7 Different Types of Stains for Wood

Different Types Of Stains For Wood
Photo by ClassicallyPrinted

Not every wood stain is the same; in fact, there are actually 7 different types of stains for wood available for your wood staining projects, including a deck, woodworking tasks, and more.

We list and thoroughly explain each option for wood stain. So, what are wood stains? Wood stains are made of pigments or dyes dissolved in a vehicle, also known as a solvent.

The standard transportation media are water, distilled petroleum, alcohol, or a finishing agent like lacquer, polyurethane, shellac, or varnish.

Some vehicles have suspended stains because they are not true solvents, so you must mix them before applying them.

However, while larger pigment molecules are more likely to suspend the vehicle, smaller molecules like dyes typically dissolve.

As a rule, the stain does not penetrate the wood’s surface as profoundly as paint does, so it usually fades to its original color over time as the wood ages.

Furthermore, depending on the formulation and brand, different types of stains for wood may share some characteristics. For instance, natural pigments may be present in lacquer stains, and petroleum solvents may be in water-based stains.

Please read on as we now talk about the different types of stains for wood available.

1. Oil Stain

Most people think of oil stain when they hear “wood stain.” It is the most popular wood stain that is sold commercially.

It gives you some breathing room to clean up spills or spread out irregularities, resulting in a more even stain when you add all-natural, non-toxic linseed oil. Because you don’t have to control every brushstroke to prevent splotching, it is ideal for big projects.

Aliphatic hydrocarbon, also known as mineral spirits or paint thinner, can be used to clean up or thin out oil stains. Pigments, dyes, or both may be present in oil stains. Any finish, excluding water-based ones, can be used over an oil stain.

Furthermore, an oil stain coat takes 1-2 hours to dry. Wait at least two hours before applying the second coat and eight hours before finishing.

The penetration of oil-based stains is one of their distinctive qualities. They frequently last long and saturate the wood grain sincerely—best for decks and wooden outdoor furniture.

In addition to the dyes that give oil-based stains their distinctive colors, they may also contain synthetic pigments. Iron oxide is the most typical synthetic pigment used in oil stains.

These oil stains are frequently referred to as wiping stains and have a heavier texture with less wood penetration.

2. Varnish

In place of oil, varnish stain uses a binder of varnish—often polyurethane varnish. Because varnish dries solidly, you can apply an even coat without removing an extra stain.

A finishing coat is unnecessary because the stain serves as the finishing coat, thanks to the varnish content. Also, pour a small amount of stain onto a scrap piece of wood and watch to see if it hardens or evaporates to determine whether the container is oil-based or varnish-based.

Even if the excess isn’t removed, a coat of varnish stain applied unevenly may still appear splotchy and require additional coats. Surfaces already stained, worn, or scuffed are ideal for varnish stains, as are small projects.

Moreover, when you use a varnish stain, you won’t necessarily need to apply another finishing because it dries into a hard, protective finishing coat.

You can apply a varnish stain over a finished, stained wooden surface (like indoor furniture) to enhance its sheen. As a finishing coat, the varnish stain will be used.

3. Water-Based Stain

Water-based stains are most natural, least irritating, and least likely to irritate your skin, eyes, or windpipe when you spend time around them.

It is the best option to finish the project with a water-based (waterborne) finish because you can clean it up with water.

If you don’t have at least a week to wait for it to dry, avoid covering oil or varnish stains with water-based polyurethane or resinous finishes.

The drawback of water-based stains is that they can be challenging to apply. Water raises the wood’s grain, changing the texture. Also, you can prevent this effect by pre-wetting the wood and sanding off the raised grain, but it takes time.

Water dries out very quickly. Also, the finished coat might be splotchy if the excess stain isn’t immediately removed.

To delay the drying process, you can add propylene glycol or lacquer retarder, dulling the stain’s color. If not, divide the task into manageable chunks and remove any excess.

