How to Stain Wood Darker

How to darken stain naturally
How to Stain Wood Darker

Staining wood can bring out the beauty of its grain. Knowing how to stain wood darker can be an effective way to make the grain pop and enhance the beauty of your wooden furniture, table, floors, or other items in your home.  

To stain wood darker, scuff sand it with medium-grit sandpaper and then apply multiple layers of dark-colored gel stain. Then, seal it with a layer of polyurethane. You can use a more natural stain like black tea or coffee to give your wood the desired dark refinish.  

How to Stain Wood Darker Using Wood Stain

Every wood stain is designed to make wood darker than its natural color. But there are several different types of wood stains available in various colors. These stains work differently on different wood types. 

To darken the wood, you must choose a darker-colored stain. This means you must pay attention to the wood’s starting color before choosing the stain or staining it.

Don’t apply a light-colored stain to an already dark piece of wood, as it won’t make any difference.  

Seven Ways to Stain Wood Darker

There’re multiple easy ways to achieve a darker stain color, especially when staining more porous woods like pine and spruce. We will discuss seven quick methods to help you stain your wood darker with oil-based, water-based, or any other stain.

We will also go over my favorite three practical ways to make wood darker—step by step. These ways include using gel stain and two natural stains (black tea and coffee) to give your wood the dark finish you want.

You can learn how to lighten dark stained wood in case you go overboard with these procedures.

But first, the seven ways: 

1. Coarse sand your wood 

Sanding your wood to a coarser grit helps texture the surface to accommodate more stain. The coarser grit creates a rough texture on the wood surface, translating to more room where the colorant can lodge. 

While aiming for this kind of surface, you also don’t want to keep it so rough that scratches show. Instead, try to find a perfect balance between coarse and fine where the scratches are invisible to the naked eye. 

To get this outcome, consider using a medium-grit sandpaper or sanding block. 120-grit or 150-grit sandpaper should do the job well. 

While at it, ensure you lightly sand in the direction of the wood grain, so the marks align with the grain. It is best to sand by hand instead of a power sander for the best results. 

2. Raise the wood grain with water before staining 

You are aware, you should avoid pouring water on unsealed wood as it tends to raise the grain. In this case, that is the outcome you want. So, apply some water to your piece of wood to get it wet before staining.

The wetness will raise the grain, making it dry to a rougher texture- the kind of surface you need. The rough surface will mean more room to accommodate the colorant and provide a darker stain. 

You can also use a water-based stain to make this procedure shorter. You will need to apply the first coat of water-based stain using a lint-free cloth, wipe off the excess, and let it dry. 

Once the stain has cured, come back and apply another coat of the same stain over the first coat. Recoating the wood surface with the same stain will help deepen the color, especially if the stain is dark-colored.

3. Add more pigment to the stain.

While the common practice is to add a compatible thinner to dilute a wood stain, you can add the pigment to increase the concentration of colorant in the solvent (vehicle). 

If you want to make your wood stain darker, you will need more colorant particles per unit amount of the stain. In other words, you will be increasing the pigment-to-vehicle ratio. The higher this ratio, the darker the tinting on the wood. 

If you are using an oil-based stain, add some oil-based pigment of your choice. If you are using a-based stain, add a universal color pigment to it. 

Make sure to test the stain on scrap wood. 

You will need to eyeball the measurements. So we recommend applying the product on a small scrap wood resembling the piece you wish to stain. Let it dry completely and check if you are happy with the color or prefer to increase the pigment and darken it. 

Once you achieve your desired color intensity, you can then proceed to your main project. Testing the product on scrap wood is an essential part of any experiment; do not skip it. 

Unless you are working on a dense hardwood that allows only one coat of stain, you can apply a second coat after the first has dried. As already mentioned, recoating produces a darker coloring despite wiping off the excess stain in each application.

4. Dirty wipe the excess stain 

Wiping the excess stain is essential to creating an evenly stained wood. But you can avoid wiping too deeply and leave the wood surface a bit damp with the stain. This way, the wood will cure to a darker color even though it may take longer. 

You may have to practice this on a piece of scrap wood in search of the right amount of stain to leave on the wood before starting on your main project.

Caveat: doing a dirty wipe may muddy the wood, keeping the stained surface from looking even-colored. You may also risk leaving the coat too thick, resulting in poor bonding and prolonged drying time. 

5. Apply a glaze after the stain and sealer

One way to achieve a darker wood color is to substitute a gel stain or glaze for the liquid stain. Gel stains and glazes tend to contain a higher ratio of pigment to vehicle. A single application should pack the wood with enough pigment to darken the color. 

Still, you can use glaze to refinish your wood alongside your regular oil-based or water-based stain and sealer. The glaze will still work to darken the color. 

