DIY

How 6 Different Stains Look On 5 Popular Types of Wood

February 1, 2018  —  Written by Julia Marcum 

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This post is sponsored by Minwax.

We’ve been wanting to do a wood/stain study for years now and in my head, I wanted to do every type of wood with about 20 different stains each. But with limited resources (not to mention space), we settled on 5 popular species of wood commonly used by DIYers, with 6 different stains; 2 light, 2 medium and 2 dark.

The wood types we chose also are vastly different, ranging from extremely soft (birch) to hard (red oak) with undertones all over the map. Not only does the hardness effect how a wood will accept stain (harder woods tend to accept stains better and more evenly) but also the natural color of the wood.

The ever popular and inexpensive Pine has yellow undertones.
Birch has pink undertones.
Poplar has green undertones.
White Oak has the most neutral undertones.
And I bet you’ll never guess Red Oak’s undertones. (Hint: Red)

To give each wood the best chance at sporting stain, we started our study with Minwax’s Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Treating raw wood with conditioner helps prevent streaks and blotches by evening out the absorption of oil-based stains. It can be applied over any wood but is especially necessary when working with soft or porous woods like pine, alder, birch, and maple. You’ll see just how necessary it is in a minute, because of course we took our observations one step further and only used conditioner on the bottom half  of each piece of wood so you can see the difference it makes.

We let the conditioner penetrate for 15 minutes and then wiped off any excess and removed the tape and got to work applying 6 different stains to all five of our types of wood.

As a reminder, here are all the types of wood in their natural, raw state:

1. Minwax Pickled Oak. This stain added very little color to any of the boards, (maybe slightly lighter with a tinge of green), but really brought out their natural color and grain. All of the wood types accepted the stain well, except the non-conditioned Birch side.

2. Minwax Simply White. Minwax recently came out with a Simply White stain and I’m in love with it! It really softened each wood tone and color while not masking any grain–like semi-opaque stains do. You can see clearly the wood’s color undertones (yellow, pink, green, neutral, red) but they aren’t nearly as pronounced. Both of the oak species took on a sort of Cerused look I’m very into. The green that is generally very pronounced in Poplar, turned into more of a warm gray. The unconditioned Birch side, again, struggled with accepting the stain, but you can also see the conditioned side of each board is slightly darker.

3. Minwax Golden Pecan. We chose to experiment with this stain color because of its mid-range tint with red undertones. The pine board looked the least natural with this stain. Poplar looked a little bit like watermelon. Birch did surprisingly well and the oaks were naturals. Naturals in a very red way.

4. Minwax Golden Oak. This is another mid-range stain color, but with a more neutral base undertone. Instead of the wood grains picking up redness, you can see they all went a very neutral brown. There is very little difference between the conditioned and unconditioned white and red oaks, but the other three definitely benefited from the pre-stain conditioner.

5. Minwax Jacobean. The first of the dark stains we tried was also the more neutral in tone. It delivered rich, dark brown tones. Every wood species benefitted greatly from the conditioner with this stain. The pine turned more gray than anything.

6. Minwax Dark Walnut. Last, is the redder of the two dark stains we experimented with. Although, no red came through with the pine at all. In fact, it looked almost pinky gray. The other woods took the stain well, with more redness coming out of the conditioned sides of the boards. The green in the Poplar board went to an almost black, like in the Jacobean stain–very stunning.

Lastly, we thought it would be beneficial to see all the same wood type with different stains in one picture. This will hopefully help you see how Pine, Birch, Poplar, White Oak and Red Oak’s undertones play with different stain undertones.

Like I said, I wish we could do 15 more of these! But I hope this is helpful. I think each wood species looked great with some stains and subpar with others.

I loved pine with the lights and darks, but not the medium stains.
Birch rocked Simply White and Golden Oak.
Poplar looked awesome in almost every one except the Golden Pecan.
White Oak can’t take a bad picture.
And Red Oak should probably stay away from things that add even more red to it (like Pickled Oak and Golden Pecan).

In my opinion, of course. What do you think!?

SHOP THE POST:

 

 

What do you think?

  1. Corey Weiner says:

    I ran a Bing search of images looking at gray stair railings before I reinstall my new set and this your image came up and it directed me to your web page where I could see all the different stains I really appreciate that you took the time to do this mapped out like this I don’t even think the varathane or minwax corporation bothered to do one like yours.

    Thank you on behalf of users all over who’ve seen this and appreciate that you did a sample of all the stains.

  2. Wow! You all did a lot of work thank you!

  3. Sally Stephens says:

    Wonderful!!! Thank you
    We recently moved to Texas and I need to darken my oak furniture.

  4. SP says:

    I’ve been agonizing about possibilities as I refinish the top of an antique oak dining table and chairs. The top flat surfaces were a disaster, but the legs cleaned up just fine and have a lovely patina.

    I’ve been trying to match the legs, mixing shades and testing them, but your study really simplified it beautifully.

  5. Samantha says:

    Super helpful! Thank you so much!

  6. Christa says:

    Thank you so much for your post, it helped my husband and I out immensely after going back and forth to the hardware store to get samples of stain! :)

  7. Grace says:

    This post saved sooooo much of my time! You are the best! Thank you!

  8. gary fulmer says:

    simply the best thing I’ve seen on how various stains work on various woods Thank you for doing this

  9. Dana says:

    Most excellent!
    Thanks for that. That was a lot of work.
    Do more!!

