Oak is one of the most popular wood choices for hardwood floors, furniture, and cabinets in many regions. Woodworkers and homeowners love it because of its beautiful natural grain and ability to produce magnificent finishes when stained.   

For professional and DIY applications, both red and white oak stains are available from leading wood-stain brands. While both oak variants are generally beautiful in their natural color, knowing how to stain oak wood can help you enhance the look even further. 

Read along to learn how to make the most of your oak wood investment. 

How to Stain Oak Wood

  1. Sand and clean and the wood.
  2. Apply the stain and let it dry.
  3. Apply the second coat and let it dry.
  4. Seal it up with a protective topcoat 

Can You Stain Oak Wood?

Absolutely. Oak is a popular hardwood with large, open pores and a strong grain pattern that readily absorbs stain to create an enhanced look. These features make oak wood attractive with nearly any stain color. 

Staining oak is such an excellent idea. The wood doesn’t turn blotchy like pinewood does when stained. It is easy to stain and will create the desired effect whether you use a pre-stain wood conditioner or not. 

Once done staining, we recommend sealing your stain job with shellac and sanding it to lock in the color and fine-tune the look, respectively. A clear coat on top of a stain job I always an excellent way to protect the color from premature weathering and ensure it stays fresh for longer. 

How to Stain Oak Wood 

As already mentioned, oak wood accepts stains easily and creates elegant and dramatic effects with its beautiful grain pattern. In addition, you can choose to apply a pre-stain wood conditioner to achieve an even smoother look.

While conditioning isn’t required with oak, you can always use it to improve your staining experience. 

Oak staining Supplies

  • Fine grit sandpaper and medium grit sandpaper
  • Wood stain
  • Rags
  • Tack cloth (optional)
  • Tarp 
  • Hand gloves
  • Paintbrush or lint-free cloth ( here are the best deck stain applicators I recommend)
  • Respirator (optional)
  • Pre-stain wood conditioner (optional) 

The Procedure for Staining Oak wood 

Here are the steps to follow when staining a piece of oak wood or furniture. 

Step 1: Set up the workspace  

Since you will be using a colorant, you don’t want it spilling over your floor and spoiling the current look. So, start by laying a tarp on the floor where you will be working to protect it from those unintended spills.

Next, protect yourself. Ensure you are working from a well-ventilated place outdoors or indoors. For example, you could work in a carport or garage with sufficient air circulation. However, if you opt to work indoors, ensure you open the windows to improve ventilation. 

Wear protective clothing and a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands from staining. And, since you will be doing some sanding, you can wear a respirator as protection against the wood dust. 

Some people also work without a respirator, so this should be upon you to decide based on your threshold for the smell of wood stains and sanding dust. You should be safe to work without wearing a ventilator with adequate ventilation. 

Step 2: Sand and clean and the wood 

Whether working with a finished or unfinished oak, start by light sanding it with medium to coarse grit sandpaper to remove any surface inconsistencies and prep it for staining. This step is essential as it will help ensure the wood absorbs stain evenly. 

We recommend starting with 120 grit sandpaper to remove any surface inconsistencies. Sand along the direction of the wood grain to ensure any visible lines the wood sustains during sanding are aligned with the grain as part of the overall pattern. 

Once you finish sanding the entire surface that you want to stain, use a tack cloth to wipe it clean. Alternatively, you can use a damp rag in the place of tack cloth to remove the sanding dust. 

You can begin by wiping the wood dust using a dry natural bristle brush or using a vacuum instead to remove as much of the wood dust as possible. After vacuuming, use either a tack cloth or damp rag to remove any remaining dust and let the wood dry completely. 

Once the piece is completely dry, go over it once more with 150-grit sandpaper. This final sanding is to even out the surface and make it smooth to the touch. 

Keep a light touch while sanding and make smooth motions in the direction of the wood grain. Be sure to cover the entire surface, then wipe the sanding dust to clean the wood for staining. Ensure you do not leave any wood dust behind as debris damage the final look.

