Staining Oak Wood — How-to Guide + Coats Needed

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

Share It

You probably love the look of stained oak wood in your home. But staining oak is a job that requires more than one or two coats of stain, and skipping a layer may lead to streaks and uneven coloring. 

You can stain oak like a professional if you have the right tools. Let’s go over everything you need to make it happen.

Is it Recommended to Stain Oak Wood? Is Staining Easy?

One of the simpler woods to dye is oak. It tends to evenly and lightly absorb stain, just enough to bring out the lovely natural grain. This is due to oak wood’s wide pores, allowing absorbing the stain, which is precisely the correct quantity of moisture.

Oak wood

Oak wood is also commonly used for furniture making, as it can be easily shaped into curved designs. Oak tends to be more complicated than other woods, and its grain pattern is less susceptible to splitting during shaping processes. 

What Kind of Stain Should You Use on Oak?

You can use any stain on oak, including homemade natural wood stains, gel stains, and water- and oil-based stains. But remember, you’ll need to reapply them occasionally if they need to be waterproofed with wax or another protective coating.

We suggest using a stain designed explicitly for oak timber. There are many stains, but one crucial thing to remember is that oak wood absorbs more stains than others.  

Does Gel Stain Work Well on Oak?

You can use gel stains on oak wood, which are thicker than liquid stains. They offer immediate satisfaction if you decide to wipe on the unfinished color oak. Also, they are less messy because they don’t leak like liquid stains and provide an equal color as they don’t run.

How to Prepare Oak Before Staining

To stain oak wood, sand it with a sanding block or orbital sander. We recommend using low-grit sandpaper to make the wood rougher, allowing more stain to be absorbed and giving the wood a darker hue. For refinished items, begin by using 120-grit sandpaper.

sanding block

Do I Need to Treat Oak Before Staining?

When dealing with an unfinished oak item that requires staining, there is no necessity to pre-treat the wood beforehand.

However, if you are using a gel stain or a natural dye. Both these types of finishes require you to condition the wood before application so the finish will adhere properly.

Do I Need to Condition Oak Wood First?

Conditioning oak wood is not necessary. But, adding a pre-stain wood conditioner produces a smoother finish, mainly when using dark wood stain colors on light, brown softwoods. The pre-stain conditioner will allow you to prevent unnecessary botches.

How to Apply Stain on Oak Wood

Supplies You'll Need

Step #1: Ready Your Workspace

tools for painting

If you want to have stained wood, you need to prepare your workspace. You will need a clean, flat surface, such as a table or the floor. If you are using a table or other flat surface, cover it with a drop cloth or paper towel so that you don’t get any stains. But for the best option, try to use a high-quality rag for staining

Step #2: Sanding and Cleaning the Wood

Sand the wood lightly with fine-grit sandpaper to remove any dirt and loose surface material.If you have bare spots, fill them with stainable wood filler or stainable wood putty. Let the wood dry completely before moving on to the next step, wood stain. For a more detailed guide, here’s how you can clean wood before staining

Step #3: Apply the Wood Stain and Leave it to Dry

After cleaning, you can apply the wood stain with a paintbrush or roller. Using a wood stain ensures that the surface of your deck or fence is clean and dry. 

This excess stain will ensure that the stain penetrates the wood and gives the finish a high-quality look. 

Step #4: Apply the Second layer, then Dry it Again

Once the wood stain has dried up completely, you can apply another coat. Make to know how long does it take for wood stain to dry to get better results. 

drying stain

This time around, make sure that you do not put too much pressure while brushing so as not to cause any damage to the surface of the oak wood stains or ruin its texture by leaving brush marks behind.

How Many Stain Coats are Necessary?

Experts usually advise applying two coats of stain for any wood project, but you should only use as much excess stain as the wood can. Incredibly dense hardwoods might only be able to take one application of stain.

Applying as little pressure as the wood can absorb is the usual rule of thumb.

Step #5: Seal it

It is essential to seal it because you need something to protect it from moisture and sunlight. If not sealed properly, the excess stain color will quickly wash off or fade away with time. 

applying wood sealer

Sealing your oak wood with polyurethane or varnish will protect it from this kind of damage and also make it easier to clean if necessary because these products are water resistant.

Ways to Darken Oak Naturally

You can get a darker color naturally by using tea and coffee, which contain tannins that give them darker colors. The time needed for this method varies depending on how much tea or coffee you use and how strong it is. For a detailed guide, check this post about how to stain wood darker successfully. 

Ways to Stain Oak Lighter

If the dark stain wood has become too dark and you want a light stain, rub it firmly and uniformly along the beautiful natural grain using a clean cloth dipped in mineral spirits or turpentine. This will make the excess stain color appear lighter but not go away.

Ways to Stain Oak with a Consistent Color

Red oak can be given a gorgeous gloss and a consistent color by applying layers of dye, a gel stain, and a top coat. Each layer needs to be sanded and shellac-coated to improve the excess stain [1]. 

spreading oil on red oak cutting board

You can give your redwood the perfect finish if you take your time. You can use Minwax pickled oak stain or Minwax Golden Oak to get a consistent color.

Ways to Make Oak Look Modern

Paint is one of the easiest ways to update your oak furniture. You can spray paint it to match your color scheme or give it a new look with a custom-made shade.

Check these articles also

Best White Oak Stains

1. Zar 13712 Oil-Based Interior Wood Stain

One of the best white oak is ZAR 13712 Oil-Based Interior Wood Stain. This white oak stain wipes on similarly to furniture polish, staining and sealing the wood in a single, rapid motion. 

Its “controlled penetration” ensures an even color. You can use it to make beautiful wood grain on surfaces that have already been painted or varnished.

2. Minwax 618064444 Water-Based Wood Stain, White Oak Tint-Based

Another white oak stain that you can try is Minwax 618064444 Water-Based Wood Stain. It looks elegant and professional on oak surfaces. 

Besides, we like how It gives interior wood surfaces a beautiful color, and it dries quickly, too.

Best Stains on Red Oak

1. Minwax 710830000 Finish Penetrating Interior Wood Stain

With Minwax 710830000 Finish Penetrating Interior Wood Stain, you can easily and quickly give your wood projects a gorgeous, rich color. This oil-based wood stain resists lapping for precise color and highlights the natural wood grain in only one application. 

2. Rust-Oleum Brands Varathane 211723H Red Oak

Another stain option that you will love is 1 qt Rust-Oleum Brands Varathane 211723H Red Oak Wood Stain. We like how it gives furniture, doors, cabinets, trim, and paneling a richer, more natural color. It works on any plain or stripped surface and is great for interior wood furniture projects. 


Does oak soak stain better than pine?

Pine stains less well than oak. Oak has a large pores structure that allows them to absorb stain evenly and uniformly all over the surface. However, the wood grains in pine wood are smaller than those in oak wood.

Can you stain white oak well?

You can stain white oak well. White oak has huge open pores that readily absorb the stain. Because this species is so simple to stain, there are countless stain and complete options to choose from.

Can you stain oak to look similar to walnut?

Minwax Dark Walnut stain is the best choice for darkening the oak wood stain. With this stain, you can color oak to look like walnut wood while keeping the grain intact.


Oak is a very durable type of wood, which makes it an excellent choice for many projects. When stained correctly, you can use it on hardwood floors and furniture. 

Staining oak can be done in different ways. You can use an oil-based or water-based stain, depending on the type of finish you want. Now you know how to stain oak wood, it’s time to apply it for yourself!

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

Join Our Woodworking Community on Facebook And Get 3 Woodworking Plans for Free!