How To Use Oil-based Stain on Wood

A wood deck is stained.

Oil-based stain is used to color wood and can be an attractive alternative to painting wood furniture or cabinets.

Stain vs. Paint

A man paints wood furniture.

Paint goes on the surface of the wood and covers the grain. Paint is a good option if your wood furniture or cabinets show unattractive flaws and blemishes. This may be ideal when refinishing an older piece of furniture or recycled set of cabinets full of dings or cracks.

Stain, on the other hand, will actually bring out the grain of a wood piece and highlight any blemishes or flaws. Stain soaks into the wood and provides color this way. Stains are usually identified by a wood type and the color associated with that particular wood. For example, a cherry wood stain is usually a deep red color because natural cherry wood has red tones.

Oil-based Stains

A man stains a wood chair.

Oil-based wood stains are the most common and easiest-to-find types of wood stains. They are premixed and dry quickly — usually in about an hour.

The other type of wood stain is water-based. These are more difficult to find, require mixing, and take up to 12 hours to dry. As a result, oil-based wood stains are much more popular and common.

Staining Process

A woman stains a wood table.

First, prepare your work area. Oil-based wood stains are high in toxic fumes, so work in a well-ventilated area. You should also work in a temperature of approximately 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, as colder or hotter temperatures will affect drying time and the way the wood absorbs the stain. Spread newspapers or paper in the work area to protect the existing flooring and to prevent debris and soil from contaminating your work area.

Step 1 - Sand the wood. As you sand each area, carefully wipe the wood clean and vacuum away any debris. Make sure the wood is entirely smooth to ensure that your coats of stain will be even.

Step 2 - Use a clean, slightly dampened paintbrush to wet the wood.

Step 3 - Apply the stain to the wood surface. You may find that using a lint-free rag works best for applying to large flat surfaces, and brushes work better for ornate or intricately carved areas. Take care to make strokes that will coat the wood as evenly as possible.

Step 4 - Wipe away any excess stain with a clean rag.

Step 5 - Let the stain dry for about an hour.

Step 6 - If the stain is patchy, or if you desire a deeper color, apply another coat.

Step 7 - Once dry, apply a thin layer or varnish and let it dry.