Step 3: Apply the stain and let it dry 

The next step is to stain the sanded oak wood with your chosen wood stain. While you can apply the stain with a high-quality paintbrush, we recommend using a lint-free rag instead. 

This kind of rag does an excellent job applying an even amount of stain on the entire surface of the wood. Saturate the rag with the wood stain and run it on the wood, covering every inch of the surface.

Depending on how dark you want the wood to be, you can let the stain sit for 5 to 10 minutes for a darker color. If you prefer a lighter stain color on your oak, then wipe the excess stain immediately after applying it. 

Don’t worry about being neat during the application. What matters is getting a nice, even, and liberal stain coverage over the wood. So focus on getting the wood stain on every inch of the surface. 

The neatness comes during the wiping of the excess stain. To wipe, run a clean, lint-free rag across the stained wood, along the direction of the grain. Keep an even, gentle touch while at it, ensuring you get an even, smooth coat of stain on the wood. 

Notice that a water-based stain may dry quicker than an oil-based stain. So if you are using a water-based stain and want a deeper color, you may pay close attention to its drying time, so you don’t wait too long before wiping it off. 

Wiping the excess stain too late can result in a blotchy appearance as the stain becomes tacky and fails to come off when wiping. Nonetheless, if this happens, apply more stain to the tacky surface, leave it on for about a minute or two, then wipe.

Let the surface dry for about 24 hours. 

Step 4: Apply the second coat and let it dry

After drying, insect the wood to see if you are happy with the color. If you would rather get more color on it, you will want to apply another coat the same way you did the first. 

It is essential to let the first coat of stain dry completely before adding the second. Prematurely adding another coat will only result in damaging the first. 

All said, when applying the second coat, keep an even and gentle touch while applying the stain, ensuring you cover the entire surface with an even coat. Again, the idea is to get uniform coverage on your oak wood. 

Remember that the longer you let the stain sit on the wood before wiping, the darker the color will be. However, since you don’t want it to dry before wiping the excess, ensure you keep an eye on it while you wait. 

Once the wait is over, wipe the excess stain along the grain and allow the wood to dry for another 24 hours before proceeding to the next step. 

If the weather is suboptimal, the stained wood may require more than one day to dry completely. 

Step 5: Seal it up with a protective topcoat 

After the stain has dried completely, it is crucial to apply a protective topcoat to lock in the color and protect the stained surface. 

What you need in this case is a film-forming clear coat to preserve the color while offering much-needed surface protection. The clear topcoat also goes a long way in waterproofing the wood and protecting it from chemicals and moisture damage. 

Read this article to learn how to store your stain.

Does Oak Stain Well?

Yes, oak does stain pretty well. It takes any stain color nicely due to its large open pores that absorb stain and strong grain structure that ensures an evenly stained surface. Oak is also easier to stain than other wood types like pine wood, which turn blotchy and frustrating. 

Is Oak Hard to Stain? 

Oak isn’t difficult to stain because it quickly penetrates its large open pores and prominent grain structure. As a result, you can complete staining oak in a single application and get the desired results without experiencing the frustration associated with blotching stained surfaces. 

Woods with tight grain are the ones that present a lot of challenges when staining. They tend to absorb stains unevenly, leading to mixed and streaked colors on the surface. Therefore, you must start by applying a pre-stain wood conditioner most of the time. 

Still, there’s no guarantee that the conditioner will remove all the woes associated with staining such woods. They can still end up blotchy anyways. Thankfully, oak isn’t one of those hard-to-stain wood species. 

Does Oak Need Conditioning before Staining 

Oak doesn’t require a pre-stain wood conditioner to provide the desired staining results. Oak stains pretty well with or without the pre-stain conditioner. But you can always apply the conditioner as it helps you achieve the desired uniform color across the entire surface with added ease. 

If you opt for a pre-stain wood conditioner, ensure you wipe the excess of it within 5 to 10 minutes, just as you do the wood stain. Then allow it to dry completely following the manufacturer’s recommendation before following it through with the stain. 

One more thing: be sure to use a pre-stain conditioner of the same brand as the stain to avoid incompatibilities. 

