Staining Douglas Fir Wood in 7 Steps + Best Stain Colors

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Planning a project with your fir wood? As someone who’s worked extensively with Douglas fir, I can tell you firsthand that staining it requires a good deal of patience and the right prep.

But don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I’ll walk you through the essential steps and recommend the best stains for your fir lumber. So, stay with me to learn more!

Does Douglas Fir Absorb Stain Well? How Does it Looks Like When Stained?

Douglas fir is the best choice for staining wood. Its natural grains are what make it perfect for staining. 

The uneven texture and structure of Douglas wood have been a concern for many woodworkers, but its strong natural hues of red and orange can overcome wood stains. 

douglas fir board

If you are wondering if staining, which gives more appeal to Douglas wood, or painting which prevents its natural stain from showing, is the better option for you, here’s a quick rundown of both methods:

Staining vs. Painting Douglas Fir

Let us first understand what staining and painting can do to wood projects and when to consider doing them respectively. 

Staining enhances the natural and unique straight-grain pattern of Douglas fir. For best results, oil-based stains are the ideal stains for it. It offers additional protection from moisture and UV rays while keeping the natural pattern visible.

Painting, on the other hand, draws attention to your wood by adding new colors to the forms and shapes. It can transform dull Douglas fir into artistic lumber for your home decorations and wood furniture.

staining wood with sponge brush

Both painting and staining offer a wide range of colors and sheens. You can also purchase high-quality stains and paints for your wood.

Staining Pine vs. Douglas Fir

But how about choosing what wood can be stained better? Is it pine wood stain or Douglas fir wood? To give you a clear point of view, I compared the effects of staining on both of them.

Pine and Douglas fir are both softwoods and are commonly used by carpenters and builders as construction materials. 

Given the density of pine wood, stains can hardly penetrate through its wood. But unlike pine, Douglas fir has absorbent wood fiber which makes a penetrating stain easy. 

What Is Wood Conditioner? Why Do You Need it Before You Stain Douglas Fir?

Achieving optimal stain results for Douglas fir hinges on the successful penetration of the stain into its wood fibers. In my extensive experience as an woodworker, I cannot overemphasize the importance of employing a wood pre-stain conditioner to attain this outcome.

Douglas Fir lumber

Wood conditioner is the foundation of staining especially when the wood fibers are uneven. With that in mind, Douglas fir can accept stains if a wood conditioner is applied. 

It softens the wood’s fiber before your staining and this will save you time. It can also prevent uneven stain absorption to the wood.

How to Stain Your Douglas Fir Wood

If you stain Douglas fir wood, make sure to pick the right type of stain so it can be better absorbed by the wood. Later in this article, I’ll share the best stain that you can use for this wood type. 

tools for painting

In the meantime, here are the tools and materials you need to prepare. After you completed gathering the supplies, you can start following this ultimate guide to stain Douglas fir wood staining. 

Supplies You’ll Need

Step #1: Sanding

Every wooden surface needs sanding. But for this wood, you only need to sand just to remove inconsistencies. You have to avoid sanding it with fine grains to prevent its wood pores from closing. So you need sandpapers with at least 100-grit and 500-grit. 

sanding block

When you have the sandpapers, make sure that you sand 4 inches forward and 3 inches backward. Your movement should be in a single line with the wood grain. Then, you can overlap your sanding by 1 inch. 

Sanding the Wood Using a Low-Grit Sandpaper

Let us start with 100-grit sandpaper. Before sanding, you need to attach it to a hand-sanding block. Then start with short strokes until it produces dust particles. Your objective here is to remove the tiny ridges, holes, and dents of the wooden surface.

Sanding the Wood Using a Higher Grit Sandpaper

After you remove the visible impurities, you have to fine-tune the lumber surface using 500-grit sandpaper. Make sure that sandpaper is attached to the hand-sanding block. 

When sanding using higher grit, your goal is just to secure that the wood surface is smoother and that wood pores are visible to absorb the wood conditioner. You can sand along the surface until the cut ends. 

various types of sandpaper

If the wood surface becomes dull, the pores are opened and you can start conditioning it.

Step #2: Wipe Off the Sanded Wood

Before conditioning, use the bristle brush to remove excess sanding dust. You can also use a cotton cloth or paper towel to ensure there’s no remaining dust from the wood. However, I suggest using a rag for staining wood to better wipe off dusts from the surface.

