How to Choose the Right Wood Stain

How to Choose the Right Wood Stain
Photo: Efetova Anna, Shutterstock

You might think to switch out light fixtures or upgrading your entryway when you’re planning home improvements, but another way to update your deck, railings, and floors is to add a new wood stain. Picking the right one is everything, though, as too dark can make a room look smaller, and too light might not match your decor. Here’s what to consider when choosing the right wood stain.

Different types of stains react differently to wood

Before you pick out colour and stain type, you want to assess how the stain will react to the type of wood you have. Some stains highlight natural elements of the wood, while others create a more even tone. For example, water-based stains bring out the colour of the wood grain, while oil-based stains penetrate the wood deeper, giving it a deeper colour. Woods like pine are prone to blotching and tend do better with gel stains, which help provide a more even coating.

The right stain can also depend on location — for example, a deck wood stain needs to be water-resistant to prevent warping, cracking, or splintering. Outdoor stains generally come in acrylic or oil-based, and both styles come in a variety of colours and sit on the wood in different ways. Make sure to check the type of wood you have and your options for various types of stains before making your decision.

Look at your stain colour under different types of lighting

Stains change appearance in different lighting conditions. If you see an example in the store that you like, it is a good idea to apply a test stain in your home to see how it reacts to the lighting in your house, as incandescent (regular home light bulbs) generally have a warmer tone than the fluorescent lights used in stores. Also, consider where the sun shines on the wood you are staining, as natural light can also change the look of your wood. Test a small area and observe it over a couple of days, if you can.

How to choose your wood stain colour

You finishing colour will also depend on the layers of stain you apply, as one stain coat is more translucent than two or three. If you’re aiming for something more modern, lighter is best — for instance, pinewood with a translucent stain, or limiting your chosen stain to one coat. You could try a “pickled oak” stain for a neutral tone, or if you want contrast in a bright space, you might choose a deeper penetrating darker stain, like “jacobean.” For more reddish tones and mid-range colours, golden oak and golden pecan are good choices. As long as you think about your decor and how the stain colour complements it, you’ll be fine — just make sure to test them out first to help you decide what works best.

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