3 Common Types of Wood Stain and When to Use Them

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This is the 3 Common Types of Wood Stain and When to Use Them. I’ll show you everything you need to know, including why they are different, what to use them for, plus tons of tips and tricks along the way. Enjoy.

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Types of Wood Stain

3-Common-Types-of-Wood-Stain-and-When-to-Use-ThemFor those of you that are new to the woodworking and wood finishing world, it might be a surprise to find out that not all wood stains are the same. While in the end they do the same thing, they have a noticeably different approach.

In addition, each one of the stains has a specialty that the others do not, which makes them stand out for particular projects or uses. Once you know the specialty, you can better choose the right wood stain for your project.

Thankfully, there aren’t 75 different varieties to learn about. There are basically three, and once you understand the properties of each, you’ll know exactly which one you need. I’ll show you everything you need to know of course, so let’s get started.

See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing

Pigment Wood Stain

The most common type of wood stain that you can buy is a pigment stain. This is the stuff that you see in the hardware stores, home-improvement stores, and even in the hardware aisle of the grocery store.

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Pigment stain gets its name from how it’s produced. The color in the stain mixture is actually a powder, which is mixed with a liquid, so it can flow onto the surface. Think of it like baby powder, except it has a strong color.

If you were to mix colored powder with a thinner and a binder, you can then spread this colored liquid on a surface and it will create an even layer of color. The thinner is the liquid that is used to keep the mixture fluid. The binder is what holds the color to the wood.

Think of the binder like glue. The powder won’t stay on the surface once it dries without a little bit of help. The binder helps the powder stick, and the thinner is just meant to evaporate after a while, but it keeps the mixture a liquid so that way you can brush it on before it dries.

See Also: How to Prepare Wood for Staining

Pros and Cons of Pigment Stain

While pigment stain is the most common, there are some pros and cons to understand before choosing this product. Pay attention to this part, because this is where you’ll decide if pigment stain is right for your particular project.

Some of the best and widest variety of stains are pigment stains. You can choose a nearly unlimited number of colors, and you can even go make your own at most paint mixing departments in hardware stores.

All they do is take a clear stain and add different pigments in order to create the color that you’re looking for. If you want unmatched color and choice, pigment stain is where you should be. It’s also really easy to apply with a brush or a rag.

One of the negatives of pigment stain is the pigment itself. You need to make sure that your surface is free of scratches and defects before you apply a pigment stain. If you don’t, the little particles will gather in those defects and make them more visible.

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As long as your surface preparation is good, pigment stain can be your best friend. It’s common, you can find it anywhere, and you have a large choice of colors. For the overwhelming majority of indoor woodworking projects, pigment stain is a perfect choice.

See Also: How to Speed Up Wood Stain Dry Time

Dye Stain for Wood

Another variety of wood stain is called dye stain. This is where a chemical dye is mixed with a thinner to produce a liquid that can be spread upon a surface. It’s essentially like the first stain, except without the large pigment particles.

Dye stain is very interesting. First of all, if you get it on your hands plan on them looking the same way for about a week. The stuff doesn’t wash off like a pigment stain, it actually dyes your skin whatever color you’re working with.

Next, dye stains penetrate the surface and chemically alter the color. The coloring is very intense, and it reveals a lot of the different grain and patterns that are naturally present in the wood surface itself.

If you want a look at that accents the natural grain patterns, dye stain is the perfect choice. It’s not going to be as even of a look as other products, because the dye brings out those differences really well. However, it’s a very cool look.

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Depending on your project, if you want that natural look of the grain pattern to be more prevalent, a dye stain can help you accomplish that. If you’re looking for a more even coat of color, then this is not the product to use.

Another thing that’s really cool about dye stain is that you can apply a layer of color, allow it to dry, and then sand it back. Depending on how much you sand off, you’ll remove dye from the harder parts of the wood and leave it in the softer parts.

This creates a contrasting look on the piece itself. From there, you can come back with a lighter color and create an effect called a contrast staining. It’s a tremendous look, and pretty easy to accomplish with dye stain.

See Also: Using My New Fiebings Dye Stains

Gel Stain for Wood

Finally, the third type of wood stain is called gel stain. This stain was produced as a result of customers looking for a more even color on any wood surface. Most stains are not that even, so gel stain came along and fixed that.

There is a specific ingredient in gel stain that creates a liquid that is more dense than any other type of stain you may have used before. This density prevents the stain from penetrating as deeply or as quickly as traditional stains.

The advantage to you as the woodworker is that you can spread a layer of gel stain on your piece of wood, and wipe off the excess right away. At that point, the stain will not have penetrated unevenly, so your coloring will look more consistent.

One of the problems with finishing Pine in particular is that the summer and winter growth very in density quite a bit. This means one of them sucks up stain like a sponge, and the other one almost repels it.

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Gel stain will minimize these differences, and the final coat of color will look a lot more consistent from end to end. In projects where you want more of an even coloring, choose a gel stain.

See Also: Rustic Wood Staining Technique

Using a Pre-Stain Conditioner

Another thing to think about is pre-stain conditioner. This is essentially a clear stain that seals the surface before you apply stain with any color. What this does is make the layer of color show more evenly than it would without the pre-stain conditioner.

If you are using a pigment stain, and you want a more even look, pick up a can of pre-stain conditioner and simply apply that before you use your pigment stain. You do have to make sure your surface is free of defects of course, but it will help with the look.

This is not a necessary step, but it’s definitely something worth mentioning in a discussion about types of wood stain. If you’ve been relying on pigment stains for a long time, and wish for a more even look, you may just need a can of pre-stain conditioner and you’re set.

See Also: Staining Wood with Steel Wool and Vinegar

Staining Tips and Tricks

In the world of staining wood, there are a lot of things that you can learn. The basics are pretty straightforward, so thankfully you can get a good head start right out of the box. However, over time you can spend the rest of your life learning so many different amazing techniques.

These tips and tricks will help you as a beginner to understand the basics and get the best from these different types of wood stain. From there, you can take that basis of information and start exploring the more advanced stuff.

Wood Stain Tips

  • When you use a dye stain, it highlights the differences in the grain densities.
  • When you use a gel stain, it mutes the grain and produces an even look.
  • Most stain that you see in a hardware store will be pigment stain.
  • Dye stains are more common in a fine woodworking store.
  • You can buy dye stains premixed, or buy the ingredients to mix your own colors.
  • The widest variety of color choice for pre-mixed stain exists with pigment stain.
  • Gel stains are great for beginners because they color the wood more slowly.
  • Whatever stain you use, experiment and some scraps to see what the results will look like.
  • Remember, to see the true color of any stain you need to apply a clear coat on top.

Your Action Assignment

Now that you know all about the three types of wood stain that are the most common in woodworking, it’s time to get out into your shop and take action. If you are brand new at would finishing, it’s going to be an awesome day for you.

First, go online and order at least one example of each type. For ease-of-use, get a dye stain that’s already mixed in a color that you like. Pick up one pigment stain, one dye stain, and one gel stain. Buy a small can of each, for testing purposes.

Once you get them, break out some scraps and start experimenting. You will be immediately aware of the differences as you use the products, and this will help you learn. Reading the information here and then seeing it firsthand is what makes the knowledge more solid.

If there is a particular stain that you seem to like more than others, go back and choose a couple more colors and experiment with those as well. The more you play with the product, the more fun and interesting it will be.

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If you have any questions on the three most common types of wood stain, please Post a Question in the Q&A Forum and I’ll be glad to help. Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
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