve. However, there’re a few popular choices that work well with most stains. And they’re the easiest wood to stain.

Keep reading below to learn more about the best wood to stain and which ones will give your project the look you’re going for!

This blog post will help you figure out the type of wood that stains well.

Best Wood For Staining

Oak is generally the best wood for staining because it has large pores that take stains easily. Cedar is also well known for its ability to take stains well. Other woods that take stains easily include chestnut, hickory, and ashwood.

What is Stain?

Stain is a wood treatment that changes the color of wood. There’re many different types of wood stains, each with unique properties and advantages.

Stain works by penetrating the wood’s porous surface to set up an even wood tone throughout its depth. By allowing stain to penetrate deeper into the wood, you can achieve darker wood tones, whereas applying it more sparingly results in lighter wood tones.

Stain can be applied and allowed to sit on wood for a long time, or it can be wiped off almost immediately after applying. Different types of wood stains are available with various properties, such as fast drying and oil-based stains.

Woods that Stain Well

If you’re searching for a wood that stains well, look no further;

Oak

This type of wood is one of the most common types of hardwood floors. It has a light brown color with some red undertones, and it’s perfect for staining. No wonder it’s the best wood for desktop because of its beauty and grain pattern.

Can you stain oak wood? Yes, the natural grain pattern and big open pores in Oak allow it to accept stains well. Although stained kitchen cabinets were fashionable in the 1980s, they may appear a little vintage, especially stains with a crimson tone.

We recommend staining white oak with a cool-toned color for a more modern appearance.

Oak Staining

Red oak

Although red oak is similar to white wood, it does have a few differences. It has more open pores and therefore absorbs stain faster than white wood.

Red oak stains the best with medium tone colors such as rosewood or mahogany because those will show off its natural wood grain pattern.

It’s also easy to work with and relatively affordable.

White oak

Does white oak stain well? White oak wood is more difficult to stain than redwood because of its tight pores. Staining white oak will require several coats, but the result will be very rewarding with a beautiful golden tone.

Be sure to get quarter-sawn white oak if you want high-end white oak.

Chestnut

Chestnut wood is evenly colored, making it one of the best woods to stain. It has a rich medium brown color that darkens when exposed to UV light and moisture in the air over time. This wood looks beautiful with its natural finish or stained any shade of brown or grey. In short, it’s the best wood to stain grey.

Hickory

Hickory wood is known for its durability and strength, making it a favorite wood among woodworkers. It has been used as flooring as well as wood furniture since the early 1800s!

It’s simple to work with once you’ve got the hang of it. Hickory is a good staining wood. But remember to sand it thoroughly.

Ash

Ashwood is one of the most popular wood choices for staining. This wood has a beautiful wood grain, and it works well with any stain color; however, there’re still some factors to consider when choosing an ash wood flooring or furniture piece.

Like Oakwood, ash wood has pores that can absorb a lot of wood stain. To avoid dark wood flooring stains or furniture pieces that look too heavy and old-fashioned, oak wood is usually better to choose instead of Ashwood.

Another factor to consider when staining your ash wood piece is the appearance after it dries out. Sometimes you may end up with wood flooring that looks too bright and out of place.

After you stain your ash wood furniture, make sure to give it enough time to dry completely before re-hanging doors or putting items on top of the wood surface, so it doesn’t look overly shiny.

And after a good sanding, hickory takes stain well. But that’s the key. You need to sand it well.

To open up the pores, start light sanding with heavy grit sandpaper – we suggest starting with 100- grit.

Types of Wood Stain

Now that you know what wood stains best, let take a look at the different types of stains you could use on them.

There’re a variety of stains available for wood, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Here is a list of the most common types:

Oil-based wood stain

These have been around the longest and tend to penetrate deep into the wood grain. In addition, they can be used on both softwood and hardwood floors if they are sealed first. However, they tend to be yellow, so it’s important to be sure you want that effect.

Water-based wood stain

These are easy and clean up with soap and water; however, the color can take several days or even weeks to cure fully. In addition, when pine oil is added for them to dry faster, there will likely be some darkening of the color.

Gel stain

Gel stain is the best to use on woods like maple, cherry, and oak because it penetrates deeper into the wood. It also gives a more consistent color as compared to water-based stain.

Lacquer Wood Stain

Lacquer wood staining is the most common type of professional-grade project for a few reasons: lacquer stains are durable and available in almost every color imaginable.

Lacquers leave an ultra-smooth finished look on your project; while also providing great hiding power with each coat.