  10. Laura says:

    Thank you for this helpful post! I was wondering how the oak would look with a stain – now I have a better idea!

  11. By far the best post I’ve seen on explaining the nuances of staining wood. I’m currently working on a dining table for our British Colonial interior using Red Oak and was concerned with color matching the existing dark woods. Thanks for this post.

  12. Dee says:

    This is so helpful!! You’re right, there are so many iterations you could do of wood and stains. But then there is the world of bleaching! Any cherry or red furniture I bleach before doing all the other steps. (Then wash with 1/4 vinegar/water and lightly sand.) It totally removes the red/pink undertones!

  13. Lori Moran says:

    I thought this this was the most helpful, comprehensive site for wood floor stains. Thanks so much!! It absolutely helped me to decide on a stain color for our floors, and we will use conditioner, which I wasn’t aware was even an option!

  14. Michael McNulty says:

    What about bleaching the red oak first then applying the simply white stain? Would that eliminate the pink? Would it be too white going that route?

  15. Kathy says:

    Exactly what I needed to move forward with my project! Thanks for putting in the work to share.

  16. Alice Renovich says:

    Can you mix two stain colors

    • SP says:

      Most definitely as long as they’re the same type (oil or water base, preferably same brand). It very much like mixing paint for the right shade…begin light and add small amounts of the darker.

      Also keep in mind it will look different when it dries, so go easy. Its far safer to do a light coat, let it dry, check it…and add another if needed, than to over do it and have to fix it or start over.

  17. Rick Kemp says:

    This effort is sooo great! I have been doing wood finishing for over 20 years and I can’t tell you how hard it is to get a client to appreciate how different stains look on different types of wood. I am definitely sharing this post with my clients. Thanks for doing this, it really is beneficial!

  18. rhonda l cohen says:

    thank you for showing me how to stain my red oak cabinets. i want to try the white after sadning but i think ill do the walnut to match my dark floors and grey corrian counters. if you have other ideas let me know

  19. Renee Leplattenier says:

    Add Minwax Ebony color stain to this experiment! Great job.

  20. Roger Cerasoli says:

    This is an awesome resource, thank you! How many coats of stain did you put on the wood samples shown in the photos?

  21. Jessica L Mason says:

    Oh no! this post has disappeared…. I’m so sad I was using this for reference.

  22. john doe says:

    where did the article go?

  23. This was super helpful, thank you!

  24. DIANE says:

    looking to refinish our hardwood floors. Your stain study was most helpful. thanks

  25. Felix says:

    Wow, this is great and informative!!!

    how about maple?

    Any chance you could do a charcoal grey?

    • Felix says:

      Is poplar not that hard,

      I am looking to build a platform / platform bed and I have white oak grey pink floors and looking to contrast it with either a less grainy wood like natural Birch, Maple, and not White Oak, but may want to stain it with a semi glossed Charcoal Gray.

  26. Alexis says:

    This is so helpful as we’re trying to pick a stain color for a piece of furniture. I only wish you could have tested all of them. Haha!

  27. Tammy says:

    Great information! Minwax is my go to stain. I prefer Red Oak.

  28. Alli says:

    Thank you! This was very helpful in moving forward with our birch project!

  29. Amy McLean says:

    Not only did this help me decide on stains, it really helped me to better understand how different wood grains vary. I’ve referred back to this so many times. Thank you!

  30. Holly says:

    Loved this! I have made two wooden pieces for self use, and I had no clue how much FUN staining could be! I only want to create more pieces, just so I can stain them, haha! My first go around I noticed an embarrassing amount of blotching from the stain. I assumed it was the quality of wood. Second time, I purchased wood that was a bit higher quality (a.k.a. more expensive) and there was some improvement. Anyway, I think I just need to condition the boards… as you stated and provided evidence! This was so helpful for me, and my most amateur endeavors. Thank you for sharing!

  31. Ursula Sanchez says:

    How many coats did you apply and how long did you leave each coat on for?

  32. Ellen says:

    Ahhhh thank you for this!!

  33. Sunny says:

    Hi, I have sanded an old pine dresser that was coated years ago in an orangy shellac.
    I would like the ‘old world’ type of look to the finish. That is bland.
    However since the top gets plenty of use I put on a coat of varathene. And of course it is orange once again.
    I’m not a fan of grey but I’m thinking if I sand off the varathene, would weathered oak tone down the orange?????
    Sunny

  34. sgse4 says:

    your pop up really is a pain

  35. Lyss says:

    This is the BEST ever and so thorough! Especially learning about the wood conditioner. Thank you so much!

  36. T Wesler says:

    This is so helpful! Thanks for sharing!

  37. Evan Faucher says:

    good

  38. This was such a great post! I’ll be saving this as reference for all of my future projects :)

  39. Mariele says:

    Love this, thank you! I really want to stain some birch wood in a medium reddish stain now, for a MCM inspired TV cabinet. :)

  40. John Roh says:

    This is great

  41. Laura Walker says:

    interesting information

  42. William says:

    Incredibly helpful! Exactly what I was looking for.

  43. Jess M says:

    This was incredibly helpful. Thank you.

  44. Charles says:

    You’d think MinWax would have this on their website. Excellent resource. Also agree with comment about poly.

  45. Steve says:

    Really nice job on this! Thank you for taking the time to document and share the results !

