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How to Color Stain Wood for Crafts

C.S. Alexis is an artist who specializes in painting, jewelry making, pyrographics (wood burning), and mixed media art.

With a color stain, you can hold the natural beauty of wood grain while also adding flair to your finished product.

With a color stain, you can hold the natural beauty of wood grain while also adding flair to your finished product.

Color Stain Your Wood Crafts With Paint

The grain of a piece of wood is often what makes it so attractive; we enjoy the natural color and flow. But I am going to show you how to push the grain of wood beyond its raw, natural state and enhance it by adding colors. This is not actually painting—rather, it's staining the wood.

This technique can be used when crafting many different projects. It's easy to learn and can add another visual dimension. It holds the natural beauty of the wood grain yet gives flair to the finished product.

The color stain technique can be used in very small amounts for craft projects, or it can be used to finish large pieces of wood like furniture and even walls and floors. Let's take a closer look at what's involved in creating an interesting colored grain for all sorts of creative wood projects.

You can practice combining a few different colors.

You can practice combining a few different colors.

What You Need to Get Started

The basic tools and materials for most projects are going to be the same. That does not mean that other supplies are not needed for specific projects—after all, this is just a basic starter guide. Keep in mind that this is meant to be adapted to the project you are working on, and some additional things might be needed for your exact situation.

Basic Tools and Materials

  • Acrylic paint
  • Brushes (sized according to your project)
  • Container for water
  • Paint tray (this is a great chance to use recycled items such as the lid to a plastic container, as seen in the photos)
  • Your wood project
  • Blotting cloth
It's a good idea to practice with your blotting cloth before you begin.

It's a good idea to practice with your blotting cloth before you begin.

How to Practice Color Staining Wood

If you have never used paint on raw wood before, it is very wise to do a bit of practice before you jump in and start on your finished, ready-to-stain project. There are a few things to learn about how the stain will react as it is applied to the wood.

A Note About Raw Wood

The most important thing to note is how the raw wood will absorb the color. The wood will act as a wick and draw the stain into the porous wood surface. This can create a problem if the color bleeds out too much or runs to an area you DO NOT want to be colored. Practice! Get to know the feel of how the wood will react.

What to Do If You Make a Mistake

Another thing I want to mention is that if a mistake occurs and the color does wind up in a place where you would rather not have it, this can be remedied to some extent by a fast reaction on your part.

  • The color can be removed to a certain extent with a blotting cloth.
  • You can also remove color in very small areas with a dry paintbrush. Dabbing the unwanted color while it is still wet will help to clean it off.
  • More color can be removed by adding additional water to the mistaken area and dabbing it again after blotting the majority of the stain. The idea is to rinse and dry, rinse and dry.

It would be a good idea to practice removing some stains as well as applying them. Better to be prepared in advance!

How to Make Acrylic Color Stains

The example here (and in the photos) is for a craft project that will not require large volumes of stain. The suggested methods are for smaller brush-load amounts of stain (the term "brush load" refers to the amount that is held in the wet brush you are using).

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Large projects like a piece of furniture, a wall, or a floor require mixing very large batches. This can be done, but I do suggest much practice before taking that route.

Start With Water

  1. In your paint tray, add enough water to more than cover the area you wish to stain. I started with a couple of brush loads of water.
  2. Off to the side of the water, drop a small dab of acrylic paint.
  3. Next, mix just enough of the paint to color the water. See the photos for a better understanding. Note: Do not add too much.

It is better to add more water and less paint. If the finished color does not come out as dark as you would like, you can always add a second coat to darken the color when the first coat dries.

Remember, if the color is too dark or goes where you do not want it to go, use your blotter as I suggested above. The idea is to stain the wood with color but allow the grain of the wood to show through the stain.

How to Mix Color Stains

All basic color mixing can be done in the paint tray or on the actual piece of wood.

  • Mixing in the Tray: Mixing colors directly in the paint tray is a good way to conserve paint—if you understand color mixing and the basics of a color wheel. For example, yellow and red make orange, as shown in the photo.
  • Mixing on the Wood: The same color can also be achieved by first applying a wash of yellow and then adding a wash of red across the top of the yellow. You can see an example in the photo.

