What is the Best Stain for Maple Wood? (2024)

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It’s crucial to acknowledge that stains vary significantly in quality, and this becomes especially apparent when working with maple woods. While certain stains might excel at highlighting the wood’s inherent charm, others can unfortunately result in discoloration and uneven finishes.

Leveraging my experience and commitment to perfection, I’ve meticulously tested the top stains for maple wood available on the market to guide you towards the best possible outcome. Here’s what I found:

Premium Option
Minwax Gel Stain for Interior Wood Surfaces, Antique Maple
Editor’s Choice
General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, Espresso
Budget Option
Varathane 262006 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain
Minwax Gel Stain for Interior Wood Surfaces, Antique Maple
General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, Espresso
Varathane 262006 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain
• Low Odor
• Fast Drying
• Interior Use
• Even Color Delivery
• Non-Drip Formula
• Gel Stain for Full Control
• Antique Maple Stain
• Custom Color Options
• Non-combustible
• Water Cleanup
• Low Odor and VOC
• Oil-Based Stain Workability
• Hand or Spray Application
• Rich, Dark Colors
• Water-based stain
• Durable Finish
• Variety of Color Options
• High-Performance Stain System
• High Coverage
• Fast Drying
• One-Coat Coverage
• Versatile Application
Premium Option
Minwax Gel Stain for Interior Wood Surfaces, Antique Maple
Minwax Gel Stain for Interior Wood Surfaces, Antique Maple
• Low Odor
• Fast Drying
• Interior Use
• Even Color Delivery
• Non-Drip Formula
• Gel Stain for Full Control
• Antique Maple Stain
Editor’s Choice
General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, Espresso
General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, Espresso
• Custom Color Options
• Non-combustible
• Water Cleanup
• Low Odor and VOC
• Oil-Based Stain Workability
• Hand or Spray Application
• Rich, Dark Colors
• Water-based stain
Budget Option
Varathane 262006 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain
Varathane 262006 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain
• Durable Finish
• Variety of Color Options
• High-Performance Stain System
• High Coverage
• Fast Drying
• One-Coat Coverage
• Versatile Application

Reviews of the Top Stains for Maple Wood

1. General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain, Espresso

I appreciate how General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain in Espresso produces rich, dark colors without harsh chemicals. It has the same workability as oil-based stains, making it easy to achieve a beautiful finish.

One of the great things about this maple wood stain is that it can be sprayed or hand-applied, so you have flexibility in how you want to apply it. It’s perfect for indoor use only, and it’s non-combustible, has low odor, and has low VOC.

You can create custom colors by mixing this stain with other GF Water Based Wood paints. And to add some extra depth, mix it with any GF water-based topcoat for tone and tint.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

2. Minwax Gel Stain for Interior Wood Surfaces, Antique Maple

If you’re looking for the best stain that offers excellent control and beautiful results, this Minwax Gel Stain for Interior Wood Surfaces in Antique Maple is an excellent option.

One of the standout features of this gel stain is its non-drip formula, which makes application much easier – even on vertical surfaces. The thick texture of the gel stain gives greater control over the color to achieve the exact hue easier.

Moreover, the Antique Maple Stain is an appealing option for those who appreciate a traditional and inviting color tone. Ideal for various projects, this stain imparts a deep, maple-colored finish that exudes elegance and timeless charm.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. Varathane 262006 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain

The Varathane 262006 suits interior wood surfaces, including paneling, trim, maple doors, and cabinets. Its oil-based formula is fast-drying and provides one-coat coverage, making it an excellent option for those who want to finish their project quickly.

Another advantage is that it dries to the touch in just one hour, so you won’t have to wait long before applying a second coat. In addition, it can cover up to 275 square feet, which is a significant amount of coverage for the price.

Its high-performance stain system is further improved by nano pigment particles that accentuate the natural wood grain and enhance the wood’s natural beauty.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. Minwax PolyShades Wood Stain and Polyurethane Finish

The Minwax PolyShades Wood Stain and Polyurethane improves the look of maple wood by giving it a uniform color and enhancing its texture. It protects the wood from damage and extends its lifespan.