Step #3: Condition the Wood

Once all the dust particles are removed, apply two coats of the conditioner using a bristle brush. Softwoods quickly absorb the first coat of the wood conditioner and the second layer stays on the surface. So a few coats of the wood conditioner provide full coverage.

Prior to staining, ensure that you thoroughly coat the entire wood surface and its edges with wood conditioner.

Step #4: Wipe the Excess Conditioner Off and Let it Dry

After applying the conditioner, keep an eye on the excess and noticeable wet spots on the wood surface. Use a clean cotton cloth to remove these impurities and wait for your pre-sealed fir wood to dry.

using gel stain

Two layers of the wood conditioner take at least two to three hours to dry. Avoid drying it directly under the sunlight or with excess moisture. Instead, place it in a cold and dry place. 

Step #5: Spread a Thin Gel Stain Layer and Dry It

Then you can apply a thin layer of stain using a staining rag or a foam brush. Work with the natural wood grain in staining Douglas fir. Otherwise, its surface will have noticeable streaks. 

Also, I highly recommend using gel stain for Douglas fir to ensure that it does not look spotted. 

After that, wipe the excess stain using a lint-free cloth to keep a balanced coverage and simultaneous time for the wood dry. Depending on the thickness of the exterior stain and the weather, your stained wood takes at least 24 hours to completely cure.

Step #6: Spread the Second Layer

Next, recoat your wood the same way you apply the first coat. The second coat enhances the dark color of your stain while maintaining its natural appearance. Your wood conditioning will allow the multiple stain layers on your wood.

applying gel stain

If you are not satisfied with two layers of stain, you can recoat another layer. Make sure to cure for at least 24 hours each layer before applying the next one.  

Step #7: Seal It

Sealing your wood means applying a protective top coat. There are different sealants you can use but I recommend using polyurethane. Polyurethane wood sealer is formulated to give the best coat to it. 

You can either spray, brush, or use a roller for the sealants. Then, you can wipe the polished surface using the microfiber cotton cloth or clean cloth to ensure that no dust or dirt on the surface.

Tips and Considerations When Choosing a Stain for Douglas Fir

With meticulous preparation and a steady hand, you can achieve unparalleled results in staining this wood type. Let me share some tips that have served me well:

Testing a Few Stains

You should test on scrap wood with few stains to get the same color intensity as your wood. Keep in mind that most of it has already natural hues of red and orange. So, you should use darker coats such as a dark walnut stain on the light shade and vice versa.

staining a piece of wood


One drawback of Douglas fir lumber is its uneven wood pores, which make the uneven stain penetration. So I strongly recommend using wood conditioner and gel stain. Wood conditioning prepares its pores to absorb the stain evenly.

Wood Finishing

For a seamless outcome, make sure that your sealants and stains are compatible. This is crucial when working with stained wood. You have the option of using a ready-seal stain or a convenient two-in-one stain.

However, if you lean towards using separate stains and sealants, it’s important to note that gel stains pair well with polyurethane sealants like varnish, shellac, or oil-based options.

On the other hand, for oil stains, it’s recommended to seal them using either a linseed oil stain or wax for optimal results.

Location And Usage

You should consider the locations of your Doug fir furniture, cabinets, and doors, as it is essential in staining Douglas fir. Douglas fir floors and decks require different stains so you should know the array of your staining.

Painting and Sealing

You should seal it after you paint the stains on it. Sealing prevents damage on the surface.

applying wood sealer

Best Stains and Colors for Douglas Fir

As mentioned earlier, you only have to enhance the natural colors of the wooden surface. So what should be the best wood stain and colors for it? I recommend the fruitwood stain that covers various degrees of shades from light to dark. 

However, not all types of stains complement the natural colors of fir lumber. But, you have the option to accentuate or diminish its original color. You should also choose hues of red, orange, and brown to stain it. 

1. General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stain in Antique Walnut

From all the stains I’ve worked with over the years, General Finishes stain products have consistently been at the top of my list. They provide that sought-after lustrous finish and an even look. Using a soft cloth or a foam brush, the oil stain goes on smoothly.

One of the things that sets General Finishes apart for me is the quick drying time, eliminating the need to sand between layers. And personally, its thick consistency – meaning fewer messes – is a real winner. Trust me, it’ll bring out the perfect color in your cabinets and doors.

2. Minwax Gel Stain For Interior Wood Surfaces in Coffee

You should expect a great finish with this next best stain from Minwax. I choose this as one of the best stains that deliver uniform color. It stays toward the surface to allow greater color control during application.