Water-Soluble Dye Stain

A water-soluble dye stain is an excellent option for people looking to add color and variation to their woodworking projects. These stains are formulated with a high percentage of dyes, which allow them to easily penetrate the surface of your project without leaving blotches or streaks behind. Since these types of stains do not need any special equipment.

Metalized Dye Stain

Non-grain raising stains, metallic stains, and acid staining can be considered metalized dye stains. The colors produced by these types of wood stains result from the chemical reaction between metallic salts in lacquer thinner or water-based finish coatings with acidic dyes that are embedded into the wood surface. They should not be confused with true oil base aniline dye stains.

Varnish Wood Stain

Varnish wood stain is a great choice when you need to protect your just-finished project. It’s easy to apply and dries quickly, so it gives the appearance of being freshly oiled in only one coat.

Varnish wood stain is available in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finishes. The sheen level depends on the amount of sanding between coats.

If you need to change the color of your project, varnish can also be tinted with oil dye or water-based pigment dyes.

How to Choose the Right Wood Stain

Do you have difficulty deciding on which wood stain to use? Are you unsure if the color will go well with your decor? You don’t want to pick the wrong stain and then remove it before applying a new one.

Check our guide on how to choose the right wood stain and save yourself the hassle.

Safety

First and foremost, always remember to be safe. If you are unsure about what you’re doing or how something works, please ask for help from someone who knows the answers before trying anything yourself. Safety should also come into play when choosing a wood stain because some stains contain harmful chemicals and fumes.

These chemicals may cause negative effects such as breathing problems, skin irritation, and rashes, or even respiratory failure in severe cases if exposure is prolonged over a long time. Hence, it’s important to know what you are getting into before trying out something new!

Color Preference

Knowing which color stain will look best on your wood is essential. It’s easier to experiment with different colors by trying out wood stains made of oil instead of latex, so you can easily rub off the stain if it doesn’t match your needs!

Oil-based stains tend to be more expensive than latex, but they generally last longer and have a higher concentration of pigments which allows for deeper and richer colors.

This type of stain typically contains less toxic chemicals and isn’t as harmful to the environment or your health, so it’s a great alternative if you want something that has more lasting effects!

Wood Type

Different types of wood will need different stains due to their density, porosity, and wood grain patterns which means some stains will work better than others.

For example, pine is a softer type of wood so oil-based stains aren’t recommended because they won’t penetrate the surface as well and they tend to be more difficult to wipe off!

On the other hand, hardwoods such as teak or mahogany have tighter grains which means water-based stains soak into the pores and become more transparent.

Oil-based stains may also leave a yellowish hue on these types of wood if they aren’t applied evenly enough so make sure to use the appropriate type for your specific needs!

Coverage of Stain

It’s important to know how much stain you’ll need before buying it. If you do not take this into consideration then you will end up wasting your time and money because the stain isn’t going to cover enough of the wood.

To get the most coverage, you will need one gallon of stain for every 400 square feet. This includes both indoor and outdoor areas but remember to take into consideration your deck or fence because it may need multiple coats of stain to protect the wood from weathering.

Type of finish

A clear coat will give a glassy appearance, whereas an opaque stain may be more preferred for the luxurious look. Most stains may be covered with most finishes, but polyurethane varnish cannot be used on some stains.

Look for a stain that is compatible with polyurethane if you want to use a polyurethane finish – this sort of finish is both attractive and long-lasting.

If you can’t locate a suitable stain, you’ll need to apply a transparent penetrative resin sealer over an incompatible stain. If you want a shiny finish, you may use varnish over this sealer.

Testing

It’s important to test a small area of your wood before going ahead and staining the entire surface.

This will allow you to make sure that it’s compatible with the stain as well as match the color properly without wasting too much time or money!

In addition, using paint on different types of woods may be easier because they are more malleable and easier to work with so you can get a better feel for what your wood will look like after it has been stained.

Difficult Woods to Stain

Not every species is a good wood for staining. Some are hard to stain. The grain of these types of wood is also more open or porous meaning that stains can penetrate deeper into the material. Some blotch and others don’t absorb stains at all.

Here are all the woods we’ve had the most trouble with over the years and a few tips to make staining them a little easier.

Pine

Pine is difficult to stain. The reason is that the wood grains are open and porous allowing stains to penetrate deep into the wood. This leads to blotchiness as well as an uneven finish that can almost look like it has sand in it.

We recommend using gel stain for pine. It will still be difficult but you’ll find much better results than if applying regular stain or dye.

The other option is to use a pre-stain conditioner on pine before applying stain or dye. This will help the wood absorb more product and minimize blotchiness.

