There are hundreds and hundreds of wood stain colors out there, but today I want to share with you the best, most versatile wood stain colors that I used in my home on a variety of projects.
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The wood stains we will be covering are:
- Minwax Special Walnut
- Minwax Shipboard
- Weathered Oak
- Early American
- Minwax Dark Walnut
- Varathane Golden Pecan
- General Finishes Gel Stain Carbon Gray
- Minwax Jacobean
Staining wood is a great way to keep your home modern and up to date as it ages. Deciding on the perfect wood stain for your interior or exterior project can be challenging. If you’re in the market for wood stain I’m sure you have come to realize that there are so many options to choose from.
It’s hard to know how each color of stain will show up in your space, which is why I wanted to share a few of my personal favorite stain colors with you to save you the hassle.
I recently finished a few big projects in my own home where we used wood stain to revamp our kitchen cabinets.
Staining your wood to match its surrounding aesthetic can be a convenient and affordable way to increase the appearance of your interior or exterior project. You have the freedom to decide what appearance of wood stain you would like in your home, especially if you are building the surrounding details around your wood project.
Do be aware that wood stains vary in how they appear depending on the species of wood that you are staining.
Staining your kitchen cabinets? Check out my tutorial on the exact steps we took to stain our kitchen cabinets here.
How to Stain Interior Wood
Like I mentioned earlier, there are a variety of different factors that will influence the way your stain sets into the wood. The species of wood that you are staining determines how much or how little of the stain is soaked into the grain, which affects the outcome of the color.
The technique you use when applying your wood stain will influence the outcome as well. There are many different methods and tools to staining.
You can use a paint brush, a cloth, or a foam brush to apply stain. Each tool will give a slightly different look.
Staining wood can take some patience and is definitely a skill to develop with trial and error.
You should do some research and get familiar with the process. You can take a look at one of my previous blog posts about the best gray stains for wood to get see the steps I took to stain our kitchen cabinets in our Spanish style kitchen renovation.
Bonus- there are additional stain color reviews included in that post for more options if you are interested in gray wood stain colors!
There are 2 key steps we did that gave us the best wood stain color:
- Use a wood conditioner – It’s just like priming wood before painting it. It preps the wood by opening the grain and helps the stain color take better. I found that this helped bring out the stain color, especially if you are using a lighter stain color. It may not be necessary if you are doing a super dark stain color like espresso.
- Use a quality bristle brush – Have you ever tested stain colors and notice that the stain color hardly shows up on the wood? You were likely dipping a rag in the stain or using a foam brush. Once I finally tried a good bristle brush instead, the stain color applied much more evenly and saturated. This brush from Amazon we use for all staining and paint projects and it’s amazing. A must-have in my opinion! Just be sure to clean it good when you are done.
Minwax Special Walnut
We used Minwax Special Walnut wood stain on our rustic kitchen cabinets when we completely sanded down and refinished them a couple years ago.
The color is BEAUTIFUL and versatile. It’s a warm medium brown that has depth without being too dark. It’s a rather neutral brown that doesn’t have any orange or red undertones so it goes with just about anything.
With a semi-transparent stain, it gives color without completely covering the wood grain. I wanted to highlight the natural knots in our Alder wood cabinets so I wanted a stain color that wouldn’t just cover them up.
This stain is truly beautiful and would look amazing on any species of wood.
Special Walnut that I mentioned above is one stain that we used, and Shipboard is the second.
I had a very specific color I envisioned for our cabinets. After sampling 10+ different stain colors and being unsatisfied with all of them, it was clear I needed to utilize two different stains to achieve the look I wanted.
Eventually I settled on Shipboard as the first stain to apply to our freshly sanded cabinets. Then once that was fully dry, we applied Special Walnut right over top of Shipboard.
Shipboard as the name suggests, is a rustic weathered gray tinted stain. It doesn’t have a ton of pigment so it is on the lighter side. It allows a lot of the wood grain to show through the stain.
It’s a great option if you want a rustic, worn in look to make a piece appear aged.
I believe you must go to a Sherwin Williams store to get Shipboard mixed, it’s not available at Home Depot.
You can read more about our staining process for our kitchen cabinets in this blog post.
Minwax Weathered Oak
This stain I have seen a lot lately on Instagram and TikTok, but haven’t used it myself.
It is gray in color with warm yellow and gray undertones. As the name implies, it has a slight worn in, gray tint but there is some nice warmth. The stain is light enough to allow the wood to keep its natural beauty.