The Minwax stain gives you perfect coverage with a rich tone and can fix most of the blotchiness. Make sure you need to stir it a lot to get rid of the lumpy. However, certain stains under this line are not ideal for outdoor furniture.

3. Varathane 349560 Premium Gel Stain in Dark Walnut

For a budget-friendly yet premium gel stain, you should go with Varathane stain. It accentuates your fir lumber, especially the vertical surfaces. You can apply wood stain without leaving unsightly marks or raising wood grain. 

Although the Varathane stain enhances its natural appearance of it, you should avoid using this for the Douglas fir deck, floors, and sidings. Other than that, this gel stain has long-lasting and offers rich deep color as the early American stain.

Why Opt for Gel Stains on Douglas Fir Wood?

You should always keep in mind that it is softwood with large and small pores. So, again, I recommend using gel stains to prevent smudges and stain bubbles during the staining process. 

Forms a Film on the Wood Surface

Apart from a smooth surface, gel stain forms a film on the surface. The film makes the absorption of paint fairly. 

Douglas Fir wood

Allows for More Control While Staining

Unlike oil-based and regular stains, the gel stain dries slowly which gives you the time to apply and remove the excess simultaneously. The gel-type consistency will prevent splotches on the surface.

Optional Wood Stripping

When using gel wood stain, you can have the option not to strip down the stained Douglas fir. Instead, clean the surface and you can recoat using the gel wood stain. You could also de-gloss the surface inconsistencies to remove the old coat before staining.

More for you:


How do you make douglas fir look like cedar?

You can make Douglas fir look like cedar wood by using warm or light shades of stains. It has natural red and orange hues. So you should only accentuate this color to give it a cedar appearance. 

You can also try mixing the stains on a scrap Douglas fir to test how many layers of thin coats you need to apply.

Can I stain a douglas fir timber beam?

Douglas fir can be stained and when it comes to a timber beam, you should choose the right stain. You can unveil its beauty by using gel wood stain to add gloss to the fir wooden surface. 

Make sure to cure the stain properly and locate where the timber beam would be placed afterward. It will give you an idea for preparation and stain for Douglas fir application.

Will douglas fir get darker over time?

Depending on your choice of stain color, like blue, mahogany, or walnut, as well as the pores of the wood, Douglas fir could turn darker over time. Therefore, you should prepare the wood properly. 

From sanding to curing of stain, you should be patient. Drying time for each layer reveals the true color of your stain.

Also Read: Is Douglas Fir Classified as a Hardwood?

Can you apply Minwax stains on douglas fir?

I recommend using Minwax gel stain to stain Douglas fir wood. Minwax offers variations of color that can satisfy the shades you want. It gives perfect coverage and is less messy when applied. You can achieve uniform color and rich tone.


For beginners, staining Douglas fir takes a lot of effort and challenges. But if you follow the correct methods and my recommendations, basic steps, and tips, you can expect a seamless outcome!

You should also acquire the best exterior stain color and gel stain to finish your Douglas fir project well.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Staining Douglas Fir Wood in 7 Steps + Best Stain Colors

  1. I stumbled upon you while searching the net and really enjoyed the article I thought it was very informative. I am about to refinish my interior staircase treads which are Douglas fir I am leaning towards using Polyshades, however, I am concerned that it will not be good enough for
    a high-traffic area. Any suggestions?

  2. While Polyshades is an excellent product, I would avoid using it in this application. I have used Polyshades several times and the one difficulty in working with it is that if you don’t coat the surface with the same amount of finish, it will be visible, as the finish is semi-transparent. In the case of doing your stairs, it is very easy to end up with an edge of finish on the riser, while finishing the tread or on the tread while finishing the riser. While it is possible to overcome this with careful application, it will be challenging.

    The other problem with Polyshades, in this application, is that the finish will start wearing off where people walk, showing the wood beneath. That will be much more obvious than it would with normal varnish, as the coloration will be in the finish, rather than in the wood.

    What I would do is to stain the wood with an oil-based stain. This may require sanding the existing finish, removing it. You want the floor treads and risers to be a consistent shade, with no varnish covering it, before applying the stain. Dark colors would probably work better, as they would do a better job of hiding any spots of previous stain, than lighter colors would. But be sure to have all the old varnish sanded off.

    Once the stain has dried, you could then varnish the steps with any varnish that is rated for floors. There are several such products on the market. Use at least three coats or two coats with a sanding sealer acting as a primer.

    Not an easy job, but I hope this helps.

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