All you Need to Know about Staining Oak Wood

Oakwood makes a great wood for different woodworking projects like flooring and even cabinetry thanks to its resounding strength.

In its natural state, oakwood is outstanding. Even so, you can always make it even better through staining and other types of wood finishes!

One question though, does oak wood stain well?

Oakwood stains well thanks to its large open pores and strong grain pattern.

However, please be cautious when selecting the Stain color.

In addition, popular stained oak surfaces in the 80s appear a little outdated, especially finishes with a red hue.

Thus, stain white Oak with cool-toned shades for a more contemporary look.

Fortunately, staining Oakwood is straightforward when you have the correct products and procedure. 

Also, this blog post has all the information  you Need to Know about Staining Oak Wood

What Is Oak Wood?

Image of oak wood, is oak a softwood?Oak is a hardwood species from the Oak plant native to the northern hemisphere.

We have around 600 oak species, both evergreen and deciduous. But North America hosts the most, about 900 oak types.

Woodworkers have used this lumber as hardwood timber for centuries. Yet it needs up to 150 years to mature and accommodate construction applications.

Modern Oak wood uses include flooring, firewood, wine barrels, and homewares.

Moreover, it is solid, durable, and heavy. Therefore, you can expect the structure to remain intact for longer.

Thanks to Oak’s long-living nature and dense constitution, it has an attractive color, a prominent grain, and superior resistance to fungal attack.

We use Oak wood for collections requiring lasting materials, like chopping boards and kitchen accessories.

Besides, its durable and hard-wearing qualities keep it intact despite heavy use.

Oak adds an attractive natural aspect to lighting collections. Check out its added applications:

  • Commercial Uses. Oak wood is perfect for outdoor furniture pieces.

In addition, you can use it on fences and siding, thanks to its insect resistance properties and high tannin content.

  • Medicine. Northern Red Oak bark comes in handy when treating wounds and diseases.

Similarly, White Oak helps treat asthma and diarrhea while functioning as an antiseptic or a hand washing compound.

  • Firewood. Please note that not all Oak wood is ideal for firewood due to its high moisture content. Only Red and White oak trees serve as firewood.
  • Flooring. Red Oak with 1,22o lbf and white Oak featuring 1,350 lbf are the best for flooring tasks.

Further, high hardness and good weight reduce the risk of scratches and dents.

  • Musical Drums. Japanese Oak is famous for its superior drum sound. In addition, it has a higher density than traditional drum materials, such as Birch and Maple.
  • Marine Application. White Oak boasts of being incredibly durable and low maintenance.

It also has a straight, close grain with a coarse, uneven feel, making it suitable for building boats.

  • Foods and homes. Oaks provide a habitat and food for multiple small animals. Moreover, these organisms depend on the plant for food.

For instance, English Oak trees are home to many insects, whereas Northern Red and White Oak provide food for squirrels, birds, mammals, and turkeys.

Oakwood shades vary from tree to tree, even branch to branch.

Furthermore, we have over 600 oak species.

But some species are popular because of their unique qualities, while others are rare.

Some common Oak types are:

  • White Oak(Quercus Alba)

White Oak originates from Central and Eastern North America. But you find it primarily in Minnesota.

The trees grow to 65-85 ft. tall and have a three to four ft. trunk diameter.

Also, it has a straight grain and a coarse, uneven texture. Thus, you can use this lumber for boatbuilding, veneer, barrels, and flooring.

  • Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) 

This Oak species is native to North America. Further, it is 80 to 115 ft tall and three to six ft. in diameter.

You will also observe a straight grain with coarse and wide open pores.

However, these open pores make the wood susceptible to water damage. But you can still use it for interior trim, furniture, and flooring.

Red Oak’s bark is deeply fissured and has a dark brown hue. In addition, its acorns have a one-inch length.

  • Black Oak (Quercus Velutina)

Black Oak springs from Central and Eastern North America. The tree is 65 to 80 ft. tall and three to five ft. wide.

In addition, it features a fairly coarse wood grain and medium to large pores.

The wood is perfect for interior trim, furniture, and carpentry. It also has a light to a medium reddish-brown hue.