Minwax Early American
This wood stain color is one we picked up without doing much research beforehand and we’ve ended up using it for several small house projects. It’s a really nice option for a mid-tone wood stain that isn’t too light and not too dark.
It has a good amount of warmth to it but not enough to turn orange. You can’t go wrong with this shade of wood stain. It has a weathered appearance to it that adds some character to any space.
Minwax Dark Walnut
Dark Walnut is similar to Special Walnut, but it’s darker in color. It has a rich, deep brown color and is more saturated.
If you want a true dark brown, this is your go-to.
The undertones are natural so you won’t have any strange red or orange tint either. Just a great all around dark brown stain!
We used Dark Walnut on our Birch butcher block DIY desk in our first house and it was super pretty!
Varathane Golden Pecan
Out of all the stains listed in this post, Golden Pecan is the lightest stain color. For being a light stain color, it still has a deep and rich appearance.
The quality of this stain is very high, much like the others I’ve mentioned, so you won’t need more than one coat of it to enhance the wood grain.
General Finishes Gel Stain Carbon Gray
This is a gel-based stain rather than a traditional oil-based stain so it’s much thicker in consistency than a liquid-y stain you are familiar with.
It still requires mineral spirits to clean up, not water, but the texture is thick which gives it a super pigmented color that’s buildable.
We have beautiful solid wood doors in our home but the stain color was a little dated. They are a reddish medium brown (I’m unsure of the wood species) and I believe they were stained by the previous owner when they were installed.
With that said, I did not want to tackle sanding 9 interior doors front and back with all the grooves to re-stain them. After our kitchen cabinet project, that was enough sanding for the next 10 years ha.
So rather than using a traditional oil-based stain over already stained doors, I used a gel-stain right on top of the existing stain.
The gel stain adheres and covers the surface so you don’t have to sand beforehand!
I read tons of reviews on Amazon about General Finishes stains before going for it, and there were lots of success stories so I gave it a shot!
Lo and behold, the gel stain worked like a charm and completely changed the color of our doors!
All I did was rub on the gel stain with a rag. Make sure to use rubber gloves to protect your hands from getting covered in stain. It takes a bit to get used to working with gel stain because of its thicker consistency, but it’s very forgiving.
It takes several hours and even a day or two depending on humidity levels for gel-stain to fully dry.
The results were beautiful and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of gel stain for how simple it was to use – no sanding required!
There are several gel wood stain colors by General Finishes on Amazon.
This is an ideal wood stain for easy use while still being very high quality.
This stain is similar to Dark Walnut while appearing slightly darker and richer in color. Jacobean is a homey brown that adds comfort to a space. It would be a great option for a farmhouse or countryside aesthetic.
How do I choose the right wood stain color?
As I mentioned earlier, picking the right wood stain color can be tricky. You should take some time to consider a few things before you dive into your project.
Choosing what type of stain you are using is important because different types of stains will react differently depending on the type of wood it is applied to. You will likely have the option to choose between water-based, oil-based, and gel stains. Each of these types of stains are meant for different textures and types of wood.
Knowing that lighting will influence the way your wood stain looks is also important. Natural lighting will cause the wood to take on a different appearance than fluorescent lighting will. You can test the wood stain in your home in order to get a good feel for the influence that your lighting will play.
Another important thing to consider before making your choice is how much of your natural wood you want to cover up. How many coats of stain that you apply will determine how much of the natural wood shows through.
In my kitchen project for example, I wanted to keep some natural grain elements, so I chose a subtle stain that was semi-transparent.
What color stain is popular now?
All of the wood stain colors that I included in this post are among some of the most popular when it comes to a stain that leans more toward brown.
I’m also seeing a lot of gray toned stains used on a variety of projects.
Varathane Weathered Grey stain is a very popular option that is used most commonly on pine wood. It gives a classic appearance on newer wood, which is why homeowners and contractors are loving this wood stain color.
You may come across white oak when researching popular wood stains. This isn’t necessarily a stain color but a wood tone/species. This type of wood is creamy and light brown in color and is known for being top of the line because of its finishing properties (meaning that stain applies perfectly on white oak).
I hope you found the stain reviews helpful and maybe even took away a few helpful tips for your upcoming project! I realize that making decisions regarding design choices and taking action can be stressful especially if you don’t have much prior knowledge or experience.
Now that you have done some research you can start testing your favorite stains in your home to get a good feel for what they will look like.
Be sure to visit my other wood stain blog posts to learn more about how to apply wood stains and to get even more ideas if you are interested in a gray stain.
For more information about refinishing wood cabinets and our experience, click here.