Cherry

Cherry is a difficult wood to stain. It also happens to be one of the most popular wood species for fine furniture and cabinets making it important for staining enthusiasts to master using it.

The grain in cherry wood has an open pore structure which allows stains deep into the surface without even touching them. This leads to uneven coloration and blotchiness.

We recommend using a gel stain for the cherry to get the best results possible. If you choose not to then make sure your application method is flawless and even with no missed spots or overlaps in coverage. You’ll also want to work quickly because this type of wood will dry fast!

Maple

Marple is hardwood, which makes it difficult to stain. This is because the pigments in stains do not easily penetrate the dense surface of maple.

Does maple take stain well? If you are trying to use an oil-based stain or penetrating dye on your maple project, then look for one that contains tung oil as its base ingredient. Tung oil penetrates deeper into wood than other penetrating dyes.

If you want to stain maple, use the best light wood stain to light or medium stain colors.

On slightly different note – If you’re looking for a wood to make a table, maple is an excellent choice.

Birch

Birch doesn’t take stain well, but it can be finished to look great. It has a strong grain pattern that makes it perfect for many different types of projects and designs.

It absorbs pigment unevenly and gets splotchy, especially with the darkest wood stain. Birchwood will also turn a light golden brown color when it’s stained, no matter what product you use.

To have an easier time staining birch, we suggest using a pre-stain wood conditioner. A popular brand of wood conditioner comes from Minwax.

Poplar

Poplar is one of the softest hardwoods that requires a lot of work to properly stain.

Does poplar take stain well? No, poplar is difficult to stain. It’s one of the most porous woods and absorbs lots of the tannins used in stains, making it not only difficult to apply but also hard for some stains to hold onto. Poplar’s unique color and surface texture often come out light after staining.

How to Stain Wood That Doesn’t Take Stain Well- Step by Step Guide

Materials You Will Need

  • Sandpaper
  • Clean rags
  • Paintbrush
  • Clear gel varnish
  • Paint thinner
  • Plastic mixing bowl
  • Wood mixing stick
  • Water-based wood dye
  • Water
  • Gel stain
  • Shellac or polyurethane topcoat

Step 1: Preparation

For you to stain wood well, you need to prepare adequately.

Wear safety gear and work in a well-ventilated place. Use 80-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the wood. Smooth out the wood with 180 to 220-grit sandpaper.

Step 2: Varnishing the wood

Choose a clear gel varnish, since this will protect the wood from water damage and uneven staining. Wipe the varnish over the wood with a rag.

After 10 to 15 minutes, most of the diluted varnish should have soaked into the wood. With a clean cloth, go back over the wood once more. Use it to remove any varnish that may be on the wood.

Let the wood dry overnight. Wash the wood with liquid dish soap and water. Apply an additional coat of varnish to dark areas. 

Step 3: Drying the wood

In a mixing jar, mix water and wood dye. Using a rag, apply the dye to the wood. After 10 minutes, rinse out any excess dye.

Allow the dye to dry for two hours. Apply clear gel varnish to any remaining dark spots.

Step 4: Applying gel stain

Wipe off the excess stain with a rag. Allow the wood to dry for a day after applying stain. Apply another layer of gel stainer as needed.

If you wish, cover the wood with shellac or another finish. Allow at least 30 minutes for the finish to fully harden. Apply a second coat of finish as needed.

What is the Best Way to Apply Wood Stain?

There’re a variety of methods to apply wood stain which can change from wood species to wood species and even from one board to another within the same wood species. After staining lots of different wood projects, I want to share what I found out to be the best way to apply stains.

Use a lint-free rag

The best way to apply stain is with a dry paper towel or lint-free rag. If you are using a liquid, then use a clean cotton cloth that has been folded into quarters.

This allows the liquid to be transferred from one section of the cloth to another without having it absorbed by any fabric in between sections.

First, apply the stain to a small area and wipe it off with a cloth. If you like how this looks on your wood floors then go ahead and do the whole thing. A good rule of thumb is that if more than half of what you did can be removed by wiping it away with a clean portion of the rag or towel, then you are using too much stain.

If the color is lighter than what you want, this means more of the original wood shows through and it will take several applications to get a darker look.

Use a foam brush for hard to reach spots

For corners, nooks, crevices, or other hard-to-reach areas, use a foam brush. I like the small ones for this because you can get into tight spaces and it’s easier to control how much stain comes out of them than with a larger brush.

You can also use foam brushes when staining a large project. Because they hold more stain than a rag, you can apply the stain over a large surface.

You might be tempted to use your rag again after using one of these brushes but don’t do that! You will end up putting more stain on the wood than you would if you left it alone.

