Once a kindergarten teacher, now your go-to guide for all things DIY. My passion for teaching didn't stop when I left the classroom - I merely switched from ABCs to DIYs. I've learned a lot from transforming my own home from scratch, and now I'm here to pass on that knowledge to you.
When using stain on wood, it’s just as magical as it is tricky. You see, you may fall in love with the stain color shown on the can, but it may end up looking completely different once you apply it on a piece of wood. Why does this happen? Depending on the type of wood you’re staining, the color of the stain can change. You have to take into account the hardness and undertones of the wood you’re using. Both of these things affect the stain color. I’m hoping today I can save you a headache and a lot of time by showing you 10 different stains and what they look like on 4 different types of wood that you can find at Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Use this post as a guide for your next project as you’re picking out the best shade of stain to use. We tested a variety of natural, light, medium, and dark stains on pine, poplar, whitewood, and red oak to give you plenty of options. Don’t let another project upset you because the stain you thought you would love, you ended up not liking at all. And before we get started and as a quick tip, we used a pre-stain wood conditioner on each piece to help prevent any blotches when applying the stain.
If you’re wanting to preserve the natural wood color (and possibly go even slightly lighter), I recommend using Pickled Oak. It brought out the natural tones while slightly lightening each type of wood piece. It also appeared to make the wood look softer. This is a great stain to have on hand!
Weathered Oak is generally used as a lighter to medium stain color. It pulls hints of gray which helps to give it the weathered look. If you’re wanting to go slightly darker than the Pickled Oak or wanting stain with hints of brown and gray, you should probably give Weathered Oak a try.
Every single piece of wood took on a gray hue including the red oak. This Classic Gray stain creates the perfect weathered look without over-saturating with too much gray. Which also means the wood grains still show through the stain color. Classic Gray tends to be slightly blotchy so make sure to use pre-conditioner with this stain color.
I’ve never used Varathane’s Sunbleached before and all I kept thinking of was bleaching wood furniture. To my pleasant surprise, it did lighten the wood with hints of white and gray once I applied it to the pieces of wood. This stain truly softens the wood tones and creates a calming feeling. If I had to choose, the poplar is my favorite. This stain is a gorgeous color!
Briarsmoke is my long lost medium stain that I’ve been searching years for. It’s my go to stain because of the brown and gray undertones you see once it’s applied. At least with the whitewood, pine, and poplar pieces. And to be honest, on the pine it looks like a true brown without as much gray. You’ve got to give this stain a try!
Golden Oak is a great medium color to use when you don’t want to go too light or dark. At times it seems to pull brown undertones while other times I see yellow. Just use with caution if you’re wanting to stay more on the brown side of stain. Otherwise, it’s a great medium stain to use that also allows the wood grains to still show through.
If you’ve never heard of Special Walnut, you won’t forget it now! Special Walnut is one of the go-to brown stains that isn’t too dark. You can see that this stain consistently pulls a brown hue with the exception of the red oak for obvious reasons. I tend to view Special Walnut as a lighter brown stain.
From the results on the pieces of wood, Early American is a muted brown stain that can show a gray undertone. In other words, it isn’t a bold brown yet a subtle brown that can be perfect for that dresser you’ve been wanting to stain. This isn’t the color I expected at all when looking at the color on the front of the can.
Look no further if you’re wanting a stain that’s a dark brown without going too dark. This is the sister to Early American where it takes the stain color just a shade or two darker and minus the gray.
Dark Walnut is a favorite among many when it comes to using a dark brown stain. It doesn’t lean towards being red at all and has a beautiful richness to it. If you’re wanting to go even darker than this, I recommend trying Jacobean.
Now that we’ve explored all 10 stains on pine, poplar, red oak, and white wood, I have one more thing to share with you. I thought it would be great to show you all the stains on the same piece of wood so you can easily compare them. This is something great to pin if you know you’re going to be working with pine, for example, and you need help deciding on the best stain color for your project when it comes to pine.
I truly hope this post is beneficial for you as you start to tackle your next project that involves stain. It should save time, headache, and help you come to a quick decision on which stain you want to use. And who knows, maybe today you discovered a new favorite stain color. For me? Briarsmoke, Special Walnut, and Sunbleached are three of my favorites!
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