If you use a Minwax product, ensure you go for the Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner for the best results. Using products from the same manufacturer guarantees compatibility and a hassle-free experience. 

Best Stain for Oak Wood– Product Reviews

We’ll categorize them in two;

  • Minwax stains on white oak
  • Red oak stain colors

White oak stain: Minwax stain colors on white oak

White oak stain works perfectly with a wide range of stains, making it overwhelming to choose one for your project. So here are a few picks to simplify your work. 

1. Best near-neutral stain color Minwax pickled oak on white oak

1 qt Minwax 70042 Pickled Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
75 Reviews
1 qt Minwax 70042 Pickled Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.
  • PICKLED OAK WOOD STAIN – This beautiful natural wood stain provides a beautiful, light oaky color with beige undertones. It looks great on a wide variety of Scandinavian or bleached-inspired projects and wood types.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

This oil stain from Minwax gives a little amount of shade to your oak wood. If you want to retain much of the oak’s natural beauty, the Minwax pickled oak is probably your best bet. It has a nearly neutral color to ensure the most minimal change on the white oak’s color. 

Consider this stain for amazing results for your oak furniture, bare wood, cabinets, and doors. 




2. Best stain for oak tableMinwax Golden oak stain on white oak

1 qt Minwax 70001 Golden Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
165 Reviews
1 qt Minwax 70001 Golden Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.
  • GOLDEN OAK WOOD STAIN – This natural wood stain provides a beautiful, rich light oak color. A classic wood stain color, this oak wood stain is a great choice for a wide variety of projects.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

Another fantastic way to let your white oak grains show is using the Minwax Golden Oak. The stain gives your oak table a mid-range tint that makes the grain pop instead of disguising the wood’s grain pattern.  

This stain is the best way to give your white oak a slight golden brown shade that matches most interior and exterior decors. 




 

3. Best stain for white oak – Minwax natural stain on white oak

1 qt Minwax 70000 Natural Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
152 Reviews
1 qt Minwax 70000 Natural Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.
  • NATURAL WOOD STAIN – This natural wood stain provides a beautiful, light color with neutral undertones. The light wood stain lets the natural beauty of the wood shine through, and looks great for a variety of projects.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

Here is another oil-based stain formulated to enhance the white oak wood’s natural grain in just one coat. We love how the stain resists lapping, ensuring an even color across the entire surface.

This best stain for red oak does an excellent job for a wide range of interior oak wood projects, including furniture, raw wood, doors, cabinets, trim, floors, and molding. The stain is specially formulated to deeply penetrate wood pores fast and achieve deep coloring in under 5 minutes of application. 




Wood Stains on red oak

There’re lots of red oak wood stain colors to choose from. To take the edge off this potentially tiring process of choosing, we have narrowed it down to the three best picks for your convenience. Have a look. 

1. Best stain for red oak – Special walnut stain on red oak

1 qt Minwax 70006 Special Walnut Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
145 Reviews
1 qt Minwax 70006 Special Walnut Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.
  • SPECIAL WALNUT WOOD STAIN – This beautiful natural wood stain provides a rich, deep walnut-colored finish. The walnut wood stain is a classic, dark brown color that looks great on a variety of projects.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

If you want your oak to take a relatively light, brown walnut color, the Special Walnut stain is your best bet. It features rich, muted brown wood tones ideal for the red oak. It is an excellent choice, particularly for the red oak because it has no red tones to make the color shout.

This stain does an excellent job of bringing out the wood grain pattern while creating a cool, muted look on the wood. 




2. Best stain for a soft color – Minwax simply white on red oak

Minwax Wood Finish 227654444, Simply White Stain, Half Pint
165 Reviews
Minwax Wood Finish 227654444, Simply White Stain, Half Pint
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.
  • SIMPLY WHITE WOOD STAIN – This beautiful natural wood stain provides a simple and elegant white color. The light wood stain allows the beauty of the natural wood colors to shine for any wood finishing project.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

If you love soft colors, the Minwax simply white stain is the best way to soften your red oak wood’s color without losing the appeal of its natural grain. 

It does an excellent job at softening the red oak while allowing the wood’s undertones to remain visible, albeit in a muted way that is friendlier to the eye. 