Leaves are simple and alternate, with five to seven bristle-tipped lobes. They are five to ten inches long and three to eight inches wide.

  • Water Oak (Quercus Nigra)

This oak species is native to the Southern and Eastern Central United States. It grows 50 to 80 ft. tall and two to three ft. wide.

Water Oak is medium-hard despite being a hardwood with a 1,290 lbf Janka hardness.

Thanks to the wood’s workability, durability, and natural beauty, you can comfortably use it for cabinetry and flooring.

Lastly, the plant’s leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. They are one to five inches long and one to two inches wide.

  • Pin Oak (Quercus Palustris)

Pin Oak, also the Swamp Spanish Oak, originates from the Eastern United States. It is 50 to 75 ft. tall and two to four ft. wide.

In addition, the wood has a medium grain and a somewhat coarse texture.

The tree’s leaves are deeply situated close to the center axis. Also, they are five to nine inches long and sprout together with the flower.

Finally, Pin Oak is ideal for furniture, cabinetry, veneer, flooring, and interior trim.

  • Bur Oak (Quercus Macrocarpa)

Bur Oak, also the Mossycup or Burr Oak, is native to Eastern North America. Moreover, its acorn is the largest among the Northern American Oaks.

The plant is 98 to 160 feet tall, and its leaves are two to five inches wide and 2 3⁄4 to six inches long.

Thanks to Bur Oak’s incredible durability, it is the best option for fence posts, barrels, flooring, and cabinets.

  • Gambel Oak (Quercus Gambelii)

This Oak species can be a large shrub or a small deciduous tree.

A mature tree is ten to 59 ft. tall. Further, its leaves are three to 4.5 inches long and 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide.

Gambel Oak is a food source for wild turkeys, black bears, squirrels, and hogs.

  • Willow Oak (Quercus Phellos)

Willow Oak springs from the Central and Eastern United States.

Furthermore, the tree needs proper nutrition and high moisture content. Thus, you will find it in ponds and moist places.

This Oak grows to be 65 to 100 ft tall and three to five ft. wide.

In addition, it is perfect for pulp and paper production and ornamental wood.

Willow Oak has large open pores and is thus susceptible to water damage. But it retains an impressive 1,460 lbf Janka Hardness.

  • Spanish Oak (Quercus Falcata)

Spanish Oak originates from the Southeastern United States. Moreover, it is a deciduous plant; thus, the leaves die every Autumn and return later.

The tree is 35 to 40 meters tall and 1.5 meters wide. Its leaves are four to 12 inches long and 2 1⁄4–6 1⁄4 inches wide.

This lumber is perfect for making furniture pieces, floors, and construction materials.

  • English Oak (Quercus Robur)

English Oak is predominant in Europe west of the Caucasus. It is 80 to 120 ft. tall and has a 1,120 lbf wood hardness.

The wood’s grain is straight but sometimes irregular, depending on growing conditions.

Further, the heartwood is light to medium brown, whereas sapwood is light brown to nearly white.

Lastly, you can use the wood in flooring, barrels, veneer sheets, and boatbuilding.

  • Live Oak (Quercus Virginiana)

This Oak tree is native to the Southeastern U.S. Its length is 40 to 60 ft. tall, and its trunk diameter is four to six ft. wide.

Live Oak’s leaves are stiff and usually narrow to a long oval.

The wood’s superior resistance to decay works best in making boats, veneers, and barrels.

  • Post Oak (Quercus Stellata)

Post Oak, also the Iron Oak, is 33 to 49 ft. tall and 12 to 24 inches wide. Further, it is shorter than other Oak species.

The wood has a relatively coarse texture and medium to large pores. In addition, its Janka score is 1,350 lbf, and it conveniently resists decay.

So, you can use it to make siding planks, stair risers and treads, pulp, veneer, railroad ties, construction timbers, and particleboard.

What Is Stain?

A stain is a finish type applied to surfaces to alter their appearance. Further, it may enhance the wood grain, change the color, or improve damage prevention.

Woodworkers apply the formula during the finishing process.

Further, wood stains are liquid and gel products collections designed to protect and color lumber surfaces.

They are available in multiple types, but all comprise a coloring agent suspended, mixed, or dissolved in a carrier or solvent.

