Does Maple Stain Well? — Staining Maple Dark

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Maple, a beloved choice in hardwood, presents a unique challenge when it comes to achieving a darker stain due to its tightly packed, closed grain pattern. So, in this post, let me bring you to the world of staining maple. 

Let’s explore whether maple takes on stains effectively and I’ll share some valuable techniques and important factors to consider to help you attain the rich, dark finish you’re aiming for.

Does Maple Take Stain Evenly?

Maple is not the easiest wood to stain. It absorbs dye in patches, giving the fabric an unsightly uneven appearance. This is due to the fact that the wood has tight and close pores.

However, staining maple isn’t an impossible task. With ample preparation and the right techniques, maple can absorb stain well.

When staining hard maple, it’s essential to seal the grain with a thin coat of sanding sealer or apply the wood conditioner with a paintbrush to provide an even, uniform hue. 

maple soft wood

To give you a rundown of all the necessary preparation, here’s how to prepare maple wood for the staining process:

How Do You Prepare Your Maple Wood for Smooth Staining?

Step #1: Clean Your Maple Wood

To start, initiate the process by eliminating any particles of dust, dirt, or debris present on the wood surface. This can be accomplished by utilizing a clean cloth or a vacuum cleaner.

Note that it is essential to ensure that the surface is thoroughly clean before proceeding with further steps. Moreover, you can also use a tack cloth to wipe the surface of the wood to remove any remaining dust particles.

Step #2: Sand the Wood Surface

Sanding the maple wood surface with fine-grit sandpaper helps open the grain and prepare it for better stain absorption. Be sure to sand the surface in the direction of the grain to avoid creating visible scratches or marks. 

person holding sanding block

You can start with 120-grit sandpaper and gradually move to a finer grit, such as 220-grit, until the surface feels smooth.

Step #3: Mix & Stir the Stain

Before applying the stain, mix and stir it well to ensure that the pigment is evenly distributed. You can use a stirring stick or a paint mixer to achieve an even consistency. Test the stain on a small inconspicuous area of the wood to ensure that the color is the one that you want.

Staining Your Maple Wood in 3 Steps


Step #1: Seal Your Maple Wood

tools for painting

Applying a sealer can help prevent the stain from being absorbed unevenly and ensure an even finish. You can use a sanding sealer or a pre-stain conditioner. Apply the sealer with a brush or a sponge and allow it to dry completely before proceeding to the next step.

Step #2: Apply Your Prefered Stain

Choose your preferred stains, such as lacquer, shellac, or polyurethane. Apply the stain with a paintbrush or a sponge, working with the grain of the wood. 

Apply multiple coats until you achieve the desired depth of color, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.


Lacquer is a popular stain option for maple wood as it dries quickly, is durable, and creates a high-gloss finish. 

spraying lacquer to dining table

Lacquer is available in spray and brush-on forms and can be used on unfinished and previously finished wood surfaces.


Shellac is another common stain option for maple wood as it dries quickly, is easy to apply, and can be used to create a range of finishes from matte to high gloss. 

Shellac also offers good resistance to water and alcohol and can be used as a sealer before applying other types of finishes.


Polyurethane is a stain and sealant that offers excellent durability and protection for maple wood. 

Rust-Oleum 284470 Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane

It is available in oil- and water-based formulas and can be used to create a range of finishes from satin to high-gloss. Polyurethane [1] is also resistant to scratches and abrasions.

Step #3: Dry, Clean, and Seal

After the final coat of stain has dried completely, use a tack cloth to remove any dust or debris from the surface of the wood. You can then choose to apply a sealant for added protection and durability. 

Apply the sealant with a brush or a sponge, working with the grain of the wood, and allow it to dry completely before using the stained maple wood.

How Do You Make Maple Stain Darker?

Toning Topcoats with Trans Tint Dye

Trans Tint dye is a concentrated, translucent liquid dye mixed with water or alcohol to create a custom stain color darker. 

By adding Trans Tint dye to a toning topcoat such as lacquer, shellac, or polyurethane, you can darken the color of your maple wood without changing the underlying color. 

staining maple

Mix the dye with the toning topcoat in a container and apply it to the wood using a brush or a spray gun.

Using Walnut Dark Gel Stain

A gel stain is a thick, easy-to-apply stain that sits on the surface of the wood and doesn’t penetrate deeply into the grain. Applying a walnut dark gel stain can help darken the color of your maple wood while highlighting the natural grain pattern. 

Apply the gel stain with a brush or a rag, working with the grain of the wood. Wipe away any excess stain with a clean cloth and let it dry completely before applying a sealant.

Hard Maple vs. Soft Maple vs. Flame Maple

Compared to soft maple, which often has streaks of red, brown, or gray, hard maple is noticeably lighter and more uniform. 

soft maple

On the other hand, the grain in flamed maple tends to be more uniform.

Maple Stain Color Options

Some stain colors I recommend for maple wood are honey maple, dark walnut, special walnut, Kona, provincial, briarsmoke, jacobean, and English chestnut.

Can You Stain Maple to Look Like Walnut?

You can stain maple to look like walnut. Most people want to stain maple to make it seem like walnut, but it isn’t easy.

Do You Need to Condition Maple Wood Before Staining?

Because of its sensitivity, maple requires careful handling and high-quality finishes to avoid drying blotchy and fading with time. 

wood conditioner

For this reason, before staining your maple, you better condition the wood with a pre-stain conditioner such as Minwax.

Can You Dye Maple Well?

You can dye maple well, but it may require extra effort and care to achieve the desired results. It is recommended to experiment with samples or practice on scrap pieces of maple before attempting to dye your final project.


Will maple wood gets darker as it ages?

Maple wood gets darker as it ages. Maple, like cherry, will darken with age, though not nearly as noticeably. It will turn a rich golden honey color as it ages. 

Can I use teak oil on maple wood?

You can use teak oil on maple wood. It is essential to know that raw Maple wood benefits greatly from teak oil treatment. Like any other hardwood, maple can be protected with this oil/varnish mixture. 


Thankfully, even though maple wood is tough and dense, it’s actually quite receptive to staining. You don’t need to be an expert for this; just follow the steps and use the right stain and methods mentioned earlier, and you can transform your maple wood into stunning, long-lasting finishes.

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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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