The good news is that it can be applied over other polyurethane finishes without any hassle. This can be cleaned easily using mineral spirits and dries quickly. It’s good that it’s available in both satin and gloss finishes – housed in an aerosol can.

While the application process for this wood stain is quite straightforward, it’s crucial to apply it rapidly as it has a quick drying time.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

5. Rust-Oleum 260358 Ultimate Wood Stain

The Rust-Oleum 260358 is a top-quality and one of the best maple wood stains that are perfect for improving the look of interior surfaces. Its powerful formula enhances the natural wood grain, providing a rich and uniform color in just one coat without requiring a wood conditioner.

It will dry to the touch in only one hour, allowing you to move on to other tasks without worrying about smudging or sticking. Additionally, it can cover a considerable area of up to 70 square feet per half-pint. Its oil-based formula provides long-lasting protection and can also be top-coated with polyurethane.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

6. Minwax Wood Finish 70012 Dark Walnut Oil-Based Wood Stain

The Minwax Wood Finish 70012 Dark Walnut is an oil-based wood stain that deeply penetrates the wood to enhance the natural wood grain while providing a uniform color. This is perfect for staining interior wood surfaces like cabinets and maple doors.

Thanks to its unique formula, this wood stain can penetrate the wood pores in as little as five minutes, prevent overlapping, and dry within two hours.

Applying the wood stain is easy; just follow the wood grain pattern direction using a clean rag or brush. Sometimes, applying only a few coats of this wood stain is enough to get the desired hue, so there is no need to use the product too much.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

7. Howard Products RF2016 RF3016 Restor-A-Finish

The Howard Products RF2016 RF3016 Restor-A-Finish is a unique formula that can penetrate and restore wood finishes and blend out minor abrasions, scratches, and blemishes.

One of the key features of Restor-A-Finish is its convenient wipe-on, wipe-off application process. Within a few minutes, it can revive the look of a wide range of finished wood surfaces that might require a full refinishing job.

Besides, it can remove smoke damage, oxidation, sun fade, watermarks, and white heat rings without compromising the existing finish. This is perfect for those who want to refurbish their wooden furniture without removing the current finish.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

8. Varathane 331305 Aged Wood Accelerator

If you want to achieve an aged look on your interior wood, the Varathane 331305 is a great option. Specifically designed for untreated or bare wood, it offers a low-odor, water-based formula that’s easy to clean up with water and soap.

It dries quickly and can cover up to 275 square feet, depending on the type of wood and its porosity.

One of the main advantages of this product is that it creates and replicates a naturally aged look in just a few minutes, saving time and effort compared to traditional aging methods. However, it’s worth noting that the outcome may differ depending on the kind of wood.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

9. General Finishes Oil-Based Penetrating Wood Stain

The wood stain penetrates the grain of the wood and accepts stains uniformly, which results in a beautiful and even finish without any unsightly streaks or blotches.

The application process is also very simple. You can choose to brush it on, wipe it on with a rag, and then wipe it off. Additionally, clean-up is a breeze with mineral spirits.

Another great feature of General Finishes Oil Based Penetrating Wood Stain that makes it one of the best stains for maple wood is its versatility. It can be top-coated with either water or oil-based products. This allows you to customize the finish to your liking and provides added protection to the wood.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

What are the Properties of Maple That Make it Hard to Stain?

Due to its durability and beautiful wood grain patterns, Maple is a popular choice for hardwood flooring, furniture, and cabinetry. One of the reasons why maple is preferred over other types of wood is its resistance to staining.

Maple wood has several properties that make it difficult to stain, including its tight grain structure, low porosity, and high density.

The tight grain structure of maple means that it has fewer wood pores or openings for stains to penetrate, which makes it less likely to absorb excess stains.

Additionally, maple has a low porosity level, which means it absorbs stain slowly, providing more time to wipe off excess stain before it penetrates the wood.

Lastly, maple is denser than many other types of wood, making it less likely to absorb moisture, preventing stains from setting in.

maple will darken

Why Do I Get a Blotchy and Patchy Finish When Staining Maple?

