Choosing the Right Stain for a Finished Project

Choosing the Right Stain for a Finished Project

The right stain can make or break a project. Choosing the wrong stain for a finished woodworking project can totally ruin the look and feel of your work. The biggest part of choosing the right stain for your completed woodworking jobs is knowing what options are out there and which are suited to what applications.

Oil Stains for Woodworkers

Oil stains are the most ubiquitous stains available to woodworkers. Found everywhere from big box home stores to professional woodworking shops, oil stains feature a linseed oil base that takes a while to dry. Because of this, it’s considered one of the easiest to use: the long dry time makes it easy to tinker with the final look.

Oil stains usually contain a pigment and dye, though some specialty stains contain just one or the other.

Varnish Stains

Varnish stains are very similar to oil-based stains except they dry hardened: oil-based stains dry soft. They dry quicker than oil stains and require more precision during the application as there’s less time to tailor the final look. Varnish stains require no finishing coat to protect the final project.

Water Based Stains

Water based stains are made for use under water based finishes. They use water as a binder, and as such are absorbed readily into the wood. Adding a solvent to the stain can increase drying time, allowing you to customize the look of the final project before the stain dries.

Gel Stains

Gel stains for woodworkers are oil or varnish based and are about as thick as mayonnaise. They’re messy to apply and can be tricky to master, but they overcome blotching on softwoods like pine. So even though they’re a subset of oil or varnish stains, they’re considered a product category of their own as they serve a specialized purpose.

Lacquer Stains

Lacquer stains are fast drying and come with a strong odor due to the chemical solvents and binders within the product. They’re favored by professional finishers for their quickness, but require absolute precision to apply. They can be mixed with stain to create different colors and tones.

NGR Stains

Non-Grain Raising Stains – or NGR stains – are, again, favored among professional finishers. They’re another ultra-quick drying stain due to their use of methanol or other alcohols as a base. They give finished projects a deep, rich tone and even color.

Customize Your Stain

There are a number of additives to customize your stains. Oil, water, natural or alcohol pigments can be mixed with nearly any type of stain to achieve a different color, hue or tone. Dyes are synthetic colorant that work well with most stains. Check with the manufacturer to see if your chosen dye or pigment is compatible with your stain.

You can also customize your finished stain’s appearance by varying the time you leave the product on the finished object. Longer exposure to oil stains, for example, result in a darker coloring. Finishing products, such as clear coat, can also change the look of your finished project.

Choosing a Stain for Your Project

Choosing the right stain is all about knowing your options — and how to customize them. Choose a piece of scrap wood to test your stain and finisher and any additives, special techniques and customizations before committing to a final look for your woodworking project.

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