Staining and Protecting Wood

Whether preparing to stain a small wooden frame or a large furniture piece, I have learned that patience is key, specially if trying to color match!

Patience is key, specially if trying to color match!

Oil-Based Stain vs. Water-Based Stain

Oil-based stains take longer to dry and have a watery consistency. Water-based stains dry faster and have a thicker consistency that coat the wood as it dries.

Which is best?

Some prefer the oil-based stains’ longer drying time that allow for the removal of too much color; however, if too much oil-based stain is applied, the wood absorbs the color and even constant scrubbing to remove it does not work!


The best choice depends on your own particular preference. I prefer working with water-based products because they dry quicker, prevent dark stains, and are better at color matching other stains.

How to Color-Match

Water down the stain (by first using equal parts water and stain) in a small testing area to test the stain’s color. If the stain is too light for your liking, get a plastic cup and measure out a ratio of 75 percent stain to 25 percent water — before fully applying the stain on its own. Watered down mixtures of oil-based stains need to be mixed before each application. For this reason, I prefer to use water-based stains when color matching!

If you decide not to water down a stain, make sure to use a rag and not a brush to apply the stain! And only use a very small amount of the stain in your testing area in order to prevent it from being too dark.

You can mix different stain colors together as you water them down; however, it is important to write down the ratios used in the testing area to assure consistency of the stain color throughout the piece once a preferred ratio is determined.

How to correct a dark stain?

Resanding is a lot of work, so it is best to avoid it. Yet, sometime it is the only option when the look you are trying to achieve requires doing so — specially if you were impatient and did not test the stain before covering the entire piece!

I recently had to resand my outdoor DIY wooden sofas after staining them. They turned out too dark after my initial application! I initially used two oil-based stains. After resanding, I decided to use Varathane’s water-based Java Bean stain, which I watered down by using equal parts water and stain. I liked the 50/50 combination. If I had wanted a darker stain, I would have tested a 75 percent stain to a 25 percent water ratio before trying the stain on its own. I also added about a spoonful of oil-based Varathane Weathered Oak to the cup with the watered down Java Stain before dipping my rag in it for each stain application. I liked the look when I initially did it and wanted to have the same effect throughout the piece.

There are others ways to correct a dark stain, if you want to avoid resanding the entire wood piece!

One way to lighten a stain is by whitewashing it.

One way to lighten a stain is by whitewashing it with white paint that has been watered down (equal parts water and white paint). If the color is too light after whitewashing it, then apply a very small amount of the original stain to help darken it. Do not forget to water down the original water-based stain or to only use a very small amount of the original oil-based stain before reapplication!

Volatile Organic Compounds

It is important to consider the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by stains when using them indoor, specially if you have children like me.

Water-based stains emit less VOCs and that is why I prefer to use them indoor. My favorites brand is Minwax® Water Based Wood Stain. It is easy to use, fast drying, and available in 40 custom mix colors. This brand is no longer available at Home Depot, but Varathane has matched all of the Minwax stain color names and now carries the identical stains. Minwax is found at Ace, Walmart, Lowe’s and Sherwin-Williams.

Polyurethane vs. Polycrylic

Polyurethane can be water-based or oil-based. It is scratch resistant and come in satin, semi-gloss or gloss. It can be used to protect interior wood projects such as furniture, trim, doors, and cabinets. However, if too much of it is applied, it will dry up and show a yellowish, milky appearance.

Polycrylic is water-based and dries quickly. It should be used over water-based stains. It helps to protect interior wood surfaces such as cabinets, furniture, and doors. It protects better against chipping, water and other common household chemicals — that is why I prefer to use this on my kitchen table. It dries crystal clear, so it will not change color. It is available in satin, matte, semi-gloss, and gloss.

It is definitely worth taking the time to decide on an initial stain! And I hope the information found in this article helps others from having to resand an entire piece of furniture like I did!

If you find any of this helpful or if you have any additional staining advice, let me know via Instagram. I would love to connect with you!

My local stores always tend to be out-of-stock for the item I am looking for, so I tend to buy these online. I have linked them below for your convenience as well.

Water-Base Polyurethane

Oil-Base Polyurethane

Polycrylic


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