Does maple stain well? One of the main reasons maple can appear blotchy and patchy when stained is due to uneven absorption of the stain. 

Because maple has a tight wood grain structure, some wood areas may absorb more stains than others, leading to an uneven appearance.

This can be exacerbated by any sanding or planing that may have occurred before staining, creating inconsistencies in the wood’s surface. Additionally, oil stains can make maple appear blotchy due to its high viscosity and slow drying time.

To minimize blotchiness and achieve a more uniform stain penetration when staining, it’s important to properly prepare the wood surface by sanding it with fine-grit sandpaper and applying a pre-stain wood conditioner. 

(But other than that, what more can a wood conditioner do? Let’s find out next!)

A water-based stain (or even a gel stain) is the best stain for maple rather than oil-based stains, as these tend to absorb more evenly and are less prone to blotchiness. Applying multiple light coats of stain can also help achieve a more even finish.

Stain Types That Work Well on Maple Woods

Even staining is difficult to achieve in Maple wood. However, certain stains work well on maple and can help achieve a beautiful, consistent finish.

finishing curly maple wood
  1. Water-based Stains: Water-based stains have a lower viscosity than oil stains, allowing them to penetrate the wood more evenly and with less blotching. Additionally, water-based stains dry more quickly than oil stains, reducing the time the stain has to sit on the wood and potentially creating blotchy areas.
  2. Gel Stains: Gel stain is thicker in consistency than traditional liquid stains, which can help them cling to the surface of the wood and provide a more even coloration. Gel stain is also less likely to be absorbed unevenly by the wood, which can reduce blotching.
  3. Tung Oil: Tung oil is a natural, non-toxic oil often used as a finish for maple wood floors and furniture. You can use tung oil on maple to help bring out its natural beauty while also providing a protective layer that helps to prevent water damage and staining.
  4. Water-soluble Wood Stains: Water-soluble stains are similar to water-based stains in that they are easy to apply and clean up with water. They also provide a more even coloration than an oil-based wood stain, making them a good choice for maple wood.
  5. Linseed Oil: Linseed oil is another natural oil that can be used to finish maple wood. It provides a warm, amber coloration to the wood and is easy to apply. However, it can take a long time to dry and can become sticky if not allowed to cure fully.
  6. Oil-based Wood Stains: Oil-based stains are a popular choice for staining maple due to their ability to penetrate deeply into the wood and bring out its natural beauty. However, an oil-based wood stain can be more prone to blotching, so applying a pre-stain conditioner before staining is important.
applying wood finish to maple

How to Stain Your Maple Wood Pieces

Tools and Materials You’ll Need

Step #1: Clean and Prepare Your Work Area

To avoid a messy workspace while working with wood stains, it’s crucial to prepare the area properly. One of the key steps is ensuring adequate ventilation and airflow throughout the workspace.

Another important step is organizing your tools in a way that’s easy to access without stretching over other items. Keeping all the tools on the same side as your dominant hand is recommended.

Lastly, position your workspace directly in front of you to avoid accidentally brushing against or tilting the workpiece, which could cause the stain to spill.

Step #2: Strip the Old Finish Off (If Needed)

To begin refinishing your maple wood pieces, it’s important to get rid of any existing finish on them.

does maple wood darken over time

This can be accomplished by applying a wood chemical stripper to the surface, letting it sit for a few minutes, and then using a plastic scraper to remove the old finish. After that, wipe down the surface of the cabinets with a damp cloth and allow it to dry.

Step #3: Sand the Surface

Next, in the process, the goal is to achieve a smooth surface on the wood, which can be accomplished through sanding. Begin using 120-grit sandpaper for light sanding, but remember that this may result in some sanding scratches.

To address this, use 180-grit sandpaper to gently sand these scratches before moving on to a 220-grit sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface.

Step #4: Apply Wood Conditioner

Before proceeding with the staining process, it’s important to take a few preparatory steps. One such step is to apply either a pre-stain wood conditioner or a sanding sealer to prevent the stain from being absorbed excessively and causing uneven staining.

