How to Select a Wood Stain to Complement Your Space

How to Select a Wood Stain to Complement Your Space

The wooden surfaces in your home are the perfect place to play with color and enhance the ambiance of the room. Creating harmony with staining can be done in several different ways — from pairing similar hues on different types of wood, to choosing distinctly different tones to create a visually eye-catching contrast.

Stains also come in different consistencies and require different processes of application. When you become familiar with the nature of stains, you’ll have the knowledge that will help you determine what color will bring out the potential of the wood in your home.

DIY Staining Rules

Staining is a beautiful way to brighten your space and decor. Compared to painting, staining involves a bit of a different process for color selection and application, but it’s still a simple DIY project that can be completed with stunning results if you keep these guidelines in mind:

  • The perception of color is influenced by more factors than just the color of the stain. Consider the type of the wood, substrate texture, sub-coats, finishing coats, and the type of light that will be around it.
  • Different effects can be achieved with different types of stains. Learn the differences of the oil-based, water-based and gel stains and how they affect proper color selection.
  • Properly preparing the surface of the wood is as important as the application. Don’t avoid the appropriate preparation steps as indicated by the manufacturer.
  • Stir the product regularly, especially if it has a thinner consistency like water-based stains. The pigments tend to settle to the bottom of the can and will produce an uneven tone and a disappointing result.
  • Showroom samples are not the best way to determine how the color will look in your home. Always make your final color choice after you’ve tried out a sampler can on the same wood and in the same room to see the influence of the light on the surface you’re planning to apply it to.
  • Decide on the finishing coat you’d like for the stain application first. Lacquers and some polyurethanes do not react well with the pigments of certain stains
  • Lighter, natural-looking stains allow you to show off the whorls and knots in the wood. They can also make a small room appear larger and brighter — and scratches, pet hair and dust even blend in much better.
  • Darker stains beautifully camouflage the imperfections of the wood. A favorite in modern interiors, the rich hues of deep shades are especially effective at accentuating a specific piece of furniture in your room.

The Pros and Cons of Different Staining Products

Once you’ve decided to start a DIY staining project in your home, the next step involves choosing a staining product. The offerings for stains and their finishes are varied and plentiful. Depending on the look you’re going for, you’ll need to understand the purpose of the different stains and how they affect the wood being treated.

Here are some of the basic qualities and uses of each formulation:

Oil-Based Stain

  • It was the first stain available on the market.
  • It’s ideal for large surfaces like wood flooring, because drying is slower and you’ll avoid dried lap marks.
  • It doesn’t raise the grain, which eliminates the need for additional sanding between coats.
  • It darkens with each coat.
  • It’s more messy than other options and has a stronger smell.
  • Petroleum can vapors have adverse environmental and health effects.

Water-Based Stain

  • It’s the safer alternative to oil-based stains — it cleans up with soap and water.
  • It darkens with each coat.
  • It has a faster drying time. You can stain and finish in one day.

Penetrating Oil Stain

  • It’s also known as a Danish oil or rubbing oil
  • It protects and stains, but it doesn’t need a finishing coat.
  • It clearly shows the grain of wood through the stain.
  • You can apply it by wiping with a rag.
  • There are not as many color options.

Gel Stain

  • It’s an easy product to apply, as the gel ‘sticks’ to vertical surfaces much better than other types of stains.
  • It doesn’t raise the grain.
  • It is more expensive, and cleanup is more difficult than other options.
  • There aren’t as many color options.

One-Step Stain and Finish

  • It’s the quickest staining process.
  • It’s ideal for staining kitchen cabinets in one step, which aren’t suitable for penetrating oil stains.
  • It’s ideal for projects where a specific color is desired.
  • It doesn’t raise the grain.

Before you start you staining project, be sure to test the stain by staining a sample of the wood you want to add it to.

The visual appeal of your home has a lot to do with the coordination of colors. Wooden surfaces are an appealing natural element to add to your décor that can dramatically change the feel of your room or slightly enhance your interior character. Express yourself through your decor and have fun with the multitude of staining options and colors that will reflect your personality in your home!


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