How to Stain Pine to Look Like Oak — A Step-by-Step Guide

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Most people prefer the look of oak, but it is expensive and not always accessible. Thankfully, you can stain pine to look like oak, but you have to be careful lest you waste good wood. 

In this guide, our professional painters we’ll walk you through the process to achieve a premium oak-colored wood stain look for your custom pine furniture and more.

Does Staining Pine Wood Transform it to Look Like Oak?

Yes, but not completely – you can stain pine wood with oak color, but the difference will still be noticeable to someone with extensive knowledge and experience with wood.

Still, non-woodworkers may be unable to tell, especially if you prepare the wood properly and work with high-quality materials. 

Pine wood is different from oak in that it is more porous and has uneven grain, so if you simply apply oak stain then you may end up with splotchy wood.

Contributing Factors to the Look and Pigment of Oak

The premium appearance of oak is influenced by a combination of factors, which include environmental conditions, age, and species – there are various types that come with distinct characteristics. 

Generally, older trees are darker and have more pronounced grain patterns. The same is also observable in oak trees found in wetter climates.

Pine lumber

Processing techniques also affect the appearance of oak, creating distinctive patterns. Your choice of stain and finish can add depth, richness, and sheen to the oak wood.

What are the Preparations?

You want your creation on pine to have a smooth and even surface. Before taking out your chosen oak stain color, you’ll have to sand the pine wood with your preferred sander in the direction of the grain pattern. Have a tack cloth handy to wipe off any sawdust.

Thinking of using any water-based products? We recommend adding raising the grain to your prep for a slick finish. 

The following will also be useful in achieving the best results when you stain pine for your DIY project:

Tip #1: Use a Wood Conditioner

To our experts, a wood conditioner is a must if you want the stain to be even and consistent. The pre-stain wood conditioner should be applied with a brush on a bare wood surface and left to dry. 

wood conditioner

The length of time varies so you’ll have to check the manufacturer’s instructions, but most require at least 30 minutes to dry completely.

Tip #2: Use a Rag

The key to staining pine to look like oak lies in the application and your chosen tool. However don’t use a foam brush – you’ll be happier with the results from a lint-free rag, or even unused shirts or socks. 

Apply a thin coat using the stained cloth on the wood surface, wait for a while, and then reach out for a clean rag to remove the excess stain on pine wood. 

After the first coat, you can dab for a second coat and even a third coat for a darker stain. You don’t have to let the stain color sit for long before adding another coat. 

Does Combining Stain and Poly Make Pinewood Similar to Oak?

In your search for an oak stain in your local stores or online, you’ll probably encounter products that are two-in-one, where you have a wood stain but also polyurethane. 

wood stain

It’s ideal for some woodworkers as they can save from getting more out of a single can. 

However, for us, going with this option isn’t always the best. You have limited options for shades and any mistakes are harder to undo. 

Should you use a brush, the application won’t be as smooth as choosing a standalone stain. 

Our professionals suggest keeping a wood conditioner within reach to achieve the closest results as advertised on the can. 

paint brush and Minwax Helmsman Indoor-Outdoor Spar Urethane

It’s also best to level your expectations – in our experience, wood stained with stain combos will be easier to spot as pine wood than when going the longer route.

Staining Pine to Make it Appear Like Oak: Step-by-Step Guide

Are you ready to learn how to stain pine wood to look like oak? If you are strapped for cash but still want to duplicate the refined look of an expensive piece of oak furniture, then here are some materials you should have:

tools for painting

Supplies You’ll Need

We suggest clearing out your workspace of any items other than the products that you’ll need. 

To prevent mess or unwanted stains on your floors and any other surfaces, we also recommend laying down cloth, tarps, or sheets of newspaper. You can also use a clean rag to wipe any spilled primers or stains.

Step #1: Prepare the Pinewood

Pinewood will often come with knots and uneven wood grain. Knots can become loose so they are easy to remove. 

These will leave gaps that you can remedy with epoxy. With a putty knife, level the paste on the surface and then allow it to dry.

To replicate the appearance of oak on pine with wood stains, you’ll have to even the entire surface first. Power sanders are preferred if you are working on bigger projects. 

Yellow Pine

To avoid any visible sanding marks on the wood surface, it’s best to sand in the direction of the grain pattern. 

A 180- to 220-grit sandpaper is a good place to start before deciding if you want even finer grits to sand. Afterward, wipe the resulting sawdust with a wet clean rag or tack cloth.

Step #2: Try First on A Piece of Scrap Wood

While golden oak is probably the most associated color with oak wood, it can come in various shades. You can achieve the brown typically seen with walnut, or even opt for a white oak color. 

Meanwhile, some aspire for a weathered oak stain for that look of unadulterated, real wood. Our woodworkers find that weathered oak and golden oak work best with pine wood.