Glaze is a thickened oil-based or water-based stain. So you want to check and ensure you are using oil-based glaze with oil-based stain and water-based glaze alongside a water-based stain. 

Its thick consistency makes it easier to control. You can leave it on the surface a little longer to darken it before wiping off the excess. Ensure you wipe before it dries. 

To apply the glaze, spray or brush it on the wood and spread it out into a thin film. You may have to practice first on a piece of scrap wood to get the hang of it. 

Notice: Glazes are heavily pigmented; expect it to muddy the wood a bit. 

6. Use dye instead of an oil stain

There’re powder and liquid wood dyes on the market to choose from. Liquid wood dyes are usually referred to as TransTint liquid dyes or non-grain-raising (NGR). These are ready to use; you need to stir them well before applying them to wood.

Powdered wood dyes can work with alcohol or water. Before purchasing, check the product description to establish whether you need to dissolve it in water or alcohol. 

Whichever you choose, dye stains are an excellent way to darken the wood. They do not completely rely on the wood pores for coloring. They will get even dense hardwoods as dark as you want them. 

To get a darker color, consider applying multiple coats of the stain or using a higher dye concentration in the solvent.

7. Spray a toner

A wood toner is a translucent finish with dye or pigment added. It can lightly deposit color over the wood surface, neutralize unwanted tones, or make a splotchy color even. In this case, you will use it to refinish and darken your piece.

To use it for this purpose, spray the toner between coats of your chosen finish after staining the wood. You can choose a toner with a dye or pigment added. The latter will usually muddy the stained surface, so you may want to use a dye-based toner. 

A toner with a dye helps darken the surface without muddying it.

Choosing Your Wood Stain

Oil-based stains and most other wood stains generally work by soaking into the pores in the wood. As such, you can only make the wood as dark as the amount of stain it can absorb. 

Since some woods are less porous than others, they can be challenging to stain darker because much of the color is lost when you wipe off the excess stain. 

Yet, wiping the excess stain is an essential part of the wood staining process.  

This means you may fail to achieve the color intensity you want on less porous woods, unless you can make it darker without the stain absorbing into the wood.  

Gel Stain for Less Porous Woods  

A dark-colored gel stain is ideal when staining less porous dense hardwoods like oak. 

It can stain your wood without having to soak it. The stain works by sitting on top of the wood surface without blocking out the grain. This makes it pretty easy for gel stain to make the wood darker. 

How to stain wood darker with gel stain

This section walks you through the process of dark staining your wood finishing using the best kind of stain for dense woods – gel stain. 

Tools and materials to use 

  • Natural bristled chip brush
  • Lint-free cloth.
  • Sandpaper (120, 220-grit)
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Safety goggles.
  • Protective face mask.
  • Dark-colored wood stain 
  • Wood finish, preferably oil based polyurethane  

Steps to follow

Here is a step-by-step guide to ensure you complete the project correctly. 

Step 1: Prepare your workstation. 

Your task will involve sanding and using chemicals. For this reason, you will need to work in a well-ventilated area. Working outdoors is a good option. But if you work indoors, ensure you open the windows and fans to improve the airflow. 

Also, cover the place with a drop cloth to catch any gel stain drippings and sanding dust. 

Step 2: Clean the wood. 

If you are working on new bare wood, you can skip this step. But for a treated wood such as a piece of wood furniture or floor, clean it with a grease-cutting wood cleaner. 

You want to ensure you get all of the contaminations off the wood surface. It should be free from any oil, gunk, or grease to be ready for staining. 

Step 3: Sand with coarse sandpaper. 

Start by wearing your protective gear. Put on your protective face mask to ensure you don’t inhale the wood dust. Wear your rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands and goggles to protect your eyes. 

Next, give the wood some light scuff sanding with 120-grit sandpaper or sanding block. Sanding helps ensure the stain has something to bond to.  

Step 4: Lightly sand the wood with a fine-grit sandpaper. 

Since the table or wood surface needs to have a significant grip, don’t make it too smooth. 220-grit sandpaper or sanding block should do the trick here. 

It is important to ensure you work in the direction of the wood grain to avoid the risk of creating undesirable marks on the table or wood surface.  

Step 5: Apply a coat of the gel stain and wipe  

Here it is best to use a natural bristled chip brush to apply a generous, even coat of the gel stain on your wood. You will need to let it sit for a bit (about 30 seconds) to work the color before wiping with a lint-free cloth. Here are some specific tips to get it right. 

Tip 1: Apply the stain within the grain and wipe similarly along the wood grain for a clean finish. 

