Does Oak Stain Well? + Best Stains for Oak

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Staining oak furniture might seem intimidating if you’re new to the technique. So, many wonder if oak takes stain well, given its beautifully open grain structure. And with a plethora of stain choices on the market, selecting the right one and mastering the application process can be a bit overwhelming.

So, in this article, I’ll address these everyday struggles to help you achieve a beautiful, long-lasting finish for your furniture.

Is it Good to Stain Oak?

Staining oak is a great way to enhance the natural beauty of the wood. Oak is a popular choice for furniture, flooring, and cabinetry due to its durability and unique grain patterns, and staining can help highlight these features.

Staining oak can also help to protect the wood from damage and wear over time. Applying a clear finish or sealer over the stain protects the wood from moisture, scratches, and other types of damage. 

This can help ensure the finished product lasts longer and looks better over time. However, it is essential to note that not all types of oak are suitable for staining. For example, red and white oak have different properties and may respond differently to staining. 

Oak grain pattern

First, test the stain on a small wood area to ensure it produces the desired color and finish. Staining oak can be a good choice for many woodworking projects, especially those that require a unique and distinctive appearance. 

Following the proper steps and using high-quality stains and finishes makes achieving a beautiful and long-lasting finish on oak possible.

Should You Condition Oak Wood Before Staining?

Conditioning oak wood before staining is generally a good idea to achieve a more uniform finish. Oak is a porous wood that can absorb stains unevenly, especially if the wood is rough or the grain is irregular. 

Conditioning the wood helps to open up the pores, allowing the stain to be absorbed more evenly. The conditioning process involves applying a pre-stain wood conditioner to the wood surface and allowing it to soak in for a specified time. 

wood conditioner

The conditioner can also help to prevent blotching and streaking that can occur during the staining process. 

Not all types of wood require conditioning, so it’s always best to consult the manufacturer’s instructions or seek advice from a woodworking professional before starting the staining process.

What are the Best Stains or Colors to Use on Oak?

Oak is a versatile wood stained in various colors for different looks. The best stains or colors to use on oak largely depend on the final look you’re trying to achieve and the type of oak you’re working with.

Some popular stain options for oak include golden oak, red oak, and dark walnut. Golden oak is a popular choice for those looking to achieve a light, natural look with a hint of warmth. 

Red oak stains bring out the wood’s reddish hues and give a warm and inviting look. Dark walnut is a popular choice for those who want to achieve a richer, more dramatic look.

It’s also important to note that different types of oak may react differently to staining, so it’s a good idea to test the stain on an inconspicuous area prior to applying it to the entire piece.

General Finishes Oil Base Gel Stain Antique Walnut

Additionally, it’s essential to choose a stain that is appropriate for the type of project you’re working on, as some stains are better suited for specific applications than others. 

Ultimately, the best stains for oak provide the desired color and finish while protecting the wood and enhancing its natural beauty.

Staining Oak: Tools and Steps


Step #1: Clean & Sand the Oak Wood

The first step in staining oak wood is to clean and sand the wood. This step ensures the wood is free of any dirt, dust, or other debris affecting the staining process. Start by wiping down the wood with a clean or tack cloth to remove loose debris. 

sanding block

Next, use a sanding block or sandpaper to smooth the surface of the wood. Start with coarse-grit sandpaper (around 120 grit) and work to the finer grit (around 220 grit) until the wood is smooth. Sanding helps the wood to absorb the stain more evenly.

Step #2: Start Applying the Stain

Once the wood is clean and sanded, it’s time to apply the stain. Begin by stirring the stain thoroughly to ensure the color is consistent throughout the container.

Use a brush, sponge, or rag to apply the stain toward the wood grain. Make sure to apply the stain evenly and cover the entire wood surface.

If you’re working with a large surface area, you may need to work in sections to ensure the stain doesn’t dry before you can spread it evenly. After applying the stain, wait a few minutes to allow it to soak into the wood.

Step #3: Allow the Wood to Dry Completely

After applying the stain to the oak, it’s crucial to let the wood dry thoroughly. The drying time may vary based on the specific stain used and the ambient humidity conditions. Typically, this could range from a couple of hours to an entire day. 

Patience during this stage is key to achieving the desired result and ensuring a professional-quality finish.

drying stain

You can test whether the wood is dry by lightly touching it with your finger. If the surface is still tacky, it still needs to be dry. If the surface is dry, it’s ready for the next step.

Step #4: Apply the Second Coat of Stain and Dry the Wood

Once the first coat of stain is dry, it’s time to apply a second coat. This step helps to deepen the color and enhance the richness of the wood. Apply the second coat of stain using the same method as the first.

Make sure to apply the stain evenly and cover the entire wood surface. After applying the second coat of stain, wait for the wood to dry completely before handling it or using other finishes.

How to Stain Oak Lighter?

If you’re looking to stain oak lighter, there are a few essential steps to remember. First, it’s important to choose the right type of stain. 

You’ll want to opt for a lighter-colored stain, such as a transparent or semi-transparent stain, or a natural or clear stain. This will help to achieve a lighter overall appearance for the wood.

flooring stained with Minwax 70047 Weathered Oak Wood Finish

Correct preparation of the oak’s surface is indeed critical prior to staining. This preparation typically involves thoroughly sanding the wood. 

The purpose of sanding is to smooth out any irregularities and to open the wood’s pores, facilitating a more even absorption of the stain, which results in a uniform and appealing finish.

Oak is known for its porous nature, making it challenging to achieve an even stain. To help even out the color of the stain, consider applying a pre-stain conditioner. This product can help fill in the wood pores and prevent the stain from being absorbed too quickly and unevenly.

