How to Stain Wood
Wood is mostly stained for appearance. Staining can hide or blend in unsightly blemishes on wood, or it can make a pale common wood appear more like an exotic or expensive wood. Sometimes vivid colors might be used for a more contemporary look.
Wood stains that are typically sold in home improvement stores usually come in pint or quart-sized cans. If you wanted to have a large number of stain colors, it would take a rather large amount of money to purchase a lot—and you would not need a large amount of all colors. Instead, I discuss how to use other craft materials to stain wood so that any color can be used without a huge investment in dozens of cans of commercial stains.
Dye vs. Pigment Stain
The main difference between a dye and pigment is that a dye actually dissolves in the vehicle it’s mixed with. This makes dye stains by far the deepest stains for wood because the dye particles are so tiny in solution. Also, dyes tend be transparent and not that lightfast.
When concerns of lightfastness are an issue, that is where pigments might be preferable. A pigment is both an insoluble and unreactive color medium that instead must be thoroughly dispersed throughout the main coating vehicle. Many pigments are rather opaque but many can be applied in a translucent or even transparent fashion under the right conditions. An organic transparent pigment has many of the benefits and appearance of dye without the lightfastness issues to deal with. Of course, even pigments have varying lightfastness properties, so be sure to consult with the distributor or manufacturer about the suitability of any pigment for staining wood.
1. Stain With Latex Paint
One efficient and cost-effective way to stain wood is with latex paint. You simply take your desired color, mix in an equal amount of water, apply liberally, and wipe off. This is a great way to use unwanted paint. Also, colors can be blended for that “special“ color or artist paints can be added to change the color or hue. However, virtually all latex paint has a mineral base of titanium dioxide, which means penetration would be somewhat limited.
2. Stain With Artist-Grade Paints
If you are already using artist paints for painting, then you are already familiar with the purity and strength of color in these paints. That is because artist paints are literally pigment and binder with few, if any, fillers. Whether using oil or acrylic paints, the same rule applies: Add equal portions of thinner to the paint to get a stain. Water thins acrylic, and mineral spirit, lavender oil, or turpentine can thin oil paints. Craft and student-grade art paints can be used, but be mindful that fillers are used to make them economical. Your results may not be what you expect.
3. Stain by Adding Pigment to Linseed Oil
Linseed oil is a traditional finish in woodworking and has been used for a very long time. I thin with an equal portion of mineral spirits or paint thinner so that the base for a penetrating wood stain can be created. With an organic pigment like the synthetic carmine (C.I. Pigment Red 57:1), the stain can be bright and intense. That is because the organic pigment particles are much smaller than inorganic mineral pigments and can penetrate deeper into the wood.
4. Stain Wood With RIT Dye
RIT dye is a general-purpose dye that is available in liquid or powder form. It is made to stain natural fabrics. Wood is largely made of cellulose which is the same material as cotton. It would be expected that RIT could dye would as well. That is indeed the case. For brush application, you just need to add 1/2 cup of liquid dye or one box of dye powder to two cups of very hot water. Test on a piece of scrap to see if the stain is too light. If so, add more dye to the water. Brush on light coats until the desired color is reached. Colors can be easily blended.
5. Stain With Dyes Specifically Made for Woodwork
There are dye products that are specifically made for woodwork projects. These are usually only available online or in specialty woodworking supply shops. Nonetheless, these dyes should not be too difficult to find. Oftentimes, these dyes are in powdered form or in liquid concentrates. They are simply mixed with lacquer thinner, denatured alcohol or a mix of the two and applied to the wood. For larger surfaces, spraying might be a viable option.
Jason (author) from Indianapolis, IN. USA on September 11, 2019:
No problem! I need to get back into writing the hubs. I just recently discovered that I can write entirely from my phone! Not only that, I have the option of taking the photos with my phone and loading them directly into the capsule. No more going back and forth with phone and laptop uploading photos with google drive. I can write and edit on the go.
RTalloni on September 11, 2019:
A neat look at options for wood staining. Thanks for sharing what you've learned to help others think outside the box.