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Staining Interior Wood

Basic tips and advice on choosing and using wood stains.

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Stain Adds Beautiful Color

While wood in its natural state can provide breathtaking beauty, it doesn't always match the other colors or wood tones in our home. Adding stain to bare or stripped wood can both change the color and highlight the grain pattern of any interior wood.

Since wood is a product of nature, it can vary from tree to tree, even in the same wood species. Avoid surprises: first test any stain you are considering on an inconspicuous spot to ensure that the color of the stain—in conjunction with the natural color of the wood - produces the color you desire.

 

Choosing a Wood Stain

Minwax® stains are available in two formats: water or oil-based. Use the guidelines below to help decide whether to use an oil-based or water-based stain on your next project:

Oil-Based Stains

  • Give you a longer working time, enabling you to stain floors, cabinets, paneling and doors without the worry of dried lap marks.
  • Do not raise the grain, eliminating the need for additional sanding.

Water-Based Stains

  • Are lower in odor than oil-based stains.
  • Dry faster, enabling you to stain and finish in one day.
  • Require only soap and water for clean-up.
  • Come in a wider range of vibrant stain colors.

Minwax® Stains

Wood Finish™

Oil-based penetrating stain, available in 26 wood-tone colors.

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Gel Stain

Unique, non-drip oil-based formula that is ideal for vertical surfaces; can be used on both wood and non-wood surfaces.

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Water Based Wood Stain

Fast-drying, available in 50 beautiful custom colors, soap and water clean-up.

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Minwax® Stains Comparison Chart

Use the chart below as a guide to selecting your stain. Click on any product for more details.
Product Ideal For Use On Application Tools Recommended Preparation Number Of Coats Time To Recoat Dry Time Recommended Clear Protective Finish Colors
Wood Finish Wood Finish™ Wood furniture, woodwork, cabinets, doors, trim, molding and hardwood floors Natural bristle brush, foam applicator, cloth Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (oil-based) 2 coats. Additional coats may be applied for richer color. 4-6 hrs 8 hours Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane, Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane. For a water-based finish use Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish. 26 wood tones - click link below to see colors.
Gel Stain Gel Stain Woodwork, doors, cabinets, furniture, molding, trim, accessories and non-wood surfaces such as metal, veneer and fiberglass - not recommended for floors Natural bristle brush, foam applicator, cloth Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (oil-based) 1-2 coats depending on the surface. 8-10 hrs 24 hours Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane and Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane. 10 wood tones - click link below to see colors.
Water Based Wood Stain Water Based Wood Stain Wood furniture, woodwork, cabinets, doors, molding, trim- not recommended for floors Cloth, synthetic bristle brush, foam applicator Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner 1 coat. For richer and darker color, additional coats may be applied. after 2 hrs 3 hours Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish or Minwax® Water Based Oil- Modified Polyurethane. 50 custom colors - click link below to see colors.
Polyshades Polyshades® Wood furniture, doors, woodwork, cabinets, accessories - not recommended for floors Natural bristle brush Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (oil-based) 2 coats. To deepen the color, apply a third coat. after 6 hrs 6 hours Optional, for additional luster or sheen a clear protective finish can be applied. Recommended finishes include Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane or Minwax® Wipe-On Poly. 14 wood tones - click link below to see colors.
Water Based WoodSheen Water Based WoodSheen® Wood furniture, doors, woodwork, cabinets, accessories Cloth Optional, to help ensure uniform acceptance of the stain and finish, use Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner 1 coat. For a deeper color and sheen, wait one hour and apply a second coat. after 1 hr After 1 hour, the surface is dry to the touch. Wait overnight before subjecting the wood to normal use. Optional, for additional luster or sheen a clear protective finish can be applied. Recommended finishes include Minwax® Express Clear™, Minwax® Wipe-On Poly or Minwax® Water Based Wipe-On Poly. 6 wood tones - click link below to see colors.
Express Color Express Color™ Wood furniture, woodwork, cabinets, accessories Soft cloth Optional, to help ensure uniform acceptance of the stain and finish, use Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner 1 coat. For a deeper color and sheen, wait one hour and apply a second coat. after 1 hr After 1 hour, the surface is dry to the touch. Wait overnight before subjecting the wood to normal use. Optional, for additional luster or sheen a clear protective finish can be applied. Recommended finishes include Minwax® Express Clear™, Minwax® Wipe-On Poly or Minwax® Water Based Wipe-On Poly. 4 wood tones, 4 contemporary decorative colors - click link below to see colors.
Wood Finishing Cloths Wood Finishing Cloths Wood furniture, woodwork, cabinets, accessories n/a Optional, to help ensure uniform acceptance of the stain and finish, use Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner 1 coat. For a deeper color and sheen, wait one hour and apply a second coat. after 1 hr After 1 hour, the surface is dry to the touch. Wait overnight before subjecting the wood to normal use. Optional, for additional luster or sheen a clear protective finish can be applied. Recommended finishes include Minwax® Express Clear™, Minwax® Wipe-On Poly or Minwax® Water Based Wipe-On Poly. 5 wood tones - click link below to see colors.