This carrier can be water, polyurethane, oil, or alcohol.

The product is available in multiple colors to match or compliment the lumber’s color. Also, most stain finishes resemble natural wood hues, such as Pecan, Oak, or Walnut.

However, sometimes it is challenging to deliver a smooth, uniform appearance with wood stains.

This scenario happens when you are handling hardwood. In addition, you’d need multiple staining and sanding rounds to complete the work.

Stains comprise different binders, determining whether they are water, oil, or gel-based.

As a result, cabinetmakers, carpenters, and woodworkers should consider the wood type and project’s purpose to get the best product.

Here are primary Stain types to consider:

  • Water-Based Stains

This product offers the best protection against mold and mildew and preserves the environment.

In addition, it dries faster than other stain types, making them ideal for quick application.

Water-based stains only need a rag or a brush to deliver perfect coverage. 

However, please avoid overbrushing the surface. Otherwise, the formula’s quick drying time will lead to visible brush strokes.

These stains do not soak into the lumber fibers as oil-based ones. Hence, you need more coats to get a rich color.

Most water-based stains are easy to clean as they are water-soluble.

  • Oil-based Stains

Indoor oil-based stains contain a linseed oil carrier. Thus, they deliver a thick, deeply penetrating finish.

Moreover, you can use them on surfaces needing extra protection.

The formula produces a richer finish than other stain types. However, apply it with a rag for a better outcome.

Please exercise some patience as oil-based products take longer to dry.

Fortunately, this property is advantageous since it allows for a smoother finish.

Wipe and brush marks have a longer duration to flow out as the formula sets and hardens.

Clean the brush using mineral spirits. Then, let the rag dry before you throw it away.

  • Gel-based Stains

Gel stains are thicker than water and oil-based formulas. Besides, manufacturers design them to make wood finishing easier.

The product requires a rag application, eliminating the risk of brushstrokes.

In addition, Gel-based stains give more or less color depending on how hard you rub them into the lumber.

Expect perfect adherence and easy clean-up after application.

Lastly, the formula hides wood’s natural defects, reducing the chances of delivering a blotchy surface.

  • Lacquer

Lacquer is a film-forming finish that cures by chemical reaction.

Apply the product to non-film-forming stains to enhance the woodwork’s durability and sheen.

Moreover, it is fast drying; hence, risks are pretty high when handling the formula.

Consider applying lacquer with spray equipment instead of by hand. This way, you guarantee complete and uniform coverage.

The finish cleans up with a volatile solvent, like a lacquer thinner.

Finally, the solution has the same ingredients as the lacquer itself. Therefore, you are sure of its efficacy.

  • Varnish

Varnish is not a stain but a transparent film-forming formula.

Besides, Varnish is a broad term for transparent, film-forming wood finishes.

Lacquer, Shellac, and Polyurethane are all varnishes. Further, the solvent used to clean the formula depends on the chosen product.

Ensuring a professional stain finish is easy if you adhere to a few tips. They include:

  • Wear protective gear when applying the formula. Cover your face, arms, and legs.
  • Keep mineral spirits, water, or the recommended tool cleaning solvent nearby.
  • Work in a well-ventilated workspace, especially for non-water-based products.
  • Carefully read and adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for each product.

Does Oak Need to be Conditioned Before Staining?

You do not have to condition Oakwood before staining. However, conditioning the surface will enhance a uniform finish.

A pre-stain wood conditioner helps the wood absorb the Stain evenly without streaks and blotches.

Moreover, always condition the wood before staining when working with White or Red Oak.

Although the lumber does not deliver streaks and blotches, sometimes wood stains do not guarantee even coverage.

Thus, it is always safe to apply the conditioner.

Usually, the formula needs 15 minutes to penetrate the oak surface. Then, wipe the excess formula.

Consider the same manufacturer for stain formulas and pre-stain wood conditioners to avoid complications.

How to Choose Stain for Oak Wood

Adding a new wood stain is an affordable upgrade to your hardwood furniture. But ensure you pick the correct product.

For example, a dark finish makes the space look smaller, whereas too-light hues may not complement your decor.

Check out more considerations below:

  • The Wood Type

You may not need to stain unique and exotic wood floors, such as Cherry, Maple, Walnut, Oak, and Mahogany.