  46. Vicki says:

    We are building a house and trying to choose stains for maple cabinets and pine beams and French doors. We sampled Jacobean and dark walnut on pine and our samples came out much darker than yours. I also tried with and without conditioner, which didn’t seem to make much difference with the darker samples. However, I noticed in your photos showing Dark Walnut and Jacobean, the pine samples for each color look much lighter than the same colors do in the photo of only pine boards with all of the colors. In that picture, the last two look much darker. I appreciate your work doing this, but now I’m more confused! I’ve noticed in our new house that some of the pine woodwork is more yellow than others. Is there yellow pine and white pine? Also, which wood would be most like maple?

  47. gabrielle says:

    Thanks so much! I have debating about what the difference a primer or conditioner will make, this was a big help!

  48. Bclemons says:

    Hi! I have a bit of a dilemma in that I have white oak floors in my newly renovated kitchen and original red Oak from 1930 on the rest of my main floor. I would like to figure out a way to make them look the same but really don’t like the pink red undertone . Have you found one color stain that makes them similar? I have read you can bleach red Oak but don’t know how labor-intensive that is I was told my original 1930s floor could not be refinished So picked white oak which I prefer but then a different refinisher said yes they can be refinished. Had I known that I would’ve picked red oak again for my kitchen although it’s not my preference. Any help would be appreciated

  49. Jill says:

    I’m curious of a recipe for red oak to match white oak. Any suggestions.

  50. Rachel Cunningham says:

    this was so helpful! thank you!

  51. Diana says:

    I would like to see an experiment in reducing contrast–both grain and defects, such as nail holes and gaps–to produce an attractive even dark tone. If your floor is going to look blotchy, damaged, or like a wild animal skin, better to not even refinish. The white oak looks even, but the red oak looks like zebra stripes–although the dark walnut showed less contrast than the jacobean. I’ve heard that using ebony obliterates contrast. Also, professional pros (the ones who take their time to listen to you and do the job right) always water-pop the wood when using dark stains. Is the Minwax conditioner a substitute for water-popping? It doesn’t look like it from the red oak samples.

  52. Neb says:

    You know what would make this complete? Doing an oil based poly over them vs a water based.

    Then as they age doing an update.;)

    But awesome comparison.

  53. Great Post! So helpful with all of the images and great descriptions!

  54. Kenneth Smith says:

    Thank you so much. I’ve been researching for weeks and driving myself nuts with my white oak choice. This was very helpful and appreciative. My White Oak with Golden Oak Stain is going to look great this weekend :)

  55. Emaily says:

    THANK YOU! This is a great reference.

  56. Rebecca says:

    The photos are so nice. I love the white oak with the simply white stain.

  57. Sylvie says:

    Thank you so, so much for this exercise.
    It will really help me to choose the right product for the wood floor of my future house.

  58. Brian says:

    Great article – one of the very best I’ve seen on the effects of Minwax stains on different woods. Thanks!

  59. Theresa says:

    This was the best article on staining I have ever seen. Thank you for taking the time to do it. It helped me tremendously! I can’t thank you enough.

  60. Ashlie says:

    Love this post. Super helpful! I really love the Simply White and am considering using it on an antique mahogany piece. What are your thoughts on this? In my mind, it would have a similar effect to the red oak, but I’ve never worked with mahogany before. Would it take that stain well?

  61. Melissa says:

    This is so beyond helpful! I’m guessing there’s no poly on top of any of these? Curious how an oil based vs water based would affect the colors especially on the white oak. I’m afraid of having the oil based turn simply white on white oak any bit of amber or golden.

    • Chris says:

      These don’t have poly on them. The effect can change not only from stain to stain, but from wood species to wood species and even from one board to another within the same wood species. Best option is to cut small pieces of what you’re going to be using and do some at-home tests to see the impact.

  62. Stefani says:

    Love this post!! Im looking for the perfect stain for my coffee table made of poplar. This was incredibly helpful! :)

  63. Stacey says:

    Love your post! What color stain would you use to achieve a blonde look with Douglas fir? The Douglas fir has a orange tent I need to tone down. Do you have any recommendations?

    • Chris says:

      Tough to know! Best bet is to cut a sample board into small pieces and do some tests until you find the right color.

  64. Britt Roberts says:

    This is sososo helpful! I cannot thank you enough for doing this experiment and sharing it! I am limited on cabinet space so I am doing diy open shelves in our kitchen and I just knew your blog was the place to go for tips on mixing wood tones! We’re in a rental so we’re stuck with the very dark mahogany cabinets with brushed silver hardware. They’re not bad and look nice but not my color of choice. Now, the faux wood floors have tones of walnut and the counter tops are white and I’m trying to do my shelves in something that will go with all the different tones but not be too matchy-matchy. I’m loving the simply white on the pine but I was hoping to get your opinion!? Oh and I’m spraying the shelf bracket flat black.

  65. James Marx says:

    This is a really amazing comparison, greats job!!

  66. Amy Tank says:

    Brilliant- thank you for doing the work .

  67. Alison says:

    You guys did a fantastic job with this. I’ve been dying to redo my 1990’s era red oak floors for a long time now, but haven’t been able to find any really useful information. This experiment has been a great help! Question, do have any idea as to whether the sealer/shellac will change the stain colors at all (i.e. lighten, darken, turn redder, etc.)?

  68. V. Hampton says:

    What can be mixed with #2716 Dk Walnut penetrating stain, to bring out a touch of red. Using on pallet wood, probably pine as yellow seems prominent. Other wood possibility is oak.

