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How we layered stain to take a wood countertop from dark cherry to a white oak look!

October 7, 2020  —  Written by Julia Marcum 

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We still have a few finishing touches to put on the girls’ office (see all the plans here!), but over the last week we tackled a really fun DIY that transformed the dark cherry stained wood countertop that was there into a white oak looking one that matches our floor a little better. And today, we wanted to walk you through the process of layering stains because WHAT A RELIEF THAT PROCESS WAS!

Here’s how it looked when we started. The cabinetry and desktop were all stained the same dark cherry:

One of the first things we did in the room was sand down the countertop because we really wanted to re-use it and wanted to make sure it was going to be possible. A few (okay, a lot) of passes with the palm sander showed a much lighter wood (we’re thinking it’s Douglas Fir because it’s softer) that we could DEFINITELY work with.

So we covered it and went to work on the rest of the room, painting and adding paneling (see more about that here!) and then went back to the counter.

I had really gotten use to the lighter, raw counter but as you can see above, it had a yellow-ish tint to it and I wanted it to coordinate a little more with our floors. (These are our floors.)

The process took 5 steps.

  1. Sand down the counter really well with an orbital sander.
  2. Condition the wood with a Pre-stain conditioner. This is especially important with soft woods like Fir and Pine. Otherwise, your wood can look splotchy as the stain won’t take as evenly.
  3. Then we layered on our first stain–Minwax Driftwood. I highly recommend using these stain pads–it goes on so easy! I panicked at this point because it looked REALLY rustic and I didn’t love it at all. But the great thing about stain is you can layer different colors to get the look you want!
  4. On top of the Driftwood, I layered on Simply White stain. It was EXACTLY what I wanted. It really grayed out and softened the countertops.
  5. Lastly, we put on two coats of water based Polycrylic sealer to protect them!

You can watch the simple process (and get a peek at the after) right here!

The girls’ office is almost finished and we’re loving the way it is looking. We hope to share the before and afters (I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW FAR WE’VE COME!) next week!!

What do you think?

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Great tutorial, thanks for sharing! I’m hoping to try this on a some redwood I purchased to make floating shelves. I’m hoping it can help stain out some of the red tones :)

  2. Olivia says:

    Sorry if this has already been answered, but wondering how many coats of each stain were applied?

  3. Marcela says:

    Hi, I am looking to redo my kitchen cabinets and wanted to know how you went from that cherry oak color to white? Did you make a post going over the process?

  4. Katie says:

    Looks amazing! Could you do this same process to a wood table (and indoors)?

  5. Savannah says:

    It looks beautiful! How do you put on the poly based sealer? I have tried this on multiple projects and I never have any luck. Currently staring at a coffee table that I used it on and you can see uneven brush strokes and sometimes bubbling. It almost looks like paint stripes. Have you had any trouble like this?

  6. Chris says:

    Stain is made to penetrate the wood’s grain and seal it. There is NO way the additional coats of stain penetrated into the wood. It’s just sitting there for now. You may have gotten the look you want but NO Professional Painter would do this. Even the stains warranty has been broken. I guarantee a Patent won’t come from this.

  7. Courtney says:

    Do you think I could try this tutorial with my front door?

  8. Teresa says:

    This reads like an ad from Minwax, especially given the photo of all the Minwax products + you are showing a technique that layers multiple colors of stain = more product. I’ll be honest that I do question the motivations behind this post – is layering stain really cost effective for the average DIYer? Wouldn’t you have been better off finding a stain that matched what you were looking for in the first place?

  9. Tori says:

    It’s crazy that this looks like bare wood and the stain isn’t noticeable! I stripped a red oak bar top that had numerous coats of oil based poly in order to get it more like our white oak floor and table. I ended up using wood bleach, but this seems like a much easier option. It may inspire me to refinish the remaining 80’s looking oak-or not! Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. Cindy Burk says:

    Loving this space! Nicely done!
    How did you strip the ceiling beams, and what wood are they?

  11. Vanessa says:

    Looks great! May i ask where that runner is from? I love the colors.

  12. Ashley says:

    Do you know what type of wood your countertop is? I k ow different woods pull stains differently. We have white oak floors but the stairs are red oak. I don’t want to pull the pink hues of the red oak ????

  13. Kim Reppond says:

    So Beautiful! Did you let the driftwood stain dry before you put simply white stain on?

  14. Lina says:

    I’ve been trying to find the post of Faye’s bed and it doesn’t seem to be here anymore!!!???

  15. Kate says:

    In your reveal or in another post, could you include your installation of under-cabinet & under-shelf lighting? Thank you so much! (It all looks beautiful!)

  16. Staci M Resnick says:

    Omg! This is perfect timing! I’ve been sanding down an old desk (for what seems like weeks now bc of all the books & crannies) and I couldn’t decide on a stain. I LOVE THIS! Thank you so much for sharing. And, a question – any advice on sanding the corbel legs of the darn desk? Tips, tricks?! There are so many fine spaces it’s driving me batty as a first time refinisher ????????

    • Julia says:

      I think my only advice is to find a good audio book (can I recommend Devolution?!) and go for it. Would a citrus stripper help?

    • Wendy says:

      Hi Staci,
      I have experience with stripping wood. I like Klean Strip stripper which you can buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s. It works very well at stripping finishes. Use a brass bristle brush to get into the nooks and crannies. Also fine steel wool. When you’re done, wipe the wood down with Klean Stip Ater Wash. It will remove the residue.

  17. Brenda says:

    Do you think we could use this process on a pine table that was not stained but has a couple coats of poly satin or gloss finish on it?? It just looks really yellow and I don’t like it at all!!!

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