Staining isn’t about changing the look and feel of a wooden surface — instead, a quality wood stain is meant to bring out the natural beauty of a deck, a piece of furniture or even a hardwood floor. And while staining can add a special something to any wooden surface, it’s important to keep a few things in mind before opting for the first wood stain you come across.
First off, be sure to determine whether the wooden surface you’re staining is soft wood or hard wood. If your surface is made of... soft wood, be sure to purchase wood conditioner before you even think about staining it.
Next, decide if you’d prefer an oil-based stain or a water-based stain. While they both boast their own unique benefits, they also come with their own unique drawbacks. Finally—and, to some homeowners, most importantly—decide on the perfect shade.
With these considerations in mind, read on for the best wood stains to buy.
There’s no need to replace your old, outdated cabinets when General Finishes JQ Gel Stain can bring out the timeless charm in your beloved furnishings. This heavy-bodied stain boasts overwhelmingly even coverage that ensures a natural appearance without penetrating too deeply and damaging your wooden surfaces. General Finishes’ stains even come in a wide variety of colors. That coupled with a relatively low price tag means you can go ahead and combine them for the perfect DIY shade — if you can’t already find the perfect tone in their extensive selection of colors, of course.
Satisfied buyers are astounded by the quality of this stain, claiming that the results of putting General Finishes’ stain to use rivals the renovation work of seasoned professionals. More than one happy customer has even encouraged their friends to redo their own kitchens using this gel-based stain.
Combining affordability with quality, General Finishes JQ Gel Stain takes top spot when it comes to delivering a well-rounded wood stain.
Not every home improvement project needs to break the bank—in the hands of a capable do-it-your-selfer, even a product straight from the bargain bin can mirror the work of a professional. While Minwax Wood Finishing Penetrating Stain boasts a slim price tag, that doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality — in fact, on the contrary, satisfied customers who’ve purchased this oil-based wood stain sing its praises. In particular, they’ve claimed that it’s great for restoring the natural beauty of wooden surfaces like older tables and cabinets that have been worn by use and age.
It is worth noting that some buyers have reported that Minwax stains are slightly thinner than others, meaning you may require a few more coats to get your job done. But at such an affordable price — and with easy application as well as a total of 24 wood tone colors to choose from — this stain is a worthwhile addition to your work shed.
Any home improvement project requires dedication — and often, that means taking all of the proper steps to ensure the process goes smoothly. When it comes to staining wood, many DIYers don’t realize that General Finishes SQ Gel Topcoat, which boasts wipe-on urethane for extra shine, can take a drab wooden finish to new levels, transforming lackluster wood into shimmering surfaces you and your family can be proud of.
Applying General Finishes SQ Gel Topcoat to wooden surfaces enhances their sheen, darkening them and letting them adopt an amber hue over time. Customers are truly raving about General Finishes’ topcoat — in particular, how well it covers their surfaces without streaks or build-up, and how incredible this gel-based topcoat performs at such an affordable price.
While buyers found the application process easy enough, many agreed that using a sock or an old rag to apply this topcoat was easier than using a paintbrush. So there’s no need to shell out extra cash for a brand new brush if you’ve got an old pair of tube socks lying around!
Depending on the type of wooden surface you’re working on, you may or may not need to apply a conditioner before you start staining it. For those working with soft wood such as spruce, fir or pine, Minwax Pre Stain Wood Conditioner is a must. Pre stain conditioner works by providing a smooth layer over your soft wood to ensure uniform coverage and even penetration.
Applying Minwax’s Pre Stain Wood Conditioner before you begin your wood stain process means you’ll be dealing with less streaks and virtually zero blotches. Plus, taking this first step ensures full absorption of oil-based stains. Customers choose Minwax because their products boast high-end results that turn tired furniture into timeless classics.
There’s a reason that loyal customers celebrate Minwax—and it’s the same reason the brand’s name appears numerous times on this list: they don’t sacrifice the diversity, quality, and affordability that has made them a household name.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
Interior wooden surfaces require different care than those found outside your home. In other words, you wouldn’t use the same stain on your deck and your wardrobe, because they aren’t exposed to the same elements. Minwax’s Wood Finish Penetrating Interior Wood Stain is made specifically for interior surfaces, with a non-drip formula that’s especially handy for staining vertical surfaces. This stain can even be used on non-wooden surfaces including metal, veneer, and fiberglass.
Happy customers note that a little goes a long way when it comes to Minwax’s interior wood stain. In other words: use this stuff sparingly for optimal results. One coat is all you need for an exceptional finish; however, additional coats, which should be applied eight hours after the first, serve primarily to darken your wood — so be careful as to not over-stain your surface. You might end up with a color that’s darker than you’d originally intended!
Outdoor home improvement projects require somewhat heavier-duty wood stain for a variety of reasons — chief among them, it needs to be tough enough to protect your outdoor furniture, railings, or even deck from the harmful effects of the elements. Whereas many wood stains alter the color of your wood to the point that they take on different shades altogether, DEFY Extreme Exterior Wood Stain aims to brighten the natural appearance of your outdoor wooden surface, keeping it looking rich and vibrant — even when exposed to sunlight, which can dull wooden surfaces.
Whereas quite a few of the most trusted wood stains are oil-based, DEFY boasts a water-based formula that customers have come to love, even admitting they’d never go back to oil-based stains. After all, one even layer of this patented stain protects exterior wooden surfaces from rain and moisture, which can seep into your deck — or your beloved furniture — and distort them beyond repair. But with DEFY’s wood stain, water beads up without penetrating your wooden surfaces.
No matter how large or small the job, a quality wood stain is key to adding a touch of elegance to any wooden surface. While Rust-Oleum Parks’ Epoxy Finish and Preservative Kit isn’t ideal for larger projects like decks or hardwood floors, it’s a must-have for hobbyists whose work revolves around smaller furnishings and décor — like bar tops, coffee tables, and wooden trays.
While it works wonders on wood, this kit can be used to add a glossy finish to almost any solid interior surface. Customers have put it to use on everything from homemade fishing rods and mosaic tiles to bar tops, benches and more. It can even be used in more artistic endeavors — due to its crystal clear, transparent appearance, toy train hobbyists will find that it makes for quite the realistic miniature pond or small lake!
For a color-enhancing stain that adds depth or darkens larger wooden surfaces, it’s best to look elsewhere. But for hobbyists and artisans hoping to add a brilliant shine to their crafts, Rust-Oleum’s glossy epoxy kit is the way to go.
At The Spruce, our Expert writers are committed to researching and writing thoughtful and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your life and your family. If you like what we do, you can support us through our chosen links, which earn us a commission. Learn more about our review process.