The surfaces are already lovely in their natural state. And often, woodworkers try to imitate hardwood surfaces by staining floors.

Therefore, rarely will you find a homeowner staining a hardwood workpiece.

Also, exotic wood like Oak does not absorb stains well. It has a tight grain and high oil content, hindering stain penetration.

As a result, there is a chance you will not like the result. So, it is better to maintain the lumber’s natural beauty.

Over time, oil-based finishes give Oak a yellowish-orange appearance. So, it loses its lovely look.

Conversely, newer water-based formulas deliver a white-washed surface when applied to natural unstained Oak.

Nevertheless, you can still stain Oakwood with the proper application techniques.

  • The Desired Stain Color

This step is pretty overwhelming as we have multiple stain color choices. Moreover, various suppliers have different hues to accommodate your project needs.

Some products, especially Hard Wax Oil, come with pre-treatment colors.

These formulas easily layer on top or under the Stain, delivering an unlimited color palette.

When choosing a stain hue, always ask yourself, what decor do I have and want?

Having a specific furniture or interior design taste in your mind is crucial. It fastens the stain selection process.

For instance, if you purchase new furniture, you have more leeway to experiment.

On the other hand, you’ll need to find a complimenting or matching color if you’re handling existing furniture.

In addition, ebony or grey would not work well if you love rustic farmhouse designs. It will clash with your workpiece.

So, go for a mild-toned brown shade.

Rich red hues will not deliver a lovely surface on bold, sleek contemporary styles. Instead, choose white, ebony, or a grey tone.

Fortunately, you can grab some architecture, interior design, and home decorating magazines for inspiration.

In addition, Pinterest and Houzz provide lots of photos. Flip through them and get all the pictures with your ideal style.

You can get sample panels and test them on various house areas. This way, you see how the color appears against kitchen cabinets and furniture.

The samples will also give a better picture of the color in different lighting scenarios.

  • Interior or Exterior Application

The right stain product depends on location.

For instance, a deck finish should be water-resistant to prevent splintering, warping, or cracking.

Outdoor formulas are available in oil-based and acrylic types. Further, they come in multiple colors and are set on the wood differently.

Hence, consider the type of wood before deciding on the product.

Best Stain for Oakwood

It is prudent to determine your preferred undertone and the available options. Otherwise, the wood may look old and ugly.

For instance, white Oak features a natural undertone, whereas red Oak has a reddish rich hue.

Thus, get a stain that matches the surface.

Below are the best Stain products in the market.

  • Minwax Golden Pecan on Oak Wood

This formula is perfect if you want a mild tint with a red undertone. Further, it delivers a fresh and bright look on white and red Oak.

Minwax Golden Pecan guarantees a rich, beautiful, and classic tone while keeping the wood’s natural beauty.

  • Minwax Simply White on Oak Wood

This product works best for those preferring soft colors. Also, it can soften white and red Oak without masking their lovely natural grain.

Minwax Simply White is a translucent finish. Thus, it partially conceals the lumber’s undertone.

  • Minwax Dark Walnut on Oak Wood

This Oak wood finish makes the wood darker.

In addition, it is perfect when you want to change the lumber’s color while preserving its grain.

Minwax Dark Walnut formula does not mask the grain. Instead, it penetrates the wood pores, delivering uniform coverage.

  • Minwax Pickled Oak on Oak Wood

This Stain gives Oakwood some shade though it is almost neutral.

Thus, it is the best option when you want to stain Oak but still keep its natural grain and color.

  • Minwax Golden Oak on Oak Wood

This finish delivers a mid-range color to white and red Oak. Its undertone is neutral, showcasing the Oak’s wood grain even after application.

The grain adopts a dark brown hue instead of red.

Moreover, you may not see a difference between white and red Oak. They both deliver a similar color.

How to Stain Oak Wood

Oak wood is popular with woodworkers due to its appealing natural appearance.

Luckily, the surface is easy to stain. And adding a topcoat gives it a consistent color and lovely finish.

Seal the finish with Shellac and sand it to improve the Stain.

Also, take your time during the application and follow the procedure below.