Tip 2: Work in a small area at a time. This will allow you to wipe the stain on and off before it gets too tacky to wipe off and get an even look. 

Tip 3: Do not add more gel stain on freshly wiped-off gel stain. If you notice some spots are lighter than others, resist the temptation to apply an extra coat of gel stain before the first layer is dry completely.   

Doing so will reactivate the gel stain on the first layer, and you will end up removing it altogether.

Tip 4: Apply multiple thin coats to get a darker stained surface without leaving streaks or brush marks. Wipe the stain on and off as usual. Let it dry for 24 hours, and then add another thin coat of stain in the same way. 

Multiple thin coats provide an even, dark look, unlike a single thick layer leaving visible, unsightly brush marks on the surface. 

Tip 5: Dispose of your rags. Wood stains often consist of flammable products. The best way to prevent these fire hazards is to dispose of the used rags.  

Step 6: Protect the surface with a layer of the polyurethane finish.   

This is the final step. You want a clear coat wood finish to keep the dark color in for longer while also making the wood impervious to moisture, water, and discoloration. 

The perfect way to do that is to spray the entire stained surface with a few clear coats of polyurethane. If you are a fan of lacquer, you could use shellac and lacquer. Gel stain coats can cause the lacquer to wrinkle if you apply without shellac.

How to apply the finish 

Here, we recommend an easier process; spraying the surface with a layer of polyurethane. The spray version is better since it will keep you from wiping away any stain with the brush while applying it.

My favorite option is the MinWax fast-drying polyurethane. Its fast-drying formulation allows you to finish the job much quicker. 

Start by shaking the can before spraying it. Next, spray a thin coat and let it dry completely for about 2 hours before applying another coat. 

Two to three coats should be sufficient to seal the furniture.  

How to Stain Wood Darker With Coffee

Just like coffee can stain your teeth, making them look darker, it can do the same to your table or any wood. This property makes coffee an excellent natural wood stain. 

The supplies you will need

  • A pot of coffee 
  • 120, 220-grit sandpaper 
  • A rag or paint brush

Steps to follow

Step 1: Prepare a dark coffee   

Brew a whole pot of coffee, make it as strong as possible to create a dark stain. You can also use a strong instant coffee for this. Put the strong coffee in a bowl and let it cool. 

Step 2: Sand your wood

Use 120-grit sandpaper to sand the entire surface of your wood while the coffee cools down. Next, switch to 220-grit sandpaper and scuff-sand the entire wood surface. Once done, use a clean rag to wipe off the wood dust.  

Step 3: Stain your wood.

Use a rag or paintbrush to apply the coffee onto the furniture, covering every inch of the surface. Apply little by little at a time to avoid pooling on the wood surface. 

Let the wood set for about 15 minutes and apply more coats until you are satisfied with the color intensity. Then, wipe the wood and let it dry completely. 

How to Stain Wood Darker Using Tea and Vinegar

Other than coffee, you could also use tea to stain unfinished wood furniture. To do this, you will need to make iron acetate by soaking a ball of steel wool in a jar of vinegar and water solution. Cover the jar and let it sit for two to three days.

The iron acetate is what will react with the tannins in black tea to stain the furniture. 

The supplies you will need

  • Black tea bags 
  • Fine-grit steel wool 
  • Boiling water 
  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Chip brush
  • Lint-free cloth 

Steps to follow

Step 1: Prepare the stain 

Soak a ball of fine steel wool in a lidded jar of apple cider vinegar. Let the steel wool soak in the vinegar for about 48 hours. 

When the iron acetate is ready, pour at least 2 cups of boiling water into a heat-resistant container and add three or more black tea bags. Let them soak for about two hours. 

Step 2: Scuff sand your wood

Use 220-grit sandpaper to give your wood a light scuff-sanding to clean and prep it. Once done, use a clean rag to wipe off the wood dust.  

Step 3: Apply the stain. 

Use a chip brush to apply the tea onto the entire wood surface. Let it set in for an hour, then sop up any excess liquid.

Next, use a chip brush to apply the iron acetate evenly on the furniture along the grain. The iron acetate will react with the tannins in the tea mixture and make the wood finish darker. 

Step 4: Dry the wood and re-stain if necessary. 

Let the wood dry for an hour. Then, if it is not dark enough, go over it again with the black tea and steel wool-vinegar solution. 

Step 5: Coat it with a protective finish.

Once dry, use a tack cloth to wipe off any debris. Then, you can oil it or seal it with a clear coat or wax finish. 

Conclusion

As you can see, we have several ways to make your wood finish darker. Our preferred method is to scuff sand the wood and apply multiple layers of dark-colored gel stain and then polyurethane.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Let’s hear what you think in the comments section. 

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