When it comes time to apply the stain, use a brush or cloth and work with the grain of the wood. It’s essential to work quickly and to wipe away any excess stains to ensure a consistent finish.

After applying the stain, you must allow it to dry completely. This may take several hours or even overnight, depending on the type of stain you’ve chosen and the temperature and humidity of your workspace.

Finally, once the stain has dried, you’ll want to apply a clear finish or sealer to protect the wood and enhance the color of the stain. Choose a clear finish that is lighter in color to maintain the lightness of the stain.

spreading oil on red oak cutting board

By following these steps and taking the time to prepare and stain the oak properly, you can achieve a beautiful and even finish that highlights the natural beauty of the wood while achieving the lighter color you desire.

How to Stain Oak Darker?

Staining oak darker is a great way to achieve a richer and more dramatic look for your wood projects. It’s essential to choose the right type of wood stain, which includes oil-based, water-based, and gel types, each with its benefits and drawbacks.

Before you begin staining, it’s important to properly prepare the surface of the oak by sanding it to remove any rough spots or inconsistencies, allowing the stain to penetrate more evenly and create a more consistent finish.

Applying a pre-stain conditioner to the wood is also essential, which can help to even out the color of the stain by filling in the pores of the wood and preventing the stain from being absorbed too quickly and unevenly.

When it comes time to apply the stain, work carefully and methodically. Start by testing the stain on a small, inconspicuous area of the wood to ensure you like the color and consistency. If you’re happy with the test area, apply the stain to the rest of the wood.

red oak butcher block

If you want to achieve a deeper color, apply a second coat of stain. If you’re working with a gel stain, use a clear finish coat to protect the wood and enhance the color of the stain. Staining oak darker requires careful preparation, the correct type of stain, and proper technique. 

With the right tools and materials, as well as cautious preparation and strategy, you can achieve a beautiful and even finish that will highlight the natural beauty of the wood while achieving the darker color you desire.

Always test the stain on a small, inconspicuous area of the wood before applying it to the entire project. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gloves and eyewear to protect yourself from the stain and any harmful fumes [1] it may emit.

Can You Stain Oak Plywood Well? + How to Do It

Indeed, oak plywood can be stained much like solid oak, though it does necessitate proper preparation for a uniform finish. The veneer on oak plywood displays a noticeable grain pattern that, when treated with the appropriate stain, can be emphasized to great effect. 

This attribute contributes to its popularity in a variety of woodworking projects.

However, to achieve the best results, it is essential to follow a series of steps that include sanding the surface of the plywood, applying a pre-stain conditioner, and applying the stain correctly. 

tools for painting

It is crucial to work with the wood’s grain and wipe off any excess stain to ensure even application. 

Steps to stain oak plywood:

  1. Sand the surface of the oak plywood thoroughly to remove any rough spots or imperfections that could affect the staining process.
  2. Clean the oak plywood’s surface using a clean or tack cloth to remove any dust or debris accumulated during sanding.
  3. Apply a pre-stain conditioner to the oak plywood to help the stain penetrate the wood evenly and reduce the appearance of flaws.
  4. Allow the pre-stain conditioner to dry completely, typically 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the product used.
  5. Apply the stain to the oak plywood with a brush, rag, or spray gun, following the manufacturer’s instructions and working with the grain of the wood.
  6. Allow the stain to penetrate the wood for the recommended amount, usually 5 to 15 minutes.
  7. Wipe off any excess stain with a clean cloth or rag, ensuring that the stain is applied evenly.
  8. Allow the stained oak plywood to dry completely, typically for 24 hours, before applying a clear finish or sealer to protect the wood and enhance its appearance.
drying paint on wood

Following these steps makes it possible to stain oak plywood effectively and achieve the desired look for your woodworking project.

Which Stains Better, Pine or Oak?

Choosing the correct wood species can significantly affect the final result when staining wood. Pine and oak are two common types of wood used for woodworking projects, and both can be effectively stained if the proper steps are followed.

Pine is a softer wood than oak and has a more even texture. While this can make it easier to work with, it can also make staining more challenging. 

Pine does stain well, as tends to absorb stains more quickly and unevenly than oak, resulting in a blotchy appearance if improperly prepared.

However, with proper preparation and techniques, pine can be effectively stained for a beautiful and unique appearance. On the other hand, oak has a more distinctive grain pattern than pine, which can be enhanced with the right stain.

Oak, with its hardness and durability, stands as a superior choice for furniture and woodworking projects that are subjected to frequent use. Its unique and prominent grain pattern is well-suited to a range of stain options, which can enhance its natural beauty. 

This makes oak a favored material for high-quality applications such as flooring, cabinetry, and other premium woodworking creations.

sanding cabinet surface

When it comes to choosing between pine and oak for staining, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and specific project requirements.

Pine can be more affordable and easier to work with, but it may require more preparation and technique to achieve the desired finish. Oak may be better for high-end projects or a unique and distinctive look.

Regardless of the choice, following the proper steps for preparing and staining the wood is essential to achieve the best results.


Should I seal the oak before staining?

You should seal oak before staining because oak is a porous wood, and without a sealer, the stain can be absorbed unevenly and result in blotchy or streaky finishes. Use a wood conditioner or a pre-stain sealer to help even absorb the stain and create a more uniform finish.


Oak is a popular choice for woodworking endeavors because of its distinctive grain patterns and robustness. It accepts stain readily, particularly when appropriate preparation and application techniques are employed. 

Additionally, it’s important to select a stain that aligns with the desired color and finish outcome for the oak piece.

robert headshot

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!