  • Prepare the Workspace and the Oakwood

Wear protective clothing and ensure the work area is well-ventilated. Further, staining products can stain your hands. So, wear rubber gloves.

Put on a respirator mask to avoid inhaling chemical fumes, VOCs and wood particles during operation.

You can get the accessory from hardware or general stores.

Also, use a fan and open the windows to keep fresh air circulating in the area.

  • Sand the Oakwood

Choose a medium-grit sandpaper, say 120-grit. Then, evaluate the surface to find the wood grain direction.

The grain is the dark marks or lines in the lumber. And they are pretty visible in Oakwood.

So, work along the pattern and sand gently to remove dirt and debris. Otherwise, using force and pressure may compromise the wood’s integrity.

In addition, the exercise guarantees a smooth, uniform surface. Hence, please do not skip it.

Next, smooth out the surface with fine-grit sandpaper, say 220-grit.

Also, lightly abrade the surface and remove remaining wood shavings. You can use a shop vacuum or cloth to ensure a successful outcome.

Please note that debris interferes with the Stain’s adhesion, leading to uneven coverage.

Therefore, only apply Stain to a clean surface.

  • Apply the Stain and Allow It to Dry

Stain the sanded Oakwood with the chosen wood stain.

Also, although you can deliver a satisfactory result with a high-quality brush, use a lint-free cloth instead.

The rag guarantees complete and uniform stain coverage, increasing the chances of a professional finish.

Saturate the cloth with the wood stain and run it over the lumber. In addition, ensure you cover every surface inch.

You can let the finish sit for five to ten minutes for a darker color.

But this step is not mandatory. It depends on how dark you’d like the wood to appear.

Conversely, wipe the excess formula immediately after application to deliver a lighter stain color.

Do not stress about maintaining a neat workspace in this step.

What matters most is delivering a lovely, uniform, and liberal Stain finish. Therefore, focus on applying the formula.

However, neatness is necessary when wiping the excess formula. Also, keep a uniform, gentle touch lest you wipe off the finish.

Remember, water-based stains dry quicker than oil-based products.

So, pay attention to the formula during drying if you want a deeper color. Do not wait too long before wiping it.

Nevertheless, if you accidentally get a tacky surface, apply more Stain. Then, leave it to dry for a minute or two before wiping.

Finally, let the Oakwood dry for 24 hours.

  • Apply the Second Layer and Let It Cure

Inspect the lumber and confirm if you are happy with the color.

You can apply another stain layer if you want a deeper hue. But it is advisable to let the first stain coat dry thoroughly. 

Prematurely adding another layer only damages the first.

Apply the second coat evenly and gently. Also, ensure you cover the surface with a uniform coat.

Again, remember the goal is to achieve even coverage on the lumber.

Remember, if the formula sits longer on the surface before wiping, it will have a darker color.

Thus, keep checking the project since you do not want it to dry before clearing the excess.

Once your wait is over, wipe the excess formula and follow the wood grain. Then, let the wood dry for 24 hours.

Lastly, the stained wood may need more than a day to dry.

  • Seal the Wood With a Protective Topcoat 

Apply a protective topcoat to lock in and protect the stain finish.

Further, all you need is a transparent film-forming coat. But ensure that it offers the much-needed surface protection.

The product also waterproofs the wood, preserving it from moisture damage and chemicals.

Here Is a Video On Oak Staining Tips:

Should You Sand Oak Before Staining?

Sand Oakwood before staining to deliver a smooth finish.

You can utilize an orbital sander or sanding block. But start with a lower grit moving to a finer one.

A lower grit makes the lumber rougher, allowing more formula to penetrate the wood. It also helps to create a darker color.

However, do not over-sand the wood, or it won’t take a finish.

How to Make Oak Stain Darker?

We have two primary techniques to make Oakwood darker.

First, select a dark finish for the project. Fortunately, there’re multiple hues, so it is easy to get an appropriate one.

Alternatively, apply the Stain and allow it for six for five to ten minutes. The color penetrates and darkens when the finish remains on the wood for longer.

Add another coat if the first one does not deliver your desired color.

Here is a summarized stain application procedure to guarantee a better outcome.

  • Step 1

Sand the Oakwood with 120-grit sandpaper.

