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Wood Stain Colors and Tips to Staining Wood

Selecting a wood stain colors for a project can be tricky because there are so many options. I have tested several stain colors and learned helpful tricks to simplify your next wood project.

My Favorite Wood Stain Colors

Most wood colors do not look exactly like the picture on the can of stain, so I am going to show you my favorite stains.

Hopefully you will find this helpful, so you can easily select a wood stain color for your project.

wood stain colors

Lighter Wood Stain Colors

White wash stain and Weather Oaked are lighter stains that look great with only a single coat.

These stains can be used as a stand alone color or underneath of a dark stain color.

Read below to learn how to make your own white wash stain and how to make a 2 part stain for a custom color.

wood stain colors

Darker Wood Stain Colors

I have used the wood stain color, Kona by Varathane throughout my home. Depending on the type of wood that is being stain, the color can appear deeper in color.

To get a better idea of what these stain colors look like, I am sharing pictures throughout my home.

wood stain colors

Darker Wood Stain Ideas

Here are pictures from my home of DIY project that I have stained with darker wood stains.

Sometimes it is hard to get a real feel for the color of a stain or paint color from a small swatch.


Below is a picture of our home bar stain in the wood stain color, Kona. I have used this stain on several projects because this is a classic dark stain color.

This stain color will always be in style and it contrasts nicely with lighter colors.

dark stain colors

Dark Walnut

I stained my DIY kitchen table in the wood stain color, Dark Walnut by Varathane.

This stain is a deep stain color that can pull orange tones depending on how many coats are applied.

A wood stain color will appear a different on each type of wood. Sometimes the stain will look more orange, darker, or lighter than you expected.

So, keep in mind that it might take an extra coat or a 2 part stain to get the color right.

To be honest, when I stained this kitchen table I had no idea what I was doing.

I applied the stain too thick and brushed on a ton of clear coat thinking it would provide extra protection.

The kitchen table dried with a sticky plastic feel that did not hold up against daily usage.

Read on to see how I gave this kitchen table a makeover.

dark stain colors

American Walnut

I made this small DIY coffee table from scrap wood and stained the table in American Walnut.

The wood stain color American Walnut isn’t as dark as the color Kona, but it does pull more oranges tones.

I applied a thick coat of stain to this coffee table, so the stain won’t appear as orange as this coffee table.

This was one of my first DIY projects, so I wasn’t that great with working with stain at this point.

wood stain colors

Dark Walnut

Here is another shade of walnut on a DIY bar project. This was built using red oak boards and plywood then stain in Varathane Fast Dry Dark Walnut.

You can find more pictures of this bar and other basement bar ideas here!

Weathered Wood Planks

A reader of our used the stains below to give their basement bar a weathered wood look. Various sizes of pine wood planks were used on the front of this bar to give it texture.

Below is the list of colors used to give the wood planks a weathered wood look.

Weather Wood Stains

Aged Wood Accelerator by Varathane

Charred Wood Accelerator by Varathane

Weathered Wood Accelerator by Varathane

Top Coat – Vararthane Water Based Polyurethane

weathered wood
wood planks

How to Make Your Own White Wash Stain

You can find stain at your local home improvement store labeled as White Wash Stain.

Instead of spending money on another can of stain, simply grab any scrap white paint that you have on hand.

To make your own white wash stain, pour white paint into a disposable cup or tray.

Then slowly add water to the white paint until the mixture has a milky consistency.

If you add too much water then you can add a little more paint into the cup to thicken the white wash stain.

You really can’t mess this up, so don’t be afraid to give it a try on a scrap piece of wood.

How to White Wash Wood

Now that you mixed up your own white wash stain, you can start to brush or wipe it onto wood.

White wash stain can be applied with light brush strokes or wiped on with a piece of scrap cloth.

Working in sections, lightly coat the wood with the white wash stain then immediately wipe the white wash from the wood.

The wood will be left with a transparent white stain on the wood after wiping off.

Continue to follow these steps until the wood is completely cover in the white wash stain.

Typically only 1 coat of white wash stain is needed to cover the wood.

white wash stain
white wash stain

2 Part Wood Stain Colors

Sometimes I have a vision for the color of the wood stain for my project, but I can’t find the right stain.

So, I use 2 wood stain to achieve the color that I am looking for.

My favorite stain is the color Kona by Varathane because this stain goes with any style.

Depending on how many coats of this wood stain color are used, you can go from a light rustic wood tone or a dark rich stain.

I also, love the stain color Weathered Oak because this stain contains a little bit of gray.

This stain turns out as a grey wood stain that is still warm and blends nicely with any decor style.

grey wood stain

Custom Wood Stain Color

If you are using a lighter and a darker stain color then it is always best to first use the light stain.

Since the wood stain color, Weather Oak is lighter I start by applying a single layer of this stain.

Then I let the stain dry for a few hours or overnight before applying a second coat of stain.

If I am satisfied with the first coat of stain, then l start applying the darker stain directly over the lighter stain.

Making sure to apply a thin coat of stain or the final color will end up too dark.

Then let the stain dry for a few hours and see how it looks, if needed apply more coats of stain.

stain colors

How to Stain Wood

Staining wood is easy, but there are a few things that you should know before you get started.

It is important to work in a well ventilated area or even better take your piece outdoors.

Most stains are typically oil based, so they have a strong odor. 

It is recommended that you wear a N95 mask and gloves while working with stains

Make sure to also prep your work space with a drop cloth to prevent any spills.

Always Sand Before Applying Wood Stain Color

I always recommend sanding and wood filling if needed before you start staining. 

Sanding before staining or painting is always worth the end results, even though it is messy and tedious.