  69. Hazel Evans says:

    I want a matt black stain with no shine at all.
    one i have used cuprinol dries to s shine. which is not what I want.please help

  70. Dana says:

    The last time I did research for a staining project I couldn’t find this info, glad I looked again and found yours, you did the testing so we don’t have to. Thank You, Thank You Thank You for doing this.

  71. Mike Maciazka says:

    THIS DOESN’T HELP AT ALL!!!!1!!!!

    Seriously though, I came here looking for some ideas of which wood to use and which stain and now it’s even harder to decide what I want to do.

    My project is to build a side table and coffee table using 1/2″ black iron pipe and then picking an edge glued wood for the top of it.

    At first I was planning on pine because it’s cheaper…just not sure which stain to use…then I thought I would spend a little more and get red oak…now I have come here and I’m not sure if I want poplar, white oak, or red oak. Thanks a lot for all the help! LOL

    Perhaps someone could give me their opinions of what wood and stain to use with black iron pipe? I’m open to suggestions on which of the ones here to use or if you have something else I should look at (different color stain), let me know! I appreciate any thoughts on this.

    Guess I’ll have to ask the girlfriend what her preference is and I’ll build it to her specs. I’ll use your post to give her some examples.

  72. CAPT G M Andres, USN (ret) says:

    This is absolutely one helluva valuable test and comparison. I am restoring a significantly damaged Gunn barrister bookcase….in oak….and your comparison has helped me finalize my choice!

  73. I want to thank you for your testing it was just what I needed. I’m building a Arts & Crafts hall cabinet. I was going to use quarter sawn white oak vs. quarter sawn red oak. I’m going to need approximately 20 Bd. Ft. of 4/4 and 10 Bd. Ft. of 6/4. From your testing I realized I can use the red oak since my stain although not as dark as the jacobean will make seeing the difference in white vs. Red oak undetectable. Right now the jury is out regarding the pricing. My best guess is about
    $30 less coming out of my pocket which will cover door hinges, door pulls and the shelf pins…..
    Thanks again,

    Neal in Las Vegas, NV.

  74. Brian says:

    This is a wonderful write up. My only complaint is that you DID NOT WATERMARK YOUR PHOTOS!! I found one of the photos through a google search but a whole S load of spam sites had the photo. It took me forever to find this site! PLEASE WATER MARK YOUR PHOTOS SO I CAN FIND THE PROPER SOURCE!

  75. Amanda says:

    Thank you for this post! Would you please share the technique you used on the simply white? I tried this on white oak and did not get the look you got but I want to achieve this! Did you wipe off right away? Dilute ? Thanks!

  76. Katie says:

    This is a great post and helped me decide which stain to use on the twin bed my husband is making for our son! Thank you.

  77. Samantha Hobson says:

    Thankyou for doing this! I am sanding a 18C vanity unit that is Chestnut. I’m leaning towards a dark stain with no red, to contrast with the white oak floor. Maybe Jacobean. Do you know how Chestnut stains? The wood is extremely dry. Thanks!

  78. Maria says:

    Hi Chris & Julia!

    Need your advice. I’ve been seeking for good stain for my bedroom pine furniture. There are 2 options of stains I found for me but I can’t decide which one would be the best. The first one is ‘Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Wood Stain’ that you mention in your article. And the second one is ‘General Finishes Oil Base Gel Stain’ I read about in this article https://woodimprove.com/best-wood-stains/#product1. By the way, that article mentions Minwax Stain also. I think ‘General Finishes’ is better because as the author says it’s great for difficult to stain pine and it’s easy to apply for the person who has no experiences in staining wood like me. But I’m not really sure about it. Could you please help me choose the right one? Appreciate your help :)

    • Chris says:

      Hi Maria! I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to tell you which to choose – far too many factors involved and we’re not there to see any of them in person. My suggestion would be to use a scrap piece of wood that is the same type that you want to treat, and test your different options.

  79. Jackie Groff says:

    Just wanted to say thank you. I’ve done several wood projects, but I was considering using birch plywood for the first time. I wanted to know how well birch took stain. I had never used a pre-stain conditioner and also wanted to see the denefit of doing so. Your illustrations were fantastic and saved me from making a huge mistake. I’ll be 75 in January and am in the process of making my last big project – a daybed that will eventually be used as my casket. Thank you again for all the time you put into keeping the general public informed.

  80. Kelly Sing says:

    SO SO SO SOOOO helpful!!! So thorough. Ended up going with red oak and golden oak stain and the color is exactly as seen in person. Amazing photography as well. Thank you!!!

  81. Cathy Jo Baker says:

    What a great post! I’m a beginner learning how to refinish furniture… sanding is therapeutic to me, and I love seeing the potential in the wood under all the old stain/ varnish. My first piece was an old white oak writing desk from the school where I teach that had been absued over the years. I used Minwax Pickled Oak and it turned out gorgeous, for a first attempt. At the moment I am working on an old student desk made of white oak that I would like to stain in contrasting dark and light shades. I really like the Jacobean, yet what light stain would you suggest as contrast? Thanks so much for your help and for this wonderful post!

  82. YOU ARE AWESOME. Can’t usually see good stain variations anywhere online. Thanks for doing this experiment and sharing!

  83. Carey Pace says:

    This was incredibly helpful. THANK YOU. I built a queen sized farmhouse bed a YEAR ago this month and I have yet to gain the courage to actually stain and finish it, fearing I’ll hate it after I screw it up with an ugly stain color or horrible application of it.

  84. Jhon says:

    Hi, I Am searching for best stain for cedar fence. which one you will prefer ?

