Does Oak Stain Well? (Mysteries Resolved)

Oak is often the hardwood of choice for millennials when deciding on the furniture. Just kidding, not just millennials. We know that oak has been trending for decades. So a good term would be retro. 

Now the real question is,  does oak stain well?

Yes, oak does stain well. Oak contains lots of open pores and is large as well. As a result, the stains can be easily absorbed by the wood. Also, because of the grainy surface, the stain doesn’t get patchy after it dries. That helps in covering the oak surface with a smooth finish altogether.

So if you’re curious about the factors that make oak stain so well, keep reading! 

Can you Stain Oak and Does it Stain Well? 


Oak is one of the most sought-after hardwoods out there. It has a great appearance and looks pretty good. Now, be it for your home’s exterior columns or your furniture, or your flooring. 

Oak is known for its durability and is a very strong hardwood. And even though there are over 500 species of oak out there, they’re all sturdy and dense. 

But despite the gorgeous colors of oak, you might want to give it a new look. Maybe pull it away from that retro look and give it a modern appeal.

So you might be wondering if you can stain oak. And whether it can take up the stain well. 

To answer your question, yes, you can certainly stain oak. You can stain most types of wood, however, not all of them stain well. But unlike them, oak does stain well. 

Woods that have small and tight pores are pretty difficult to stain. And those are the ones that end up getting blotchy after the stain. 

That’s because they don’t take up the stain well. Some woods that don’t stain well include maple, birch, cherry, and pine.  

But when it comes to oak, it contains lots of open pores. And they run pretty deep and are large as well. As a result, the stains can be easily absorbed by the wood. Plus, it also has a nice grainy pattern which helps in the process.

Now, because of the grainy surface throughout, the stain doesn’t get patchy after it dries. And that helps in covering the oak surface with a smooth finish altogether. Which makes oak one of the easiest types of wood for staining.

Types of Oak That You Can Stain

There are primarily two types of oak, white oak, and red oak. And they have their subtypes. For instance, there are types of oak that fall under the white oak species. And some types fall under the red oak species.

Now, the red oak is generally straight-grained, similar to the white oak. But it tends to have a slightly coarser texture compared to white oak. 

However, the important thing here is that all of them are stainable. 

How to Choose the Right Stain for your Oak?: 4 Main Criterias

Wood stains are usually a thin type of paint. They generally consist of binders, pigments, and solvents. And the solvent could either be water-based, oil-based, or lacquer-based.

Now, since each wood stains differently, it’s important to choose the right stain for your wood. So, before picking a stain for your wood, there are some criteria that you should first consider. 

1. Grain of Wood

This is an important criteria to keep in mind because grains vary between different species. Also because you’d want the natural grain of your wood to get enhanced through the staining. And not the other way around.

For instance, let’s say have a light shade of wood with a darker grain. Now, it will make the dark grains pop out. 

Unless you’re looking for something more subtle. In that case, you would have to choose a shade closer to the dark grains’. That way you could obtain a more cohesive blended-together look. 

2. The Capacity of Absorbance of Wood

When you stain wood, you kind of highlight how the cells in a tree are structured. That’s because the wood will have both small and large cells. And when you stain, the small cells collect less pigment. 

And those portions that contain the small seem light. On the other hand, the large cells collect comparatively more pigment. As a result, the portions with large cells appear darker.

Since oak has larger cells, they have a higher capacity for absorbing stains. Compared to pine, for instance, which has a lower capacity due to smaller cells. 

3. The Undertone of Wood  

There are generally three types of undertones, cool, warm, and neutral. Cool undertones include green, blue, and purple. And warm undertones include yellow, orange, red, and pink. 

Wood with cool tones is ash, maple, and poplar. On the other hand, warm-toned wood includes red oak, mahogany, and pine. Finally, white oak and walnut wood can be considered neutral-toned. 

It’s important to keep the undertone in mind before picking a stain. For instance, the red oak comes with a red undertone. Therefore, you’d have to pick a stain that compliments that shade. 

So, do not stain your red oak with a light gray stain. Because you might not get the best results. That stain would be more suitable for the white oak. 

But if you must stain your red oak gray, a dark gray stain might be a better idea.

4. Sampling the Stain 

Most makeup stores have tester samples for you to try on your skin. It allows you to see how a certain product looks and test for any side effects. 

Similarly, you can follow the same guideline before selecting the perfect stain for your oak.

