November 25, 2019

Types of Stains and Finishes

Every woodworker loves the feeling of finishing a piece of furniture. Wood stains and finishes come in handy in creating an appealing piece and bringing out the aesthetic beauty. Wood tends to be benign in its natural state thus the need to incorporate stain and finish. Wood stain is used to change the colour and protect the wood. The wood finish, on the other hand, is thick and makes the wet look on the wood appear permanent as well as protecting it from moisture.

Types of Wood stains

Wood stain is the colorants applied to the wood and enables it to change colour. The application of the stains is the initial step of creating a beautiful piece of wood and bringing out its hidden grain patterns. Various types of wood stains are unique in different ways and bring out different colours as well.

Oil stain

An oil stain is the most common type of stain used and widely available given its all-natural element plus linseed seed which is non-toxic. It allows the users to clean up nice on the spills and inconsistencies before drying up.  The oil stain is ideal for both small and large projects. Oil stains contain dyes and pigments or both elements and can be cleaned up easily using mineral spirits or the paint thinner. They also allow for the application of any finishes except the water-based finishes.

Varnish stain

Varnish has all the qualities of oil stain except that it uses varnish (polyurethane varnish) as the binder. It also means that the varnish stains dry hard than the oil stains making it easier to get an even coat. It also does not require a finishing coat as well. The stain is ideal for small projects as well as surfaces that are scuffed, worn or already stained. Using the varnish stains requires great skills and techniques as it dries up faster leaving no time to clean out the excess.

Gel Stain

Although gel stains are oil-based, they have a thickness that is similar to mayonnaise. The thickness makes it messy to apply the stains but they come in handy in creating a splotch-free coat and dealing with blotching on pine.

Water-based stain

Water-based stains are natural stains that have less irritation effect on the skin, eyes, and windpipe. They are also easy to clean up as it is done using water. They bond quite well with the water-based finish and should not be applied over varnish or oil stains since they take longer to dry. However, these stains are difficult to apply as the water raises the grain which affects the texture. They also dry faster making it difficult to wipe off excess with ease.

Lacquer Stain

Lacquer stains dry up very fast making it difficult to use single-handedly. It requires to work in pairs for application and wiping off the excess effectively. It uses fast-drying solvents and binders which releasing a pungent smell thus should be used in well-ventilated areas.

Water-Soluble Dye Stain

These types of stains come in powder form and were initially used for textiles and later become adapted for wood. They are popular among small-shop woodworkers and beginners due to ease of use and availability in various colours. The powder is dissolved in water to make a liquid dye. These stains help to preserve the wood grain regardless of their tone darkness and do not become opaque with the application of many coats or pigments.

Types of wood finishes

Wood finishing is the final step in creating a more enriched and deeper wood appearance. It improves its nature and gives it a protective layer with additional coating on new or old wood or furniture with the finish. Finishing can either be surface finishing which is applied on the surface of the wood or penetrating finishing which is applied inside the wood material.

  1. Dye

This finish is available in either oil-based or water-based type. It changes the colour or matches the existing colour of the surface.

  1. Oil finishes

The oil finishes are either drying or non-drying oils. They help in nourishes the wood grain and replacing the natural oils of the wood which dries over time.

  1. Varnish

Varnish finishes are made of solvents, oils, and resins. These finishes dry slowly and tend to protect better when applied on top of dyes.

  1. Wax finishes

They are available in solid stick, liquid and paste form. They vary from hard to soft waxes ad are made using vegetable, mineral and animal sources and formulated in various colours. The waxes sit atop of the wood as they have no way of penetrating. They, however, are easy to apply and dries faster as well.

  1. Water-Based Finishes

They have less odor and bring about a clean and clear finish. Other than drying up quickly and giving a natural appearance, they are flexible making it easy to adhere to any surface.

The dos and don’ts when it comes to stains and finishes

There are wood stains and finishes that emit toxic chemicals and are a health hazard thus: 

  • Avoid products that are made using chemical-based solvents and petroleum as they release volatile organic chemicals
  • Avoid using stains and finishes that bring pollution to the indoor air by choosing products that are durable to eliminate the use of harmful ingredients
  • For indoor applications, do not use varnish, acrylic or urethane as they require harsh solvents to cleanup


Wood stains and finishes bring out the beauty of the final furniture product and make it more appealing and durable. However, proper preparation is important to ensure a good finish. Stain your work in a clean, dust free environment and avoid outdoor areas on hot and/or windy days. It is always advisable to check the product’s ingredients and warnings as well as reading the manufacturer’s instructions and their take on ventilation and protective gear during the application.





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