See: What kind of rag to use for staining?

Use a Stain Marker for Small Touch Ups

If you have a small scratch or spot that needs a stain or a touch-up, use a stain marker.

These are great because they hold enough product to get the job done, but not so much that you will end up staining everything on your wood project!

Stain markers come in different colors and can be used for more than touching up or repairing scratches. They work well when adding color to areas that are already finished.

If your project has knots then avoid using markers with dark stain colors like brown or black because the natural color will soak into the grain of your wood and make it stand out more.

FAQs

Best wood for dark stain

The best wood to stain dark is Mahogany. Mahogany stains very nicely, because it has the right oil content in order to produce a nice deep color. A common misconception is that mahogany is dark all on its own, but this is not true. Mahogany also absorbs stain quite well which is one of the reasons it’s great for staining furniture pieces in particular.

Does ash stain well?

Yes. Ash stains well and easily. There’re two different types of ash, Black Ash and White Ash. The white is better for staining because it has a fine grain pattern. It stains easily compared to other woods like oak or maple. If you’re trying to stain black ash wood, use the same color that the tree turns in autumn (reddish-brown).

Does alder stain well?

No. Alder doesn’t stain well. It’s porous resulting in blotchy color. Even though we’re going for a rustic or distressed appearance, a blotchy stain can still look downright ugly.

Can You Stain Over Polyurethane?

Yes, you can stain on top of a polyurethane coat, but only with a gel stain. Unlike regular wood stains, gel stain creates a film over the polyurethane finish rather than soaking it into the wood pores.

Does Wood Stain Go Bad?

Yes, wood stain can go bad after it has been stored for a long period of time, past its shelf life, or if it’s exposed to air, extreme temperatures, or improper storage conditions. Manufacturers recommend a three-year lifespan for wood stain, but the actual period might be twice as long. The shelf life manufacturers state is a mere estimate. Wood stains can last longer if stored in moderate temperatures inside airtight cans. 

Can You Stain MDF Board?

Yes! You may give your MDF furniture a vintage or modern look by staining it with a dark stain or light stain. However, because it lacks natural wood grain, the stained MDF piece won’t be as well-polished and glossy as raw wood. You’ll also need to apply a coat of polyurethane over the discolored area since the MDF doesn’t absorb stain well.

Here’s How to Stain MDF Cabinets, Doors and Stairs

Can you stain common board

Yes, you can stain common board. However, it is notoriously difficult to keep it clean after the day of installation. The main issue with common board is that it tends to absorb liquids and fluids very readily because of its cellular composition.

After Staining Wood Do You Have To Seal It?

Yes, sealing wood after staining it is essential to protect it from damage and discoloration from foods, liquids, human touch, and piercing objects. Wood stain seals the pores and offers some protection from moisture and water damage. Its primary purpose is to color natural wood.

Does pine stain well?

For a number of reasons, pine is difficult to stain. Primarily, the wood grain of pine is s unevenly dense. Because stains can only penetrate to porous earlywood, they induce grain reversal since the hard, dense latewood makes it difficult for the stain to get through. Pine also fades stains quickly.

Can you stain maple wood

Yes, but it is not advisable. Hard maple has a beautiful natural color so staining it would only serve to make the surface of the wood less appealing. Additionally, stains aren’t what they used to be when it comes to durability. Most modern stains last about 2 years in most climates before the color starts rubbing off or chipping.

Best wood to stain black

Hard maple is a good choice, as is black walnut, but be aware that these woods can naturally have some reddish tone to them. Hard maple takes less time for the chemical reaction and will dye everything to a uniform shade of dark gray-black. But make sure not to use soft maple; we found out the hard way why this is not recommended!

Does wood type matter for staining?

Yes, the type of wood matters when it comes to staining. Different kinds of stains react differently to certain types of wood. If you want a consistent natural color with no blotches, choose the right kind of stain and apply it correctly. Some woods like pine or cedar are easy to stain because they absorb all most any type of stain easily; whereas other hardwoods such as maple require an exact application process.

Can I stain fresh wood?

No. Do not stain fresh wood because if you stain fresh wood, the new coat won’t hold well. The moisture in the wood causes problems with adhesion and peels away quickly. Stain is perfect for giving your home exterior new life because it penetrates deep into new or “green” lumber to provide beautiful color that lasts longer than paint.

What Wood Takes Stain the Best

If you want to make your wood look rich and beautiful, consider using a stain. We’ve outlined the best wood for staining in this post so you can pick an excellent one based on what type of finish you’re going for. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different colors when applying a new coat!