Save yourself from any regrets by buying various oak colors of wood stain and then trying them on pieces of scrap wood. Use at least two coats to see if your product can produce the oak color you want. 

trying out wood stains

After all, the same stain color might not look the same on different pieces. Many combine golden oak with another oak stain to achieve even deeper colors on pine wood.

Step #3: Prime Your Pinewood

We’ve mentioned earlier that pine can be porous, resulting in stains that do not live up to expectations. Because of this, a pre-stain wood conditioner is crucial in priming pine. 

Instructions would differ depending on the product, so make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging. 

Our experts found better results with a clean rag than a brush, just wipe a coat on the surface following the direction of the wood grain. You can put a second coat, just make sure that the coat dries first on the pine.

Step #4: Coat the Pinewood With the First Stain Layer

With your wood stain of choice, put the product on the pine boards. The motion wouldn’t matter as much as the direction of the wipe when you remove any excess product. 

staining wood with sponge brush

Do this about five minutes after putting the coat and make sure to follow the direction of the wood grain. 

You can wait longer before using a rag to wipe if you want deeper staining on the pine. The pressure applied should be consistent for even staining on the entire surface.

Step #5: Check the Surface

Once the stain has completely dried on the pine, examine it to determine if the shade meets your liking. You can deepen the stain color after the first coat by putting a second coat and more layers of wood stain.

Step #6: Apply the Second Layer of Wood Stain

To achieve a dark hue, you can apply multiple colors and allow them to sit on the entire surface for at least five minutes before you wipe off the excess. The pickling stain can be applied with a rag or foam brush.

After an hour of drying time, you can apply a clear-colored topcoat to lock in the color and protect it. 

staining table top

To avoid puddling of the pickling stain on the surface, be cautious during the application of coats and make sure to wipe off any excess before one minute has elapsed.

Why Coat More than One Stain?

Stain works by penetrating the wood fibers and adding color. Applying more than a single coat of wood stain builds up the color. It can also enhance the wood’s natural grain pattern. 

Further, oak wood [1] tends to have a more complex grain pattern compared to pine wood. By applying multiple coats of stain and using techniques like wood graining, you can create a faux oak wood grain pattern on pine wood even with the same stain color. 

While you can’t stain pine to look like oak exactly, you can still achieve results that appear close enough. A second coat or more can turn stain on pine to have a color closer to oak.

Step #7: Apply the Topcoat

Don’t let your hard work go to waste – protect the newly stained pine to look like oak wood with a transparent film-forming topcoat. 

General Finish top coat

Our Handpicked Recommendations for Wood Stains

Here are some of the best wood stains we have worked with that gave great results in transforming pine to look like oak.

1. Minwax 70001444 Wood Finish, Golden Oak Stain, Quart

Our professional painters recommend non-yellowing topcoats that will not impact the results as much as, say, a coat of amber would.

Water-based polyurethane is also a good alternative as it stays clear over time. Keeping the coats thin and sanding with fine 240-grit sandpaper between each coat will give you the best results.

Interesting Read

If you’re looking for an interior wood stain that provides rich and even color in just one coat, then Minwax Wood Finish can do the job. This oil-based stain enhances the natural grain of pine furniture, cabinets, and doors. 

We found that the quick-drying formula penetrates deeply into wood pores within just five minutes and resists lapping, so your projects dry in just two hours. Applying it is also a breeze – just use a clean cloth or wood stain brush to apply in the grain’s direction and wipe excess. 

2. General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain, 1 Pint, Antique Oak

This stain can deliver beautiful colors if you want to go for that look of rustic, antique wood without using reclaimed pine wood. We found it easy to apply by hand. Besides having little odor and low VOC, it’s also a noncombustible stain that can be cleaned up with water. 

It can be mixed with any topcoat to tint and tone as well as other colors to achieve a weathered look as desired. The thicker formula allows controlled penetration to reduce blotching on pine, but don’t forget to sand, still.

3. Rust-Oleum Brands Summer Oak Varathane Oil-Based Wood Stain

Transform your pine board into a luxurious piece that resembles oak with this soy oil-based wood stain. The pigments are rich yet natural-looking that can penetrate deep into pine. We found that the stain also lasts long to bring out the grain detail. 

Unlike traditional stains that require constant stirring, this wiping stain applies evenly without blotching for a flawless finish. It dries to the touch in just 1-2 hours and covers up to 150 sq. ft., making it perfect for furniture, cabinets, doors, trim, floors, and paneling.


A variety of colors are available to help you replicate the different hues of luxurious oak furniture. However, you must be careful in the preparation and application so you can stain pine to look like oak wood with professional-looking results. 

Never forget to sand the pine and remove the excess stain for even coats that bring out the beauty of your piece.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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