  85. Josh says:

    Very helpful post! Was about to get a bunch of milled pine moulding to stain dark walnut, but now I’m leaning towards the white oak – the stain really brings out the grain in the oak.

    Best,
    Josh

  86. Ronald Lombardi says:

    Can walnut be stained grey?

    • Chris says:

      Probably, but you’d likely need a combo of stains and I’m not sure what that combo would be. Best practice would be to get a piece of walnut and do some tests.

  87. Chris says:

    Fabulous post!

  88. Colin Jaccino says:

    Really awesome post! After reading so much about poplar being “homely”, I thought it would behave closer to pine. Turns out, it looks great with the right treatment. Thanks so much for putting this together.

  89. Adriane Jones says:

    Which stain on which wood do you think is closest to West Elm’s pecan, like the pecan legs of their Drake sofa?

  90. Nicole Zimmerman says:

    Very useful to see how various woods behave and really helps in choosing what kind of wood to use! I would have really liked to see a gray stain used as well.

    Thanks!

  91. Dianne J. says:

    Thank you so much for doing this post. This is super helpful!

  92. YK says:

    My red oak banister, spindles, stairs and floors are currently stained Provincial. I want to change that to Dark Walnut. My floor guy really doesn’t want to change the color of banister and spindles. Do you think Provincial banister and spindles will look right with Dark Walnut stairs and floors? Perhaps I should apply a double coat of Provincial to the stairs and floors to make it all match?

    • Chris says:

      Without being in the space we can’t really say, but one thing I would do is find a piece of red oak that matches the finish of your banister etc. and test out the stain first. We especially recommend that on a project like this, that takes so long to do and has a very prominent visual presence in your home.

    • Josh says:

      It will look fine. Think of all trim and stair parts as furniture. You want some contrasts. 90% of my customers choose a slightly different color on other materials that isn’t flooring.

  93. Belinda says:

    Do you think the Red Oak with a Simply White stain would turn pink as it ages? We have aged red oak floors that are very orangey and when we reach the point of refinishing I’m trying to decide if I want to stain it with something to neautralize the red just a little or go light. I love the simply white but don’t want it to turn pink as it ages! Help me with your special undertone eyes! Would you do the simply white in a house that might be your forever house?

  94. Lori in Houston says:

    Thank you for conducting this experiment! I do wish we could take it further :) I have a half dozen (or more) cans of Minwax! I do need help though. We took 3 feet of water, in our 1955 mid century home, with Hurricane Harvey last Aug. I’ve had one nightmare after the next, ever since. Ex: contractors squatting in my back room at night, appliances stolen (we were in a motel for 9 months) problems with pouring concrete flooring, broken pipes under the foundation and last but not least, the City of Houston.

    I have most of my new doors (they were about a $100 a piece, so they are poplar I guess, maybe birch) painted repose Gray on one side, but the other side I want to stain. Originally, the old doors, were all maple and at one point in the 80’s, my mom had the door facing the living area painted along with along with a lot of of solid-wood paneling. Yes, this is my childhood home.

    Since I poured concrete flooring (this is our second flood) and it is gray and my walls are repose gray, the bedrooms, where most of the doors are, I feel – need a wood stain to give the rooms warmth.

    I bought silver-toned door hardware for the painting gray side and antique brass for the side I want to stain. Same with hinges. I’m looking for a medium toned, neutral-ish stain (I guess). I don’t know if everything else (floor, walls) is ‘cool’ if the tone should be warm?

    I should add, I did solid cherry butcher block countertops, kitchen cabinets painted Repose Gray (as are all walls and trim). The cherry does not ‘show’ where any of the doors are.

    I don’t have the same wood as the doors, to do samples on, but I’ve used the conditioner and sampled Red Mahagony (way too purple and dark), Dark Walnut (too dark), Special Walnut (a contender), Gunstock (way too orange), English Chesnut (not too bad), Cherry (very light) Honey (very dark!?), Red Oak (too dark) and Red Chestnut (too red).

    My husband and my new contractor think I’m nuts. I just want stained, modern looking doors. I am mid-century-modern by design and a touch of industrial (the concrete floor). Did I mention we bought bright orange appliances by the Big Chill pro line?

    Any thoughts or stains you might suggest would be so grately appreciated.

  95. Rebekah says:

    This is one of the most helpful blog posts I’ve seen on stain colors. THANK YOU so much for this!

  96. John says:

    I really appreciate the effort put into this and the comparisons are really useful. Thanks for doing all the hard work!

  97. suzanne says:

    THANK YOU!!!! I’m going to try the simply white on white oak. Very helpful

  98. Chris says:

    This is one of my favorite posts I have ever read – ! Probably because we are getting ready to choose a stain for floors in the house we have been renovating. Anyway, it is so informative and so incredibly helpful. My question is this: we ripped up the carpet and it looks like there is red oak underneath and the new wood that was put down in the new part of the house looks like a white oak. Isn’t that going to make staining tricky – as shown with this post, different woods take on different looks? And I LOVE that white stain – someone mentioned they cant find it – hope that isn’t an issue. And I thought the pickled looked good on red oak – you didn’t?! Maybe it was lighting. Anyway – thank you again!

    • Kat says:

      I thought the pickled looked nice too. I have a red oak floor I’d like to redo. It’s so hard to decide!!

  99. Holly says:

    Seriously SO HELPFUL!!! Thank you so much for doing this!

  100. daniel says:

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Extremely helpful!!