Wet Stains Will Bleed

Look very closely at the photos and take note: All of the colors were added around the same time. This means all of the colors were wet or at least damp. See how the colors bleed into each other when they are wet? This will not happen if the stain is completely dry before adding a second color.

Now it might be that you want the colors to bleed, and that is fine. It is up to your discretion. It might be that you prefer to have control and want to place colors in exact locations on your project. If that is the case, make sure the stain is dry.

The drying time will vary depending on the humidity and the temperature. You can always speed drying time by using a hairdryer to blow-dry the area in question gently.

A Word of Caution

The air from the blow dryer can move the stain if it has not completely absorbed into the wood. Make sure there are no puddles on your work before you start blowing on it with a hairdryer.

Practice Your Technique

You can add wonderful flair with this basic technique. With a bit of practice, you can blend and mix colors on wood and allow the wood grain to show through with great satisfaction for the end result.

Different woods have different grains, though: Some wood is harder to stain than others. This is where practice makes perfect for your next project. Experiment and have fun crafting.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


C.S.Alexis (author) from NW Indiana on September 05, 2012:


yes all the information the better, never took it as a negative, glad you commented! Thanx!!!

Jason from Indianapolis, IN. USA on September 02, 2012:

Your welcome! By no means was I being critical of your article. I will be trying this with craft paint AND artist paint. I just posted that tidbit for all of your readers. The more informed they are the more ingenious experiments they are capapble of.

talfonso from Tampa Bay, FL on August 31, 2012:

I am considering color staining wood! I have tons of acrylic paint lying around, but I might need to get Claudine Hellmuth's studio paints just for that project because it has less fillers, making the stains more translucent. I heard about them on YouTube and the Ranger website, but here's hoping that I can find them at Jo-ann! Otherwise, it's worthwhile to do with regular paints.

C.S.Alexis (author) from NW Indiana on August 31, 2012:

Josh I have used metallic paints for this and you still get the glitter but the color is different. Yes there are better paints and you are right about that but for a weekend artist the craft paints work out okay with less money invested. Thanks for commenting and stopping in to read my write.

Jason from Indianapolis, IN. USA on August 30, 2012:

I like this. Wonder how metallic craft paints will work?Did you know that the artist acrylic paints are more translucent that craft paints? Craft paints are good for many projects but the pigments have fillers and they are almost always opaque.

ardenfr from Lubbock, Tx on April 05, 2012:

Very nice article. I had tried this before on a project of mine and it turned out nice. I would like to suggest that the water may raise the grain abit but a light sanding with 220 or 320 grit sandpaper will bring it smooth again.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on February 09, 2011:

Really great hub - I love finding crafts like these that I can do with my cub scouts. Great photos and explanations!

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on February 04, 2011:

Thanks C.S. Alexis-guess I need to try some staining.

C.S.Alexis (author) from NW Indiana on February 04, 2011:


I rarely use stains but I prefer the wipe on kind you rub into the wood with a soft cloth.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on February 04, 2011:

Thanks for your informative well written hub. I do a lot of wood carving mainly West Coast First Firstnation's style.I need to learn lots more about painting and staining. Do you ever use wood stains? I am aiming for a semi translucent effect like I see on some first nations carvings.

cindy.dauer from Oregon on January 25, 2011:

I am going to try this!

stampinwithfab on January 24, 2011:

Great tutorial, really enjoyed it !

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 21, 2011:

That was fascinating to read, Thank you.

C.S.Alexis (author) from NW Indiana on January 20, 2011:

Helpful is what I hope for. Thanks for dropping in to read and leaving positive comments.

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on January 20, 2011:

Informative and useful. Great instructions and pictures. Rated up and useful.

lyjo on January 20, 2011:

What a great hub...very informative, awesome photographs, thanks for the lesson, I love decorating, painting, and have decided that this spring I will be attempting to refinish some furniture! Take care!

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on January 19, 2011:

Nice tutorial.