For example, the Rust-Oleum Zinsser shellac sanding sealer is an excellent option for use as a base coat. Alternatively, if you prefer a wood conditioner, the Minwax pre-stain conditioner is a good choice for achieving optimal results.

applying wood conditioner on maple wood

To apply either of these products, mix or combine the wood stains with an appropriate solvent, such as denatured alcohol for the Zinsser sanding sealer or mineral spirits for the Minwax conditioner.

Then, apply the solution evenly to the wood surface and wait for it to dry completely before beginning the process.

Step #5: Wait for it to Fully Dry

Once you’ve applied the pre-stain wood conditioner or sanding sealer to the surface of the wood using a brush or rag, allow it to dry completely for several hours. Typically, a drying time of 6 to 8 hours should be sufficient.

After this time, inspect the wood surface for any blotchiness. If you do notice blotchiness, it’s important to reapply the conditioner or sealer to the affected area, allowing it to dry for at least overnight before proceeding with the process.

Step #6: Apply a Coat of Stain

When it comes to applying maple stain, the key is to exercise patience rather than relying on any particular level of skill.

staining aspen wood

It’s recommended that you test your stain on a practice wood piece first, as this will give you a good idea of the amount of stain required to achieve your desired effect and to see the reaction of the wood to the stain.

If you’re aiming for a lighter color, using Linseed or tung oil may be best instead of stain. However, if you want to stain maple wood dark, an oil-based wood stain can be applied using a sponge.

For sizeable workpieces, it’s recommended to apply the wood stain consistently, starting from one end and continuing until the other end, while following the direction of the wood’s grain.

If your workpiece is unconventional, start staining from the middle section and then progress toward the edges. Be sure to top up the stain if your sponge or cloth becomes dry.

While oil-based stains may be more challenging, gel-based or water-based wood stain products require less preparation. However, consider your budget, time constraints, workspace, and application method when choosing the appropriate stain for your wood piece.

applying the stain on aspen wood

Step #7: Apply a Finish

Once you’ve achieved the desired stain color on your maple wood pieces, protect now the wood surface and ensure its longevity.

Applying a top coat is an effective way to safeguard the wood from scratches, stains, and other forms of damage. A Polyacrylic finish or polyurethane topcoat can be used for this purpose, both of which are highly durable and resistant to wear and tear.

Staining Maple Cabinets

Staining maple cabinets can be a great way to update the look of your kitchen while preserving the natural beauty of the wood. However, staining maple cabinets can be challenging due to the low porosity of the wood and tight grain structure.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to stain maple wood cabinets:

Step 1: Remove the Cabinet Doors and Hardware

Before starting the staining process, removing the cabinet doors and hardware is recommended to make it easier to work on the cabinets and ensure that the hardware does not interfere with the process.

Step 2: Clean and Sand the Cabinets

Clean the cabinets thoroughly with a mild detergent and water, and allow them to dry completely. Sand the cabinets with 220-grit sandpaper, following the grain of the wood to create a smooth and even surface. Remove any sanding dust with a clean cloth.

sanding furniture

Step 3: Apply Wood Conditioner

Apply a thin, even coat of pre-stain conditioner to the maple wood cabinets. This helps to prevent blotching and ensures an even finish. Allow the conditioner to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 4: Apply the Stain

Apply a light coat of wood stain using a paintbrush or foam brush. Apply the stain to the grain of the wood, and wipe off any excess with a clean cloth. If desired, allow the stain to dry for the recommended time before applying a second coat.

You can apply a penetrative stain such as dye stain, oil stain, or water stain, or a non-penetrative option like gel stains can be considered. Whichever type of stain you choose, it’s important to use a conditioner with it to ensure optimal results.

However, a conditioner may be unnecessary if you opt for a dye stain.

Step 5: Apply the Finish

Once the stain is fully dry, apply a coat of finish using a paintbrush or foam brush to the stained maple. Allow the finish to dry completely before sanding lightly with 220-grit sandpaper to smooth any rough spots. Apply a second coat of finish if desired.