  101. Jen says:

    Hi Julia & Chris. I am so glad I found this post and your blog.

    I have an old 90s red oak dining table and I’d like to go for the PotteryBarn “Seadrift” color. I really would like to cool down the warm undertones some, and I am wondering- do you think more coats of the white would do that? Should I layer a bit of white and with a gray that I wipe off quickly? I’m not sure how (or if it is even possible) to achieve the color I want.

    Thanks so much for any insight you might have! Great post & great blog!!

    • Chris says:

      With stain, more layers likely wouldn’t help because the wood is still supposed to come through. But if it’s red oak, you could purchase a red oak board from Lowe’s and do a bunch of tests on your own to get the color right. Sometimes mixing stain colors can help, but I don’t know what the right formula would be off the top of my head.

  102. Bella says:

    Thanks for this post! I wondered why the pine wood looks such a different color in the picture where you have all the pine boards next to each other vs. in the pictures with the Jacobean and Dark Walnut stains? In the picture with only pine boards, they look a lot darker and much less gray

  103. amy g. says:

    Do you have tips for re-staining newly nailed western red cedar shingles? I had to decide quickly (insert problem) for selecting a stain and was not used to staining any type of cedar and made the mistake of teak (color choice). They look too orangey for my liking which I find happens frequently with stains and now wonder if I can go over them in a neutral darker stain but it will be a major mess, time commitment and height bravery (as they are on high parts of our house). Dang- wish I had seen/used your wood stain tips!

  104. Mariele says:

    Oh dear. This just confirms my hatred for oak. :D I hated every single stain on both oaks! The red oak… brr… nightmares of 1980s cabinets and heart cutout furniture. Riftsawn and quartersawn oak is gorgeous, but plainsawn needs to go away!
    That being said, I do love pine in those middle shades. And I didn’t realize how much I loved birch and poplar before this! I think the huge variation in poplar might drive me a little crazy, but birch does look awful stunning in those two dark stains. Looks like it could pass for walnut at a glance, especially with the unconditioned side looking like wood grain. I guess I’ll have to look up prices of birch next time I want to forego paint on my project. :D Thanks for the comparison – so useful!! <3

  105. Karyn says:

    Thank you SO much for this post!! Minwax is always my go-to for wood staining, I’ve been using it for almost 20 years now. I just wished you used cedar wood for this experiment (that’s what I’m using on my next project ;p)

    My only gripe is that I have been trying to find the Minwax Simply White stain, but it’s nowhere to be found both in stores or online. It is an elusive stain!! Sad face. I am literally holding off on my cedar plank wall project until I can find a freaking can of it somewhere in the universe lol. I’m guessing Minwax sent you one directly since they sponsored this post? You lucky duck :P

  106. Lacy says:

    Thank you, I just stained my floors with Jacobean. Do you know by chance if you could go over the Jacobean with the simply white to get some contrast? I almost want to try it!!

  107. Laura says:

    Darn! I’m having a pine table made, but I don’t love any of those stains. I’m nervous I won’t like how it turns out. I just sent them an example photo of something I like, but didn’t specify a stain.

  108. Ann says:

    This is SO and great and helpful- I seriously loved reading this and studying the results. I know I will always reference this post! ????

  109. Melanie says:

    I had to comment because I am standing in front of the stain display at Lowe’s and I am trying to pick a stain. None of the charts here state what kind of wood is being tested. So I remembered your post and whipped it up.. thank you

  110. Vicki says:

    Thank for doing this! Very helpful. There is not much worse than putting on the wrong stain, especially if you are working with dark ones.

  111. Kirstin says:

    This is such a helpful post! Thank you.

  112. Julia says:

    This is very helpful and well organized, thank you!

  113. Zainab says:

    How many coats of stain did you do on the samples?

  114. Charisse says:

    You said that birch is a very soft wood (extremely) which is incorrect. Birch is a hardwood (both yellow and white) and rates a 4 out of 5 on the hardness scale. It takes a stain well, is durable, inexpensive, and a good cabinet choice. Plywood if usually birch veneered for these reasons.

    • Julia says:

      My mistake! I assumed it was soft because it had the most trouble accepting stains. I must have read that wrong somewhere.

      • Charisse says:

        Yes, the harder (denser) the wood, like yellow or white birch or maple, oak, the more difficult it is to accept stains where you want darker results. When working with maple or birch, you usually leave the stain on longer to achieve a darker result. Where with pine (except heart pine), it’s softness accepts stain quickly and often unevenly, which is why conditioner is so important to use before staining many softwoods. Here is an interesting link on hardwoods: http://www.hardwoodinfo.com/consumer/rediscovering-hardwoods/types-of-wood/ Article you wrote was interesting and I will assist those reluctant to try staining to maybe give it a try.

      • amy g. says:

        We have rustic birch floors and they are quite soft, they took a beating to upstairs, moderate use. As beautiful as they are, wish we had stuck with oak due to the hardness factor.

  115. Alison S. says:

    This is a really cool post. This makes me want to get some wood and stain it for a piece in my house. Bravo!

  116. Cassandra says:

    Thank you for a fantastically organized review of stains on various woods. I have been exploring the idea of staining my maple cabinets. Over time, clear stained maple goes from an almost birch white to a really deep yellow gold. It’s a truly horrible color that’s hard to work with. Still love the solid wood cabinets, still love the arrangement. Any thoughts on how I can approach staining them without making it a thesis project? Any insight on how the gold would affect the stain color? Help!