Especially if you’d like to avoid weird blotches on your wood. While sampling, keep in mind that you sample on a large piece of wood. Because that would give you a better idea of the overall look you want to achieve. 

In addition to that, make sure you apply a second coat of stain once the first one has dried. Through the second coat, you can obtain the perfect glossiness. But you can’t obtain that from just the first coat. 

Now, let’s have a look at some of the best stains out there for staining oak.

Best Stains for Oakwood

I’m sure you’d like the perfect stain for your oak. And oak tends to work well with a number of stains. So, it might get difficult to pick the right one. 

But here are some of the best stains to simplify things for you. 

Light Stain

The Minwax Weathered Oak stain does wonders if you want a light stain for your oak. It can provide the warm tones you seek with a subtle gray undertone.

It can help make the oak grains pop out, whilst remaining true to the oak’s natural tone. 

Gray Stain

However, do not seek a cooler undertone for your oak. In this case, you might want to look into Minwax Classic Gray stain. 

While it’s actually kind of transparent, it still works pretty well. And it provides more of a medium tone between light and dark tones. 

But it’s important to sample it first on your wood and wipe off any excess. 

Dark Stain

Now, if you want to stain your oak a dark shade, we’d have to recommend the Minwax Dark Walnut stain. It can give your wood a chocolate-brown, yet rich color.

Plus, it tends to settle well along the grains, giving them a darker outlook. And this could actually be considered one of the best stains for staining red oak. And the pink hues from it should be fairly visible, giving it a unique look. 

An alternative to this would be tung-oil since it can darken the wood

Neutral Stain

The Minwax Pickled Oak stain is a great neutral stain for red oak. It will help give your red oak a softer outlook while retaining its natural appeal.

The same stain actually works for white oak as well. But you’ll get a near-neutral look with it on white oak. And that’s about it for the stains!

Now, if you’re ready to stain your oak, quickly move on to the next segment!

How to Stain Your Oak?: 4 Easy Steps

So before staining your oak, it’s important to know how to do it the right way. That way, you can do it perfectly on the first try.

Step 1: Sanding the Oak

First, use coarse sandpaper to sand your oak surface, regardless of whether it is finished. This is just to smoothen the surface and get rid of any inconsistencies. 

Here is a list of sandpapers viable to be used on wood:

Sanding will help ensure that when you stain the surface, it will stain evenly. Once you’re done sanding, simply wipe the whole area clean with a tack cloth. 

Step 2: Applying the First Coat

Now, once you have the smooth surface, you can apply the first coat of stain. You can either use a lint-free cloth for this or simply use a paintbrush. 

Here are some paintbrushes that go highly recommended for woodwork:

You do not want to leave a stain on without wiping. So, make sure to wipe off any excess because you wouldn’t want your stain to get tacky. 

And now you have to let it sit for at least 24 hours. That way it can dry up nicely before we move on to the next step. 

Step 3: Applying the Second Coat

If you’re happy with how your oak looks with the first coat, you can skip this step. But if you’re not, then go ahead and apply another coat of stain.

While applying the second coat, carefully apply it evenly across the entire surface. And don’t forget to wipe away the excess!

Wait another 24 hours and more if required, to allow your wood to dry completely. 

Step 4: Applying a Protective Sealant

It’s essential to apply a layer of UV protective sealant as a top coat over your stain. That will help protect it from any water damage. And prevent it from retaining any moisture that could lead to rotting. 

Here are some sealants that you could look into.

I hope, you found these helpful.


What is one of the easier wood stains to use?

One of the easier wood stains would actually be oil-based wood stains. The best thing about them is their availability. Plus of course, ease of application. Additionally, they come with a type of oil binder. Therefore, you’ll be able to wipe off any excess before it dries up!

Is it necessary to condition wood before staining it?

While it is necessary to condition wood before staining it, it’s not mandatory. It does come recommended when staining softwood. However, if you condition your wood, the stain won’t directly contact your wood. And it can help ensure a nice and evenly-colored surface after staining!

Does oak fall on the higher-end spectrum of woods?

Yes, oak is considered a high-end wood, like most of the other hardwoods. Even though it’s readily available and one of the easier hardwoods to work with. But its dense and durable structure is what adds up to its value. However, compared to all other hardwoods, oak is actually the least expensive!

Final Words 

That’s all folks! That’s all we had on your question, does oak stain well? Hope we were able to answer any additional queries you had as well!

Here’s a quick tip. If you condition your oak before staining, you can ensure a more uniform finish.

Happy woodworking!

Kevin Smith

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