Urethane and oil are both effective in creating a highly durable finish on surfaces. In cases where an even stronger level of protection is required, Poly can be used to create a “bulletproof” finish that will provide exceptional resistance against damage.

staining with Varathane 262028

How Do You Stain Maple Darker?

Staining Maple with a dark stain can be challenging for DIYers, particularly with tight-grained woods like hard birch ply, maple, and cherry that absorb stain unevenly.

Staining Maple wood dark is a little bit hard because it needs more preparation and attention to detail. However, it’s still possible to stain maple dark without struggling with blotches by following these steps:

  1. Remove the previous finish: Use a chemical stripper to remove any existing paint or finish. Follow the product’s instructions, then scrape it off with a putty knife or paint scraper.
  2. Sand the wood: Start with 120-grit sandpaper, progress to 180-grit, and finish with 220-grit. Sand in the direction of the maple wood grain so that stain can deeply penetrate wood pores. 
  3. Raise the wood grain: Water the wood to make it wet, let it dry, then lightly sand again with 220-grit sandpaper.
  4. Apply wood conditioner: Mix equal parts of sanding sealer and denatured alcohol, then apply to the wood surface. Allow it to dry for a few hours.
  5. Use a dye or dark stain: Choose an oil stain with black color, a dark walnut gel stain, or an aniline-trans tint dye. You can also mix the dye with water if needed. Alternatively, you can opt for blue wood stains
  6. Apply thin coats: Apply a thin dark maple stain or dye coat. You can add more coats to stain maple wood darker. Let the wood dry between coats.
  7. Seal with tinted shellac: Mix tinted dewaxed shellac with a bit of water and apply it gently to the wood surface, then allow it to dry.
  8. Apply final finish: Choose a finish like polyurethane, tung oil, linseed oil [1], or polyacrylic, and apply it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Best Stain Colors for Maple

There are two types of stains available for Maple: penetrative and pigmented.

Penetrative stains are designed to soak into the wood and are suitable for smooth, well-sanded Maple surfaces. In contrast, pigmented stains sit on the surface of the wood and require a rougher surface to adhere to.

best finishes on maple wood

When selecting a Maple stain color, you can choose from a range of colors, including:

Tips and Tricks for Staining Tight-Grained Maple Wood

Maple Stain or Dye: Which Should You Use?

When it comes to enhancing the appearance of maple wood, you may find yourself choosing between stain and dye. Both options have their merits, but the decision ultimately depends on your desired outcome and personal preferences.

Stains are generally more beginner-friendly, containing pigment stain that fills the wood pores and creates a more even, consistent finish. This can be especially beneficial for maple, known for its tight, closed-grain structure that often leads to blotchy staining.

Conversely, dyes offer a more vibrant color palette and can create a deeper, richer appearance. They penetrate the wood fibers more effectively, accentuating the natural beauty and figure of the maple.

staining maple wood

However, wood dyes can be trickier to apply and may require more skill to achieve an even finish. So, a stain may be more suitable if you want a user-friendly option that provides a consistent finish.

If you desire a more vivid and unique appearance that accentuates the natural beauty of the wood, a dye may be the better choice.

Stains for Maple Wood: Buyer’s Guide

Type of Project

When selecting the best stain for maple wood, consider the type of wood project you’re working on.

For example, suppose you’re staining maple furniture that will be placed among other painted furniture or stained maple wood. In that case, you should take the existing colors into account to avoid clashing or contrasting colors.

Additionally, you should consider the type of surface your maple project has to choose a suitable stain that works well for both horizontal and vertical surfaces. The particular design you want to achieve for your project can also influence the type of maple stain you choose.

Color and Finish

It’s important to choose a product that provides a natural and uniform stain color. A natural stain enhances the wood’s beauty and highlights the natural grain pattern without obstructing it, emphasizing the classic look of hard maple.

Additionally, consider the richness and uniformity of the stain. Non-uniform stains can accelerate blotching on tight wood pores, resulting in conspicuous light and dark stains or spots on your maple.

