We may earn a commission if you make a purchase through one of our links. The LA Times editorial staff was not involved in the creation of this content. Learn more

The Best Wood Stain For Great Color

  1. Cabot Wood Stain
  2. Varathane Wood Stain
  3. General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain
  4. Minwax Water-Based Wood Stain
  5. J.E. Moser's Finishes, Wood Stains & Dyes, Water Soluble Aniline Dye
  6. Buyer's Guide

The slowest part of any woodworking project is finishing it. You might be able to put something together quickly, but once it's all put together you've got to slow down in order to make it come out good. Sanding, painting, staining and varnishing all take time and care if you want your project to come out good.
There are two basic ways of finishing any woodworking project meaning how you paint or varnish it. Typically, when varnish is used the piece is stained before varnishing. This allows you to adjust the final color as well as bringing out the natural beauty of the wood's grain.
Across the myriad of different types of wood we find grains of all types and colors. Some are bold and obvious, while others are so subtle as to seem almost hidden, yet all woodworkers agree the grain of the wood is what makes it beautiful. Enhancing that grain and making it stand out can add a lot to any woodworking project.
While varnish will make wood grains stand out to some extent, they can't do so to the extent that wood stain can. The stain will darken the dark parts of the grain more than the light parts, increasing the contrast between the two adding a lot to the woods character. Additionally, stains are used to change the color of the wood, making less expensive woods take on the appearance of pricier ones. Pine can be made to imitate oak, cherry or walnut, just by applying a little bit of stain.
A test piece should always be done before staining a project as the porosity and dryness of the wood will have a huge impact on how much stain it absorbs. Since absorbing more stain makes the piece darker, you'll want to know how much stain to apply in order to get the results you are looking for. Remember, the varnish will darken it a little more, over and above what the stain does.
Wood stains are available as both oil-based and water-based finishes. Traditionally, they have always been oil-based. However, with the EPA pressuring paint companies to lower the VOCs of their products, more and more companies are experimenting with water-based stains.
It's hard to tell a stain's quality by looking at the label or even by using it once. Typically, it takes quite a bit of experience working with a particular brand of stain to know exactly how to work with it and how good it is. When shopping, it's a good idea to pay a lot of attention to the reputation of the products you are looking at. Higher quality products will usually provide a richer, more even finish than cheaper ones will.

For more information on what to look at in selecting the best wood stain in 2022, We have listed below the wood stain available for you to help you decide what product is best to buy.

Best Wood Stain Worth Considering in 2022

Cabot Wood Stain - Best Wood Stain Overall

A favorite of professional fine furniture makers, Cabot stain is the last word in quality. Cabot has been making wood stains since 1877. The company is now owned by Valspar, and considered part of their lineup, although they still maintain their own website. This is widely considered to be the highest quality wood stain on the market. With a tung oil base for greater penetration, Cabot stains come in a hefty 76 different colors, allowing you to match the stain to just about any application. All the colors are "colorfast" so they will not fade with time.

Varathane Wood Stain - Runner Up

The name Varathane is usually associated with wood varnishes, but they also make an excellent line of wood stains. Currently owned by Rust-Oleum, the company has been making quality products since 1958. This is a soy oil-based product, available in 25 different contemporary and classic colors. A translucent stain, it has been formulated specifically to bring out the natural beauty of the wood's grain.

General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain - Honorable Mention

This is our first water-based stain so you don't have to worry about harming the environment.. It’s called a "dye stain" by the manufacturer, as it’s intended to operate more like a dye than a stain. While the two may seem the same to you and I, manufacturers of wood dyes claim that their products penetrate deeper into the wood, whereas regular stains stay on the surface. This stain is available in 13 colors, including traditional wood tones, as well as a couple of modern colors.

Minwax Water-Based Wood Stain - Consider

If you go to your local hardware store or home-improvement center, Mixwax stains are the ones you’re most likely to find. These popular stains have been used on more do-it-yourself projects than any others. They are easy to work with and available as either oil-based or water-based stains and Minwax has an extensive line, offering 50 contemporary wood tones and contemporary decorative colors. The water-based stains are generally mixed at the paint counter, allowing you the opportunity for a little customization.

J.E. Moser's Finishes, Wood Stains & Dyes, Water Soluble Aniline Dye - Best Wood Stain

Made in England, this product is a powdered wood dye, made so that you can add it to your own liquid base. This is a little different product than the others I've listed because while these dyes can be added directly to a clear polyurethane varnish, they are typically added to alcohol, mineral spirits or water. The dye penetrates the wood extremely well, providing a color finish that won't be damaged by scratches and dents. At the same time, it’s a translucent colorant, bringing forth the wood's natural grain and beauty. Different colors of the dye can be mixed together for special effects and colors.

