Choosing the Best Wood Stain for Your Furniture


You have a few choices to breathe life back into your old furniture. You can go through the painstaking process of refinishing it or just restrain it if it’s in structurally good condition. You can also search for “furniture repair near me” and hire professionals to do the job for you. Let’s figure out how you can choose the best wood stain for your furniture.

The Choices

  1. Water-based stain – This type of stain is easy to clean and dries quickly on the wood. To justify their category, these stains use water as a binding agent and that means cleanups are easy and you can also thin out the stain with water. They are one of the most environmentally friendly stains that provide good resistance to mildew and mold and their quick drying property makes them the best choice for small projects.

However, water-based stains don’t penetrate into the wood too deep and that means you get softer tones. To get a dark color, you need several coats of this stain. Another redeeming property of water-based stains is their ability to bring out the grain of the wood beautifully. Application is also easy with a simple brush or a cotton rag.

  1. Oil-based stain – This is the traditional stain that comes to mind when you think about wood stains. Usually, this type of stain uses linseed oil as a binder and that makes the wood stain slow to dry. It also provides you enough time to quickly clean up mistakes before the stain dries off. To uniformly apply this stain, you need to use a rag instead of a brush.

The slow drying time of this stain makes it perfect for large wood furniture pieces since you get to do it all at once for an even finish. Oil-based stain also penetrates deeper into the wood compared to water-based stains and delivers a rich and even coat on the first application. Moreover, due to the sticky nature of oil, the surface adhesion of this stain is also great and that makes it more resistant to peeling.

  1. Gel-based stain – Gel stains are somewhere in between water-based stains and oil-based stains. It’s the best of both worlds since it slightly raises the grain of the wood to make its texture really shine while offering a consistent finish at the same time. Similar to oil-based stains, you need mineral spirits to clean the stain.

The greatest advantage of gel-based stains is that it doesn’t require any thorough prep process. They are thick and viscous in nature and just need a bit of caution during application. While gel-based stains work wonders on wood furniture, they are the best choice for staining hardwood floors that are highly susceptible to blotching. You don’t need to worry about uneven coloring when you use this stain.

  1. Varnish – Varnish is usually the stuff that is reserved for the final topcoat after other stains are applied underneath. There are different types of varnish based on shellac, polyurethane, and other materials. It’s a clear solution that hardens over the wood to deliver a shiny and glossy finish. It creates a protective film over the existing finish and protects it from scratches and other types of surface damage.

Since varnish is a clear coat, it consists of resin and little to no added color. Compared to other types of finishes, this one has the longest drying time that can extend up to 6 hours. It provides excellent moisture resistance and can be applied to all sorts of indoor furniture projects.

  1. Lacquer – Similar to varnish, lacquer is also a final topcoat that is applied over the stained wood. It creates a similar glossy finish by creating a film on top of the stained wood surface. Unlike varnish, lacquer is a quick-drying finish and requires spraying equipment for application. You can use this finish for everything including furniture and toys to wooden trims and moldings.
  1. Stains react with wood – Before you choose a stain type and color, it’s important to figure out how it’s going to react with the wood. As mentioned above, water-based stains bring out the natural grain of the wood while oil-based stains give the wood a rich and deep color by penetrating deeper into the wood. On the other hand, if you have pine wood, gel stains are the best option since they don’t blotch the wood.

The stain you choose also depends on the location of the furniture. For outdoor furniture, you need to choose between oil or acrylic-based stains since they come in all sorts of colors and provide amazing protection against natural elements and pests. For indoor furniture, you can choose any type of stain as long as it provides moisture resistance. Assess your options carefully before you make the choice.

  1. Look at the stain under the light – Stains change their appearance depending on the lighting conditions. So, if you see a stain at the store, it may not look the same when applied to your furniture in your home. If possible, get stain samples and apply them to a less noticed part of the furniture in your home.

If you have incandescent bulbs at home, the stain will appear warmer and completely different than how it looked under the cool white lights at the store. You should also bring the furniture near a window and check out how the stain looks under natural sunlight before you can proceed with the project. Do the test over a couple of days on a small -less visible part of the furniture. Make sure to collect cleaning agents for respective stains as well.


There are different types of wood stains with varying properties and depending on your furniture you may choose one or the other. On the other hand, you are free to choose any color variations for those stains. For more complex furniture repair or refinishing, you can search for “furniture repair near me” and hire pros for the job.

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