Drying Time

Staining Maple wood can be time-consuming, especially when working with a darker color. So consider the drying time of the stain you choose, as a slow-drying stain can make the process even more tedious. Opt for a fast-drying stain to speed up the project and save time.

In addition to saving time, a fast-drying stain can be beneficial when working with an oil-based stain with volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The faster drying time can help to minimize the harmful smell and curing time associated with VOCs, making the working environment more comfortable and safer.

drying wood stain

Ease of Application

Some stains require specific tools like lint-free cloths, paint pad applicators, high-quality bristle brushes, or foam brushes, while others can be applied with a simple stain brush or rag.

To make your DIY project enjoyable and stress-free, opt for an easy-to-apply stain for maple. Note that the tool you use to apply the stain can affect the final outcome of the project.
Using a low-quality brush can cause unsightly streaks on the wood.

To avoid this, consider purchasing a Maple wood stain that can be easily applied with a rag or other simple tool to help you achieve a consistent and attractive finish.

Amount and Coverage

When choosing a wood stain for Maple furniture, it’s important to consider the size of your project and how much coverage you’ll need.

Different stains cover different areas, so you must choose one that can cover your entire project without running out. Choosing a stain that can do the job in one coat is best for larger projects with more surface area. This will save time and ensure that the finish is even.

staining alder wood


Before starting your woodworking project, creating a budget is important to avoid overspending. By comparing different options, you can choose a wood stain that fits within your budget.

Remember that the cost of a stain does not necessarily determine its performance, as there are good stains available for every budget. Just choose a stain that meets your needs and falls within your budget.


Do you need to apply wood conditioner before staining the maple?

You need to apply a wood conditioner before staining the maple woods. It’s a dense and tight-grained wood, making it difficult for stains to penetrate. Applying a wood conditioner can help open up the pores of the wood and allow the stain to absorb more evenly, resulting in a uniform appearance.

Can you stain maple for it to appear like walnut?

You can stain maple to appear like a dark walnut. However, it’s impossible to make maple look like dark walnut. You can only stain maple in a way that approximates the appearance of dark walnut to some degree.

Can you stain maple for it to appear like cherry?

Yes, you can stain maple to appear like a cherry. Cherry wood is known for its warm, reddish-brown color, and while maple has a different natural color and grain pattern, it can be stained to achieve a similar look.

Which stain color should I use for maple cabinets?

The stain color for maple cabinets is light blonde because it highlights the natural beauty of maple cabinets while offering a subtle contrast. While darker colors such as black, dark brown, and ebony are also popular, they can be too intense and harsh in appearance.

Can I apply stain on maple plywood?

Yes, you can apply stain to maple plywood. Maple plywood is an engineered wood made of a thin coat of maple veneer glued together. It is commonly used in cabinetry, furniture, and other woodworking projects.

Is it hard to stain maple flooring?

Staining maple flooring is hard. Maple floors can be a bit more challenging than staining other types of wood flooring, as maple floors have a tight and dense grain that can make it difficult for the stain to penetrate evenly.

Is maple wood costly?

Maple wood is not totally costly. In general, maple wood is considered a mid-range to high-end wood, with a price point similar to other popular hardwoods such as oak and cherry.

Is staining maple similar to pine?

Staining a maple is not similar to pine because maple is denser than pine and can get blotchy when stained. However, soft white maple, a type of maple wood, can be stained in a way that is similar to pine.

Also Read: Best Stains for Outdoor Wood Furniture

My Top Pick For a Stain For Maple Wood: General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, Espresso

The General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain in Espresso is my pick for the best stain for maple wood due to its exceptional quality, ease of application, and durability.

The water-based composition of this stain ensures its safety for indoor applications, a feature I find immensely valuable. It beautifully enriches the wood’s natural grain with a deep espresso hue, bringing out the best in your material. 

Its rapid drying time and minimal odor, qualities that render it an excellent selection for both DIY enthusiasts and seasoned professionals alike. These user-friendly attributes ensure a smooth and efficient staining process, leading to stunning results.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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