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What Wood Stain Colour Should I Use?

Choosing the right colour wood stain is as important as choosing the right paint colour only it is hard to change it if you decide it is the wrong colour.






Any woodworker, carpentry or cabinet maker knows how applying a wood stain is the perfect finishing for any project. As someone who endorses the use of local SA pine rather than exotic, and not usually sustainably-farmed, tree species, being able to change the colour of pine is a good technique to know.









In this article, I am not looking at tinted sealer or tinted varnish application, but rather choosing and using a wood stain before you apply any protective finish. Wood stain is applied to wood projects to bring them to life or alter the appearance with a specific colour and it is handy when you are using more affordable wood species such as pine, meranti, or saligna to alter their appearance for more visual appeal.





Types of Wood Stain

Nowadays, there are all types of wood stain, from solvent or oil-based stains to water-based stains and it pays to know how these differ when using these products. For example, a solvent or oil-based wood stain can give any wood a deep, rich colour whereas a water-based stain doesn't quite penetrate and much and brings out the wood grain. This is perfect is you want to highlight a particular wood species that has a spectacular grain but not great if you are trying to disguise the wood and make it look like another wood species.





• Solvent, Oil-Based, Gel or Water-Based

A major difference between solvent and oil-based wood stains as opposed to gel or water-based stains is the fact that the latter are considered eco-friendly, quick drying and easy to use while the former can be extremely smelly, even giving off toxic fumes and taking hours to dry.



Oil-based wood stains are not only high VOC (volatile organic compounds) but can leave a nasty smell in the home for a few days. For this reason, it is better to finish a project with this type of stain outdoors in a workshop, shed or garage, at least until the smell has gone.



Gel and water-based stains are easy to apply and quick-drying, almost instantly, in fact. These products do not have as much of a smell as solvent or oil-based, so you can easily use them in the home.









• Choosing a Wood Stain Colour

Every brand of wood stain offers a variety of colours, usually that of wood species such as oak, imbuia, mahogany and other exotic wood species. You will also find imported wood stain brands that offer wood species that are not commonly available such as black cherry, walnut, or pecanwood. When selecting the colour you fancy, keep in mind that the more layers of wood stain you apply - the deeper and richer the colour.



Not all wood stains are created equal, so be sure to check out a colour chart for the range before selecting a specific colour.





While the colour reflected on a colour chart is fairly accurate, the actual colour would depend on the species of wood you are staining. A softwood such as pine, which has a natural pale yellow hue, might not give the same finish as it would if you were applying to meranti, which has a pink hue. It helps to keep this in mind when selecting a wood stain colour as I have personally seen how mahogany on meranti can come out with a purple tinge.





Wood stain colours are affected by the type of wood and the grain, as well as the colour of the wood. If possible, do a test on the wood with a small sample to check the actual colour before proceeding.





• How to Lighten or Darken a Wood Stain

A trick that I have learned over the years is how to play around with gel or water-based wood stain and the final colour. You may be finishing a piece that you want to have a distressed finish or faux limewash or whitewash and for this you can apply a whitewash or mixture of white paint and water over the surface of the wood before applying the wood stain. Alternatively, if you find that the colour is too dark after application, you can apply a water whitewash over the finish to lighten the colour slightly. You can achieve a similar effect with water and black paint if you want the colour to be darker or reflect that of aged wood.





• Bring Out the Natural Beauty of Wood

Wood stain is not intended as a finishing but rather to provide an enhanced colour. It is vitally important to apply a waterproofing or protective finish over the top of the wood stain and this will bring out the colour even more.






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