If the wood that you are staining is in bad shape, you should start with a coarse sandpaper then work your way to a fine sandpaper.

If the wood you are working with is in decent shape then you should be okay to do a light sand with fine sandpaper. 

After you have sanded down your item, use a dry rag to clean off any dust and debris.

how to stain wood

Time to Stain the Wood

Now it is time to grab an old t-shirt and apply the wood stain color.

Cut a section of the t-shirt then fold the piece of scrap fabric into a square. 

Lightly dip a corner of the square into the can of stain then apply a thin coat of stain to the wood. 

stain colors

Always go with the grain of the wood when staining and use long strokes with light pressure.

Avoid using too much pressure or the stain will look uneven or end up darker than you planned on.

After using all of the stain on your square piece of fabric, go back over all of the areas to wipe the stain off.

Then dip the square in the stain and continue the same process until the item has been completely covered.

Once you have completely stained your item, let the wood dry for a few hours or overnight before applying any additional coats.

If you are satisfied with the look of your wood after a single coat of stain then you can stop.

Most stains need a total of 2 coats, so you will follow the same steps to apply the 2nd coat of stain.

how to stain wood

How to Apply Clear Coat to Wood

I have used stains with polyurethane mixed in, semi gloss polyurethane, and water based satin polyurethane to protect wood.

Stains with poly mixed in do not provide enough protection in my opinion and they do not stain evenly.

After using my favorite Kona stain without poly then using i

How to Lighten Wood Stain Colors

I recommend reading the section about with 2 part stain colors, if you are looking to lighten a stain color.

If you are trying to lighten the stain on an existing piece of wood then there are a few tricks that you can try to lighten wood.

Removing stain can be a tedious process, but it can be done with some patience.

Before you start your project, you should decide on the wood stain color that you are going for.

If you starting with a dark stained piece of wood then it might be tough to go to a very light stain color.

It can be done, but it will take a lot of time so try to be realistic about how my effort you want to put into this project.

Lighten Wood Stain Color with Wood Bleach

I built my own kitchen table and it came out great, but the stain was not the right color.

The stain color was more orange than I preferred, so I tried to bleach the wood to lighten it.

After doing a lot of research I decided to try using the recommend laundry bleach to lighten my table.

I carefully followed the recommended instructions to clean the wood then wipe the entire table down with a coat of bleach.

wood bleach

Apply Vinegar and Water

After waiting a few hours, I came back to a really clean table but the table was the exact same color.

Next I had to wipe the entire table down with vinegar and water to neutralize the wood.

I stepped back to get a better look at the table and it didn’t look like the wood stain color budged at all.

So, I decided to try a stain and paint stripper to see if that wood help remove the stain.

Citristrip to Remove Wood Stain Colors

When I stained this table a few years back, I was new to using stain and applied thick coats of stain and clear coat.

The table had a sticky plastic feel, so this could be why the wood bleach did not work for my project.

Since the bleach didn’t do anything, I decided to try using Citristrip to lighten the wood stain on my table.

I’ve used the spray Citristrip on my oak banister and it worked really well, so I figured it would be my best option.


How to Use Citristrip

It is strongly recommend to work in a ventilated area and wear personal protective equipment.

Also make sure to place drop cloths underneath your working space as the Citristrip can drip.

Remember to use painters tape to protect any areas on th wood that should not be stripped.

Now it is time to grab a paint brush and apply a thick coat of Citristrip to your piece of wood.

citristrip stripping gel

Citristrip Tips

Apply the Citristrip liberally and let it sit for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to an hour.

Not much will happen in 30 minutes, so I recommend letting the Citristrip sitting as long as you can.

I let the Citristrip sit for about 3 hours before scrapping it off frantically with a plastic putty knife.

The reason I say frantically scraping off, is because I don’t remember it being so difficult to remove the Citristrip.

I was supposed to pick up my kids in an hour and I still had Citristrip everywhere.

My plan was to remove all the Citristripe and clean the table then throw a tablecloth on, so we could eat dinner at this kitchen table.

Clearly I did not think this through because it took me a while to remove all the Citristrip residue.

Luckily I ended up cleaning it all off in time, but the wood stain color only looked slightly lighter than when I started.

I could of applied another coat of Citristrip, but I did not feel like scraping and cleaning my table again.


Remove Wood Stain Color by Sanding

This project was taking much longer than I anticipated and I was really over it.

I was at that point that I was just going to stain the table the same orange wood stain color to fix the table.

After stepping away from this project for a week, I decided to keep going with it.

I grabbed my hand sander and coarse sandpaper then made a plastic draped tent around my kitchen table.

Sanding was the last option, but I knew it would work with a lot of effort.

wood stain

It took me about an hour to sand the entire top surface of my kitchen table, but it removed most of the wood stain color.

Instead of using a light wood stain color, I decided to go with my favorite 2 part wood stain mentioned above.

How to Apply Clear Coat

Next I applied 2 thin coats of water based satin polyurethane to protect the wood stain.

The clear coat should be rolled on with a high density foam roller in thin layers.

Never apply thick layers of clear coat or it might cause bubbling and dry with a sticky plastic look.

My Favorite Piece of Furniture in the House

The table didn’t come out exactly how I was thinking, but I absolutely love the final result.

Maybe that’s because I realized how much hard work went into this table.

Either way, I am really pleased with how it turned out and after all that sanding this table is super smooth.

Remember that DIY doesn’t always go as planned and isn’t as easy as it appears.

wood stain colors

Scrap Wood Snowmen

If you have extra scrap wood on hand you can easily make these snowmen for a few dollars or free!

I used scrap wood, scrap paint, ribbon from a dress, an old sweater, buttons, and felt to make these snowmen.

white wash stain

Easily update an orange stair railing!

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