4. Gel Stain

Gel stains typically contain oil, but they have a mayonnaise-like thickness. Applying gel stains can be messy, but they are the best at coating without smudges.

Don’t undervalue the significance of this trait. A second coat won’t help with a splotchy stain. Typically, the entire coat must be removed by sanding. This is a time-consuming fix.

If you must stain pine, give gel stain serious consideration. Pine is renowned for being challenging to stain without blotting and splitting.

Think about using a washcoat or wood conditioner before staining for the best results. This is one of the different types of stains for wood.

5. Lacquer Finish

There is no actual lacquer in lacquer stains. A type of quick-drying varnish transports these stains, typically made of xylene and ketones.

Because you can combine them with lacquer to create a pigmented lacquer, these stains have acquired their names.

These stains are a favorite among professional woodworkers because they dry quickly in as little as 15 minutes. Moreover, a skilled hand is required because mistakes are more likely due to the quick drying time.

Also, when working on a large project, think about working in a two-person team, with one person applying the stain and the other taking off the excess.

The solvents in lacquer stain quickly vaporize, giving off a strong smell. Apply in a well-ventilated space. Consider donning a safety mask as well.

6. Water-Soluble Dye Stain

This kind of stain is offered for sale as a powder. Just add water, just like Kool-Aid. They were created as fabric dyes but were later used as wood stains, hence the name “aneline dyes.” Because of their many rich color options and ease of use, boutique woodworkers adore them.

There are no set rules, but the usual powder-to-water ratio is one ounce per quart. You can adjust the appearance of your dye by adding more or less water through trial and error.

In hot water, the dye dissolves more easily. Be aware that the minerals calcium, sodium, and magnesium that may be present in tap water can change the hue of your dye. The least amount of color distortion is caused by distilled water.

Even in the darkest tones, water-soluble dye stains excel at preserving the wood grain. It will never become opaque, no matter how much pigment you add or how many coats you use.

However, this stain fades in UV light, making it a poor choice for outdoor projects or environments with a lot of UV light.

Some dye stains in powder form can be dissolved in alcohol or oil. Shellac and alcohol-soluble dye stain are frequently combined to produce a stain that dries quickly. To alter the color of oil stains, add oil-soluble powder. This is one of the different types of stains for wood.

7. Metalized (metal complex) Dye Stain

Metalized dye stains, also known as “metal-complex” dye stains, were developed in the 1950s to withstand fading.

Even though metalized dye stains fade, they do so much more gradually than water-soluble dye stains. A strong dye is produced by including metals like chromium, cobalt, copper, and nickel.

It usually arrives prepared for application and pre-thinned in acetone. Some metalized dye stains require acetone, alcohol, or water thinning.

They won’t raise the wood’s grains because they don’t contain any water, hence the abbreviation “NGR” for “non-grain raising.”

Spray-on metal-complex dye stains work well. Spray-on metalized dye stains are the simplest to use because they dry quickly. They produce a thicker, more uniform coat.


The different wood stains types are discussed above, but many people ask if they can mix two stains together. Generally, mixing two stains is to your account.

Generally speaking, it is a bad idea. You shouldn’t mix stains from various vehicles together; even stains from similar vehicles might not blend well.

Different chemicals and pigments can produce unpredictable outcomes. However, you can thin out a water-based stain by adding more water.

To ensure that no hard-water minerals taint the color, use distilled water. Additionally, you may incorporate powdered dye stains into the proper staining medium (water for water-soluble powers, oil for oil-soluble powders).

Be aware that hiring a pro to mix your stain may be the best option if you’re looking for a specific color to avoid costly trial-and-error methods.

Note that some stains contain substances that can be harmful to breathe in or ingest. Take extra precautions if the stain contains a volatile solvent, such as alcohol or acetone.

The overpowering smell reveals the truth. The odor indicates that the stain releases chemical particles into the area. Ensure your workspace is adequately ventilated, never ingest wood stain, and think about donning a mask.

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