A drastically higher grade risks sealing the grain more than necessary. Therefore, it will resist the Stain.

Also, wipe the surface with a feather duster.

  • Step 2

Sand the wood again with 150-grit sandpaper.

Adopt smooth motions following the wood grain. Also, proceed until you cover the entire surface.

Then, clean the surface using a feather duster.

  • Step 3

Choose your preferred stain type and color.

For instance, we have two product versions: Water-based and oil-based. Further, oil-based products penetrate the surface deeply and offer a richer finish.

Thus, they are recommended for delivering a darker finish on Oakwood.

Select the best color by comparing stain samples at home or a paint improvement store.

  • Step 4

Apply the oil-based Stain, exerting steady pressure. In addition, the steadier the force, the deeper the resulting color.

Consider up and down brush movement, following the wood grain. Then, continue until you cover the surface.

  • Step 5

Wait for about 15 minutes before wiping the excess formula.

The longer you let the Stain sit on the surface, the darker the resulting color.

  • Step 6

Apply another stain coat. Again, exert steady pressure to facilitate a better finish.

Also, allow the formula to dry for 15 minutes. Then, wipe the excess.

However, wait until the surface delivers your desired shade before wiping it. 

  • Step 7

Add a topcoat after the final stain layer dries. 

Then, wait for 24 hours before resuming everyday use.

Here’s How to Stain Oak Darker:

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most prevalent questions on the subject:

  • How to Stain Oak Lighter

You can deliver a light finish using a light-colored formula. Thankfully, Minwax brands provide reliable products.

Alternatively, apply a uniform coat and wipe the excess immediately.

The exercise ensures that only a little pigment penetrates the lumber pores. Thus, you deliver a lightly stained oak.

  • Is Oak Hard to Stain?

Oakwood accommodates Stain excellently, thanks to its large pores.

Furthermore, lumber with a tight grain is more challenging to stain. It absorbs a little stain, making it hard to get uniform coverage.

But Oak has a smooth grain with large vessel rows. They absorb a lot of Stain but still display the grain lines.

So, Oakwood is easier to stain, unlike hardwood types.

  • Does Oak Stain Better than Pine?

Generally, Oak surfaces stain better than pinewood. Besides, it has large, even pores that uniformly absorb the Stain.

On the other hand, pine features a tight, uneven pore structure, making staining problematic.

  • Can You Stain Oak to Look Like Walnut?

Staining Oakwood to resemble Walnut wood is possible. Choose a walnut-colored lumber stain and adhere to the above procedure.

Test the Stain to confirm it matches or compliments the surrounding surfaces.

Also, seal the surface with a topcoat to deliver a lovely and durable sheen.

  • Does Oak Plywood Stain Well?

Oak plywood stains well. However, delivering complete coverage is somewhat more challenging.

In addition, you may end up getting a blotchy finish because of tiny mistakes.

Fortunately, there is still hope!

Check out the following steps for a successful job.

  • Sand the surface with 60-grit sandpaper.
  • Clean the wood to remove sawdust.
  • Soak a cloth in some water.
  • Rub the soaked rag over the plywood until it looks damp. Damping the surface opens the wood grain, facilitating stain absorption.
  • Allow the lumber to dry completely.
  • Apply the final layer and let it dry before resuming use.

Does Oak Fall on the Higher-End Spectrum of Woods?

Woodworkers consider Oak a high-end wood despite being readily available. Moreover, it is a pretty easy wood to handle.

The wood’s dense and durable structure increases its value. But interestingly, it is the least expensive.


Oakwood is famous for flooring and cabinetry due to its sturdiness and lovely appearance.

Further, the wood accommodates finishing applications, such as painting and staining.

As a result, getting your desired surface color is possible.

However, hardwoods are known for poor staining qualities. Thus, the above guide shares all you need to know about staining Oak. It answers the question:

Does Oak Wood Stain Well?

Stains penetrate Oak wood uniformly without issues. Moreover, it takes any stain color, thanks to an open pores structure.

Oakwood looks lovely with any stain hue and does not deliver a blotchy result, unlike other hardwood.

Lastly, staining the lumber is fun and delivers the desired dramatic grain.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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