Application Tips

All stains require open pores for adequate absorption into the wood.

Applying stain over a finished surface will not change the color of the wood. Your cloth will simply wipe off the stain blocked from the pores by the existing finish.

Sand bare wood lightly

To open the pores in preparation for staining. Begin with a medium-grit sandpaper (#120). Work your way to a final sanding with a fine-grit sandpaper (#220). Always sand in the direction of the grain to avoid leaving unsightly scratches.

Stain can be applied with a bristle brush, a foam brush, or a cloth.

On woods with large, open pores, such as oak, mahogany and ash, increase your pressure to work the stain into the pores. Rubbing or brushing against the direction of the grain will help fill deep pores with stain. Apply a liberal amount of stain, giving the wood an ample amount to absorb.

Pay attention to how long you leave the stain on the wood before wiping off any unabsorbed liquid.

The longer the stain is left on, the deeper and richer the color will be. For consistent color, use careful timing. Never allow any stain to dry on the wood surface—it will prevent the clear finish from adhering and cause other issues.

Remove the last of any unabsorbed stain with a dry cloth, wiping in the direction of the wood grain.

Swirl marks left by a stain-saturated cloth will become even more obvious under a coat of clear finish.

When staining vertical surfaces, such as unfinished paneling or doors, try Minwax® Gel Stain.

Its thicker consistency enables it to cling to vertical surfaces without immediately running, giving you more time to apply an even coat of stain.

Remember: a stain provides color, but not protection.

Once the stain has dried, apply a clear finish to protect both the stain and the wood—and to make the final results look even more beautiful.

Wood Staining Do’s and Don’ts

Do...

Always prepare the wood with a light sanding.

Apply Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to ensure an even stain color (see Wood Preparation for other tips).

Stir the can thoroughly.

Stir the can thoroughly to evenly redistribute any color pigments that may have settled to the bottom.

Test any stain you are considering.

Test any stain you are considering on an inconspicuous spot to ensure that the color of the stain—in conjunction with the natural color of the wood—produces the color you desire.

Apply a second coat.

If you want a darker, richer tone, apply a second coat according to label directions.

Don’t...

Leave hinges, handles, knobs or pulls on a piece.

Remove hinges, handles, knobs or pulls before you start staining or finishing. Wood finishing products may change the color of any metal hardware.

Attempt to obtain a darker color by allowing any unabsorbed stain to dry on top of the wood.

This will later peel off. Stains are formulated to dry in the wood, not on the wood.

Apply a clear protective finish before the stain has dried completely.

The solvent in the finish will activate the damp stain, allowing your brush or cloth to pull the stain out of the pores of the wood.

How-To

Guide to Clear Finishes

Find out how to select and use clear protective finishes

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