    • Julia says:

      Are you going for a light or dark stain?

      • Cassandra says:

        I’m considering using a dark stain, which will work better with the stone counter top color. However, going really light has some appeal, too, but I can just envision that dingy gold coming through! Some of my cabinet uppers have fluted glass, and the thought of staining everything inside the cabinet, too, has my head spinning! Ultimately, I think I’ll need to coordinate a color so that I can leave the inside of the cabinets gold, which suggests black to me. Is that weird…?

      • Julia says:

        Or a sort of gray stain that would really cut the yellow could work!

      • Cassandra says:

        Ooh, I could see that! Thanks for the inspiration. I’m also learning a lot from the feedback responses. Hopefully I’ll be able to decide if this is something I want to tackle. Thanks, all!

  117. Olivia Macdonald says:

    This is so useful!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m sure you have saved many of us from buying the wrong stain/wood combination for a project.

  118. Meghan says:

    Love this! I would also love to see more, especially different stains on wood used for fences. I’ve been struggling with finding the right color for so long now!
    On a side note, am I the only one that reads these blog posts in Julia’s voiceover since they started the podcast?

  119. Cara says:

    Best post ever!

  120. Jen D. says:

    I really like this post and would love to see another post just like it, but with different woods and stains.

  121. Amy says:

    This is excellent! I will definitely refer back to this in the future. I was surprised how much I liked the poplar in the white stain, I would never have thought to try that, but it really calms down the purples and greens that poplar has, without making it look dull and boring. Thanks for pulling this together!

  122. katy says:

    Dear Minwax,

    Please sponsor at least one more post just like this but with other woods and stains.

    Yours Truly,
    A very satisfied and intrigued reader :)

  123. Meg says:

    This is a fabulous post! Really appreciated it – you could totally make a series out of it!

  124. Daniel says:

    Thank you so much for doing this! We recent had a fireplace mantle done in Red Oak and were afraid to stain it. This helps a lot!!

  125. Amy says:

    Thanks for this! We refinished and extended our original hardwood floors and there were gross dark stains on the original floors which didn’t sand out. We used Jacobean everywhere after testing a small area and it hid the old spots, and the old and new floors matched! My one tip to anyone doing their own floors is sand everything evenly – we had a couple spots that we didn’t sand as consistently and those areas took the stain much darker than the rest of the floor. I bet this would be true for furniture refinishing too!

  126. Nichole Z. says:

    Thank you SO much for doing this! Really!

  127. MAry rolfe says:

    WOULD LOve to see samples of stains on cedar!

  128. Lisa says:

    Oh man, where was this post in the summer when I got new floors?! I love seeing all these options! We put in red oak because our flooring guy had a bunch of it and we got a good deal. We did provincial stain lightened 50%. It turned out a very neutral, medium brown colour. I love how classic / timeless it looks but…that white oak with Simply White stain definitely gives me the heart eyes.

    • Julia says:

      Hi Lisa! I have red oak floor that we are considering staining to become a medium brown like yours! Can you explain what you meant by “lighten if 50%” – how did you do that? Do you have an picture example you could link me too? Thank you so much – Julia

  129. Anna says:

    Great post!
    Did you sand the woods before staining them? Also, is it okay to stain wood inside the home or are the fumes pretty strong? I’m about to work on a project that consists of staining some wood, so would appreciate any tips! :)

  130. Courtney says:

    Very cool post! Thanks for sharing.

  131. Amy says:

    This was perfectly timed! We’re putting down pine floors in our new house and I have probably eight cans of stain sitting a few feet away from me for testing haha! I personally prefer medium colors so I actually really like the medium stains best on the pine (although that birch is beautiful and I wish I was doing that haha). I may do something with some blue glaze to help neutralize the yellow but we’ll see. That would be a lot of work but our house is small so it’s doable. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tracey says:

      We put pine floors in last year and I stained them with a colour called Special Walnut from minwax. It’s a beautiful medium shade that doesn’t read yellow at all. Infact, the grain in some of the boards take on a blue/gray colour. Love my pine floors!

  132. Lindsay says:

    Definitely referencing this any time we have a staining project. Thank you for doing this!

  133. Lucas says:

    We have been using Pickled Oak on a ton of projects lately. Its interesting because on White Oak, in our experience, the color is much lighter than what is shown in your post. I am sure it has something to do with the particular piece of wood. Interesting! We came to picked Oak after looking into wax-based finishes (Bona, etc.) and loving the color but they are not very easy to maintain in family homes. You should really check out “Invisble” by Loba. It is the matte-est sealer I have ever seen or used. Gorgeous!

  134. Tina says:

    We are in the middle of updating our 1940s fixer upper and last month we stained our upstairs, red oak floors Jacobean and I LOVE them. They look incredible. Now I can’t wait to do the downstairs, which are white oak floors. This was a great post!! Thanks!!

  135. beth says:

    Thank you for doing such a great post! This is the type of post I love since I learn from it and wouldn’t want to put the $ into it myself. :)

  136. Haley says:

    Very interesting! Thank you for posting this!

  137. Natalee says:

    totally perfect sponsored post. I loved this.

  138. Emily says:

    We literally just finished stripping and sanding down pine stairs that had been painted and coated in sand by the previous owners… yesterday. This post could not have been better timed for us! The white on the pine makes my heart race! But the Dark Walnut goes with our new wood floors and the vibe of our house better. So Dark Walnut it probably is… and I’ll save the white/light colored floors for my next house! :) Thank you so much for this post!!

