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7 Different Types Of Wood Stain (With Pictures)

Wood Stain

Staining wood helps improve or change its appearance and can also help protect it against wear, weather, and other climatic conditions. However, there are several types of stain, not to mention several colors, and choosing the right one for your project can seem daunting. Below, we’ll examine seven wood stains, their potential uses, and their pros and cons so that you can choose the best one for the job.

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The 7 Different Types of Wood Stain

1. Oil-Based Stain

bottle cap of a sewing machine oil
Image Credit: Muhtar Al Fatah, Shutterstock

Oil-based stain contains an oil, typically a natural oil like linseed, combined with a varnish. Oil-based stains apply well and cover evenly. The wood soaks up the stain, and it doesn’t just sit on top of the surface, making it a very durable and long-lasting choice.

However, ingredients like linseed oil can grow mold over time, and you will have to wait at least 2 or 3 hours for the stain to dry before it is safe to touch or work with. Once it has dried, you can apply any finisher, other than water-based, to get the look you want.

  • Covers evenly and smoothly
  • Readily available
  • Penetrates the wood so is durable and long-lasting
  • Finisher can be applied on top of the stain
  • Dries very slowly
  • Mold can grow

2. Water-Based Stain

Rather than using linseed or another oil, water-based thinners use water as a thinning agent. They also contain water-based dyes, which give wood its color. Water-based stains are considered more environmentally friendly, but because they are watery, they tend to run more, so you have to be diligent to ensure a smooth and accurate finish.

You need to carefully clean and prepare the surface before applying a water stain, and because the water does not penetrate as deep into the wood, the stain is likely to fade and need reapplication sooner than with oil-based alternatives.

  • Fast drying stains
  • More environmentally friendly than oil-based alternatives
  • Careful cleaning and preparation required before staining
  • Not long-lasting or especially hard-wearing
  • Can drip and run

3. Gel

silica gel
Image Credit; Piqsels

Traditionally, woodworkers created stains using techniques like leaving iron nails to soak in vinegar, but wood stains have come a long way since then. Gel-based stain is a relatively recent innovation, and it uses a gel substance as the binding agent. The gel is viscous, and once applied to the wood, it will not run or drip, but it takes several hours to dry, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

The gel does not do a good job of penetrating wood, though, because it is so viscous. This means that it will need to be reapplied sooner, and it cannot be sprayed onto the surface.

  • Doesn’t run or drip
  • Wood doesn’t need much preparation before application
  • Hides stains and blemishes
  • Slow to dry
  • Too thick to spray
  • Doesn’t penetrate well

4. Lacquer Stain

Lacquer stains are thin and dry very quickly, often within just 15 minutes. This combination makes them suitable for fast application because, by the time the first coat has dried, you can start on the second coat.

However, lacquer stains are prone to running, dripping, and even bubbling. They are popular with professionals and experienced stainers, but they may not be a good option for the novice and first-timer.

  • Dries quickly
  • Two coats
  • Penetrates well
  • Runs, drips, and bubbles
  • Need to work quickly for the best results

5. Water Soluble Dye

Painting wood dye
Image Credit: bricoydeco, Pixabay

Aniline dyes come in powder form and need to be mixed with water before use. It is a transparent stain, so no matter how many layers you add, you will never completely mask the appearance of the wood. Water-soluble dyes are best used to add a little color or to slightly change the existing color of an attractive wood.

Because they are dye powders, you can get other types that mix with oil stains or other stains to achieve the desired results, but you need to ensure you get the right one.

  • Enhances the natural look of the wood, rather than masking it
  • Good selection of colors and styles
  • Can be mixed with stains
  • Can’t be used to fully cover wood
  • Not UV resistant
  • Metalized Dye

6. Varnish Stains

Varnishes contain oil as a thinning agent. The stain dries very hard and can be applied with a roller or a brush. In most cases, it will take several coats of a varnish stain to get a uniform and smooth coat, and it will change color over time, but it looks natural and helps protect the wood from dirt, grime, and water.

  • Dries hard and protects the wood
  • Can be applied with a roller
  • Forms bubbles during application
  • Discolors over time

7. Metal Dye Stain

Concrete Dye
Image Credit: Volodymyr Plysiuk, Shutterstock

Metal-based stains include metals like cobalt, copper, and nickel. The metal helps to slow, although not completely prevent, the fading of the stain once it is on the wood. Some of the stains need thinning before application, and their viscosity is ideal for spraying. The stains dry very quickly, and you will need to master the spray swoop to get even and proper coverage of the surface.

  • Can be sprayed on
  • Fades slower than water-based stains
  • Dries very quickly
  • Application takes some mastery

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Wood stains not only provide an effective way of coloring and staining wood, but they can also protect against dirt, dust, grime, and water. As such, they can prolong the life of fences, furniture, and other wooden items, but there are many types of stain to choose from, including a whole spectrum of colors and the seven types on our list above.

Featured Image Credit: ClassicallyPrinted, Pixabay


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