3. Best neutral color for a red oak – Minwax Pickled oak stain on red oak

1 qt Minwax 70042 Pickled Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
75 Reviews
1 qt Minwax 70042 Pickled Oak Wood Finish Oil-Based Wood Stain
  • RICH EVEN COLOR – Minwax Wood Finish is a deep penetrating, oil-based wood stain that provides beautiful color and enhances the natural wood grain in one coat. It’s perfect for interior staining projects such as wood furniture, cabinets, doors and more.
  • QUICK DRYING – Staining interior wood has never been quicker. The special formula allows it to deeply penetrate wood pores within 5 minutes of application, resists lapping, and dries in two hours, making all your wood projects quick, beautiful and easy.
  • EASY TO APPLY – Use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply this wood stain in the direction of the grain. Wait 5-15 minutes and wipe away excess stain. The longer you wait, the darker/richer the color. Reapply coats for deeper color.
  • PICKLED OAK WOOD STAIN – This beautiful natural wood stain provides a beautiful, light oaky color with beige undertones. It looks great on a wide variety of Scandinavian or bleached-inspired projects and wood types.
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s leading brand of wood finishing and wood care projects. Since 1904, we have been inspiring consumers to Keep on Finishing. We offer consumers a complete line of products to meet every wood finishing need.

Minwax pickled oil stain is the best option if you want to retain much of the redness of your oak wood. Its color is almost neutral, adding very little tint to the wood’s already beautiful red color. The stain does a great job at allowing the wood to retain its natural appearance; you must be keen to notice the presence of the stain at all. 




Bonus Oak Wood Stain Colours

  • Minwax jacobean on oak
  • Minwax golden oak on red oak
  • Golden pecan stain on red oak

How to Stain Oak Darker 

There’re two main ways to ensure your stained oak wood is darker. First, you can choose a dark stain for oak, which will ensure the wood gets the deep color you desire. 

Alternatively, apply your chosen wood stain color and let it sit for five to ten minutes before wiping off the excess. The longer the stain stays on the wood surface before wiping the excess, the more the colorant penetrates the wood pores. This prolonged wait results in a dark color stain.

With more colorant absorbed into the wood, your oak will be as dark as you want it. If a single coat doesn’t give you the depth of color you want, you can add another coat following the same procedure as the first, letting it stay for five to ten minutes before wiping off the excess product. 

Any of these options or a combination of both should give you a darker-colored stained oak. 

How to Stain Oak Lighter

You can achieve a light stain by using a light-colored wood stain on your project. Leading manufacturers like Minwax are excellent places to get the best light wood stain for your oak wood. 

Alternatively, apply an even coat of your chosen stain and wipe the excess immediately without letting it sit on the wood for several minutes. This will ensure only a small colorant penetrates the wood pores, leading to a lightly stained oak. 

FAQs

Does oak stain better than pine?

Yes, oak wood stains better than pine because it has large, even pores throughout its structure that can absorb stain evenly to create a magnificent look. On the other hand, pine has tight, uneven pores that make staining problematic. 

Does white oak stain well?

Yes. White oak has large pores and a strong wood grain structure that makes staining it hassle-free to stain. The wood accepts a wide range of stains, making it easy to choose a stain for your project. 

Staining red oak plywood

  • Carefully sand the plywood with 180 grit sandpaper and wipe it clean with a damp cloth.
  • Apply the stain using a clean, lint-free rag.
  • Wipe down the excess stain.
  • Leave the stained plywood to dry for at least 24 hours.

Can you stain oak to look like walnut?

Staining oak to look like walnut is possible if you choose a walnut-colored wood stain and follow the same procedure in this guide to apply the stain to match the dark walnut color you want. 

Once you are done staining, you may want to seal the wood with a top coat to give it a good sheen and lasting dark walnut color. 

Staining Oak Summary

Staining oak wood is straightforward if you have the right tools and follow the correct procedure. We hope you find this guide useful and that it helps make your next oak staining project a massive success. 

If you have any thoughts or observations, share them with us in the comments section.