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How To Choose The Right Wood Stain

How To Choose The Right Wood Stain

2018-02-28

When it comes to the color of your kitchen cabinets, you may be facing the biggest choice you’ve had since beginning a kitchen remodel. While you can simply choose a color of stain off of a chip or chart, it’s very likely that this stain will end up looking dramatically different once applied to your cabinets. It’s also likely that if you find a stain color you like on someone else’s cabinets that it may look different on yours. 

This is because there are numerous factors that affect how stain looks on different species of wood. The grain of the wood, its underlying color, and how well it absorbs stain all impact what the final color will be. So whether you’re trying to match the color of an existing cabinet or you’re looking for the right shade for a new cabinet, you need to learn the best way to match the right wood with the right stain.

Wood Color Variation

The first thing you need to consider is the color of the wood itself, because this will have some impact on the final color of the cabinet. For example, some woods like cherry and red oak have a natural reddish or pinkish undertone to them. This red undertone will show up even through a golden yellow stain, especially when compared to a wood that has a yellow undertone to begin with such as clear maple or white oak. Working with the natural color of the wood you have will give you better results than trying to force a color on that species of wood that just isn’t there.

Wood Grain Variation

The second thing to consider is the grain of the wood. Wood grain can vary tremendously from species to species and even within the same species depending on how the wood is cut. Quarter-sawn oak, for example, will look very different than straight sawn oak, even if the same tree is used for both boards.

Because most stain is made to allow a wood’s natural grain to show through, you need to consider how this grain will be affected by the stain that you choose. For example, a highly variable wood like hickory will look very dramatic with a clear or light stain, but will become much more subtle in variation and pattern if you choose something darker that comes close to the color of the natural grain.

Paint A Large Sample

Samples are a great way to help narrow down your choices, but they can’t tell you the whole story. A small sample on a chip card won’t look the same on an actual piece of wood. And a small piece of wood will look different than a larger piece. The actual wood you are using will give you the best results when you’re trying to determine color. This is because things like humidity and the age of the wood can affect how color will show on it. For example, a wood like cherry becomes darker and redder the more it is exposed to humidity and time. So an old sample in a showroom may look very different than the cabinets will in your home.

The best thing to do when determining color is to paint a large piece of the wood you are using. The larger the sample, the more accurate the stain color will be. Use two coats of stain; a single coat will actually look darker and will not show off the same amount of gloss or sheen that a second coat will give. That second coat will dramatically enhance things like the wood grain; even a clear coat will enhance things like grain pattern after a second coat, so make sure you put on two.

Look At Colors In Your Lighting

If you aren’t able to stain a section of cabinet right in your kitchen, your next best bet is to take a sample into the kitchen and the lighting you will be using for the final design. Light can also affect how a wood will look in a specific stain; undertones and grain patterns that were less obvious under florescent lighting may become more noticeable under natural light for example. Whenever possible, look at your wood sample in the same light you will be observing your cabinets from.

Stain Blending And Stain Intensity

If you’re having trouble matching the wood you’ve chosen with the stain color you want, you may need to do a little stain blending and play around with the stain intensity. Stain blending is the act of using coats of two or more stains to get the color you want. For example, if you want more of a red hue on a yellow or tan wood, you may need at least one coat of a red stain to bring it out.

Wood material selection

Stain intensity refers to how long the stain sat on the wood before being wiped away. For a more intense color, let the stain sit longer. To lighten the color, wipe it off quickly after applying.

Be Patient

If you’re trying to match a certain color you may need to be patient and accept that this process may take a few tries to get the perfect match. Your wood may not absorb stain the same way that other species or types of wood do, which can affect the outcome. Work with the wood species and its attributes to find the perfect stain for your kitchen.

If staining your cabinets feels overwhelming or unmanageable, painting offers many of the same colors as staining just without the ability to see the natural features of the wood. MDF and paintable veneers are excellent, budget-friendly options for paintable materials.