Buyer's Guide

Wood stain is an important part of finishing a woodworking project. It allows you to protect the surface of the furniture, and give it a different look than the natural grain of wood. You can make cheap wood look expensive by coloring it with a wood stain. It is usually applied before varnish, and gives the wood an appealing look. Wood grains are of different colors and you can use different colored wood stains according to your needs. With so many companies providing wood stains in different finishes, it can become difficult to choose the best one. Our team has prepared a complete guide to make the job easier for you, so you can buy the best wood stains in 2021.

Why Should You Use A Wood Stain?

A wood stain will preserve the natural grain of wood and give it a more appealing look. You can use it to color on the natural surface of wood. The consistency of wood stain is thinner than paint, and it is important to apply an even coat to get a smooth finish. The color of the wood stain will depend on how much you want the original color of the wood grain to be visible. If you are happy with the original color, you can go for a light stain as it will accentuate the color of the wood grain. If you want a different color than the original one, like when you want your pine wood to look like oak, you can use a darker stain. Therefore, a wood stain is essential to give a finishing touch to your wooden furniture.

What Are Some Things To Consider Before Buying A Wood Stain?

A wood stain can completely alter the look of your wooden furniture, so care should be taken when choosing one. There are a few things you need to keep in mind before making your final purchase.


You need to decide whether you want to accentuate the original color of the wood, or want a different color. Light coverage wood stains are available if you want to retain the original color and just give it a smooth finish. If you want a different colored wood, you can choose a wood stain that gives high coverage.


If you are using a high coverage wood stain, you need to consider what color you want the wood to be. If you are staining your indoor wooden furniture, choose one that will complement that overall look of the room. If you are staining an outdoor fence, for example, choose a color that complements your garden.

Type of Wood

Remember, wood stain is not paint, so it will not completely cover up the texture. The material of the wood will remain the same after staining as well. High coverage stains can cover up the texture of wood to some extent, but light coverage stains will retain the rough texture of wood.

What Are The Different Types Of Wood Stain?

There are a few kinds of wood stains that are available in the market. You can choose one that fits your needs.

Oil Based Wood Stain

Oil based stains are very popular because of their durability and penetration deep into the wood. They provide a smooth finish to the wood. However, oil based stains can sometimes be dangerous for the user’s health. This is why the EPA has asked companies to switch to other safer alternatives. Precautions must be taken to not inhale the stain or be in contact with it for prolonged periods.

Water Based Wood Stain

Water based stains are environment friendly and they dry quickly. They do not cause health hazards to users, but they do not provide as much durability and penetration as an oil based stain. They are a good option if you want to retain the original color of the wood grain because they are light coverage.

Gel Wood Stain

A gel stain provides high coverage, and is a good option if you want to change the color of the wood. Due to its thick consistency, it does not drip and you can easily control its usage. It does not provide deep penetration like an oil based stain, but it is a good option because it is safer and provides high coverage as well.

Water Soluble Dye Wood Stain

This stain comes in powder form and you have to mix it in water. They provide light coverage and should be preferred if you want to retain the original color of the wood. These dyes come in a greater variety of colors than other alternatives. However, if you are planning to use this stain for an outdoor fence, keep in mind that it can fade under the UV rays of the sun.

How To Pick A Quality Wood Stain?

Once you know what kind of coverage you need, what color you want, and what type of wood stain you will use, look for a product that matches your needs. You will probably find a lot of options. Do your research and look at the different brands offering wood stains. Choose the brand that has good customer reviews and contact them beforehand, if possible, to clear any queries. Expensive does not always mean good quality, so do not just look at the price. You may find cheaper alternatives with the same features, so it is important to do your research before purchasing one. Remember that it takes experience to get the hang of how to use a wood stain, so do not worry if you cannot get it right in the first few tries.


How often does a wood stain need to be replaced?

It depends on factors like the coverage and the climate in your area. Generally, wood stains can last for about 2 to 5 years. If you take proper care, you can increase the life of your stain to a large extent.

How do I get rid of dust sticking to the wet wood stain?

Applying thinner coats can help prevent dust because they dry quickly and give little time to dust to stick to the wet stain. Clean the wood after each coat, so that any dust that has settled on it is removed.

Do I need to protect the wood after staining it?

Wood stain alone is not enough to protect the surface. You need to use a sealer once the stain coats have dried completely. This will give a smooth, finished look to your wood and protect it.

bestcovery team.jpg
Our research team searches out the best of everything so that you can confidently pick the perfect products and services for your needs.
Related Content
Go to top