  139. Lauren J says:

    This post was super interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  140. Elizabeth says:

    This is so helpful!

  141. Stephanie says:

    This maybe the most helpful blog post ever.

  142. Julia Krey says:

    This is awesome! Thank you!

  143. Chris says:

    I’m curious if you sanded the samples, that also makes a big difference especially with pine… I’m surprised by some of your results on the pine, I use pine with minwax everyday to build furniture and I get very different results.

  144. Marissa says:

    This really helped me determine the piece I am working on is red oak! I am thinking I will use a golden oak stain and if it’s not perfect I may add a coat of white over it. Thoughts?

  145. Julie S says:

    I love this! Of course you didn’t do the two stains I’ve been wondering about (Provincial and Driftwood) but still ;-) Guess I will have to do my own small test for the stained shelves I’m installing in our wall nook.

    No wonder white oak is the HG of wood flooring. It really is gorgeous! I have some white oak chairs I bought half finished from an antiques place and stained dark walnut… they came out like a dream.

  146. Amber Richter says:

    We have been trying to pick a miniwax stain for birch cabinets going into our basement. This was so helpful to
    see all the stains on the birch board. The Jacobean was a one of our choices, I’m leaning toward Ebony now with 2 coats. And yes, the prestain saves the day on birch. Thank you for your help, creativity, time and amazing design inspiration.

  147. Gabi says:

    Love this post! In the process of building a house and the trim color really has me struggling. I’m having pine wood and can’t decide to have it painted white or go with a stain. I’m having white cabinets/white granite with greyish Island, and butcher block counters and white windows. White scares me with upkeep/kids but afraid stain won’t go with design I’m going for.

  148. I’ve always read that you should use the pre-stain conditioner, but never really believed the hype. The pine looks SO MUCH better with the conditioner. I’m about to make a few frames with pine and I’ll definitely be getting the conditioner now!

  149. Dpdatt says:

    Also was a polyurethane topcoat added which would yellow the stain some?

  150. Dpdatt says:

    Awesome post. I’m surprised how subtle simply white was on oak, less painted white looking than I expected. That was one my absolute favorite!

  151. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this post! So interesting to see the stains all lined up.
    Our home is a traditional colonial with all white oak floors… except the previous homeowners remodeled the kitchen and dining room and put in red oak! Why would they do that and not stick with white oak??? We finally had our floors refinished last summer to try to get them a similar color. They will never match but they are closer than before.

  152. Debbie C says:

    Really enjoyed this post! I didn’t know they made a white stain, I want to try it! In the past, if what I stained was too intense, I mixed a little light grey paint with lots of water, brushed it over the stained wood, then wiped it off. It took down the intensity and gave it a softer, slightly aged look.

  153. Abbey says:

    Loved this pose! It was so helpful!

  154. Lu says:

    yes! yes! yes! thank you so much for this. We’re in the process of refinishing our red oak floors and have searched what feels like the entirety of the internet for a post like this! We tested a few for ourselves but this is helping me to find some direction in what to try next. I found that anything with even a slightly blue-ish undertone (some of the whitewashes and grays have) turned our floors lavender!

  155. abby says:

    LOVE this post–very helpful!! like you said, i wish you could do more colors (was crossing my fingers i’d see provincial on here!)…maybe minwax will give you another opportunity!

  156. Allie says:

    This is SUCH a helpful post! Wood conditioner is certainly key (learned that the hard way). Definitely going to reference this post for future stain projects.

  157. Michele Quick says:

    I love this! Going to bookmark it or future reference. I am getting ready to refinish a dresser and the Simply White is the look I’m going for. Thank You!

  158. Patricia says:

    I’ve never used a pre-conditioner but after a few not so great results, I decided to do so in the future. Your post was the clincher. Loved seeing all the side by side comparisons. Useful helpful post.

  159. This is so great that you are partnering with Minwax. I love when you really get into DIY builder posts. If this is a potential series, I’d love more in depth on layering stains and working with Gel Stains as that is surprisingly easy to do but provides very ‘next level’ results. Great post.

  160. Katie says:

    Great post! I wanted to point out 2 other variables though that would affect color, just in case someone with different results might be wondering why:

    1. Prep- if you sand wood, the grit that you finish at will dramatically change how much stain is absorbed. The finer the grit, the smoother the finish, and the less surface texture for stain to sit in- ergo less color. Some refinished do not sand super smooth (finishing below 220) for this reason, and instead use top coats to gain smoothness.

    2. Brand- Minwax stains actually have less pigment in them compared to others like Mohawk, etc. If you’re not having success with home improvement store products to get the color you’re after, paying just a bit more for a different brand can really help (or vice versa if you’re wondering why a different brand is giving much darker color).

    I love wood refinishing, hope maybe someone finds this useful :)

    • Christina says:

      Wow, I didn’t realize that about sanding! Such useful info! My only wood refinishing project has been a large table and even though it took a lot of elbow grease, was so satisfying and beautiful in the end and much better than just slapping white paint on it.
      I have several yellow and knotty pine (I think?) nightstands I’d like to refinish to make more at home — after this post I’m seriously considering stain instead of paint. Thanks!

    • Jen says:

      Thanks for the sanding tip, Katie.

  161. Colleen Leach says:

    I loved this post so much! It was extremely helpful.

  162. Jess A. says:

    Guys – this is SUPER helpful! Great post idea. Thank you.

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