I love wood – love the smell of it, the texture, its colors and that I can use it to make beautiful carvings. However, wooden surfaces are prone to change colors due to sunlight and other factors, so to keep them fresh and give them the glow they deserve, I use wood stain. This blog post is about wood stain reviews, and my personal experience with different wood stain brands in order to find the best stains for wood. Finding the best wood stain was not an easy task, but here are the top 7 I could find that turned out good for my projects.
- Minwax 61350444 PolyShades - Stain & Polyurethane in 1 Step
- Excellent quality interior wood paint with a durable effect. It can be applied on already colored surfaces when you need to refresh your projects and give them a new look.
- Varathane 262029 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain
- Quick dry stain for wood, affordable at a low price. Fades when exposed to sunlight, this is one of the interior wood stain brands.
- DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain
- Excellent exterior wood stain, resilient to temperature changes and sunlight. Easy to apply, but a tad expensive for a wood carver.
- Minwax 66010000 Gel Stain
- Good quality gel with beautiful colors available. Not expensive and achieves long-lasting effects.
- Price not available
- Ready Seal 512 Pail Natural Cedar Exterior Stain
- Very good quality paint that is among the easiest ones when it comes to application. It takes up to two weeks for the colors to reach the desired shade.
- General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain
- Best wood stain for hardwood and safe to use. Thick and easy to apply, but sealer might be a good addition to the paint.
This post is about wood stains and stain brands. If you are a wood carver, looking for tools for finishing your projects, you can check out my previous article on sandpaper – Best 6 Sandpapers for Wood review. I have also done some research and experimented with engraving techniques, and my reviews on tools I used you can find here: Top 6 Tools for Engraving Wood. I am a passionate wood carver, and aside from looking into high quality wood stains and sandpaper, I keep trying out knives, gouges, chisels, and other carving tools. Recently I also wrote the Flexcut wood carving tools review that you might find useful since this brand is very common in the carving world.
As for my main criteria when selecting these wood stains to review, I was exploring different aspects of each brand and product. There is a big difference when it comes to indoor and outdoor paint, since they are made in different ways and those for exterior use are not good to be used on carving projects or indoor furniture.
I find it relevant if the paint lasts long without the need to be refreshed every so often, and whether the color will fade away easily. The quality of the wood stain matters a lot as I wish for the paint to be thick so that I can apply it evenly. I was also counting on the kind of sanding that needs to be done prior to paint application. For example, sometimes it is necessary to do excessive sanding for a smooth surface, while for wood stain gels you should rather have a rough surface in order for the gel to really give in.
When it comes to the ingredients of the paint, I find water-based colors to be better and healthier to use than oil based wood stains. They are also quicker to dry, which is a big factor for rapid finalization of my wood carving projects. Finally, the colors that are available are a criteria, as well as the fact whether the paint can be applied on hardwood as well as softwood.
And last but not least – the price and the quality I get for the price. Some cheaper paints are excellent for beginner projects, while others are a better fit for professional carvers.
Minwax 61350444 PolyShades – Stain & Polyurethane in 1 Step – Good quality wood stain for long-term effect
I enjoyed using this wood stainer as it is a powerful and good quality colored wood stain. It is intended for indoor use and it is very durable for wood carving projects.
What I especially liked about this brand is that you can use it over already colored and stained wood, without needing to remove the previous layer. There are rich colors to choose from and the wood really stands out after using it.
The stain is thick and reinforced with polyurethane, which ensures long-lasting effects. The downside of it is that I can’t just wipe it off due to its thickness and the finish polyurethane, so I have to let it dry completely on one side before moving onto another.
- Durable wood stain reinforced with polyurethane.
- Variety of colors are available.
- It can be applied on top of already stained projects when you wish to change the colors or refresh your carvings.
- It takes a long time to apply overall because I have to wait for one part of the carving to dry completely before I move onto another.
To Sum Up
This wood paint is durable and offers genuine good quality. It could easily be one of the best furniture stains, because it lasts very long and you can also apply it on top of an already colored wood without removing any layers beforehand.
Varathane 262029 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain – The quick drying wood stain paint
Just as the name of the wood stain paint highlights: this is the paint that dries very quickly. It is one of the fastest drying stains I have worked with. It is dry within an hour and I use it when I am looking for a fast solution to finish my projects.
It can be easily applied with a brush, and it is easy to clean afterwards. This is also a cheap wood stain solution, if you are not looking to overinvest.
However, the pigmentation is not very strong and it requires a few coats to reach the desired color. It fades quickly when it is exposed to direct sunlight, so it is only useful for the carvings you keep indoors.
Before you apply it, you should also make sure to have done sanding thoroughly and carefully with a fine grit.
To Sum Up
This is the wood stainer that dries fast and it is useful for finishing your projects when you need them to be done fast. Although, when you calculate the time you should invest in sanding prior to painting, this interior wood stain doesn’t save up that much time after all.
DEFY Extreme Semi-Transparent Exterior Wood Stain – The best wood finish colors for the carvings exposed to the sun
Most wood carvers use interior wood stain colors, because they carve projects for indoor use. But, if we sometimes want to carve something for an outdoor decoration, these stains won’t do any good because they fade quickly.
This DEFY product is the best wood stain for outdoor projects and solves the problem of fading. It can be applied on both hardwood and softwood, and it will soak in very nicely. The pigmentation is reinforced with zinc, which ensures the paint layer will last for a long time.
When you need to apply the maintenance coat after painting, there will be little to none need for additional sanding of the paint layer, since it gets smooth and strong after only one layer. It is available in seven colors, to help you choose the one that will be the best for the wood you are working with.
- Great for durable application.
- Available in seven colors for different types of wood.
- Easy to apply and maintain.
- Excellent for outdoor projects.
- Heavy chemicals are not very good for indoor projects.
- It is quite expensive.
To Sum Up
Overall, this is the best exterior wood stain I worked with, and it is very resilient to sunlight and different temperatures. It is handy to have one of these in your workspace, but unless you are intending to work on outside projects any time soon, it is a bit pricey investment.
Minwax 66010000 Gel Stain – Durable gel stain for furniture and wood carvings
This gel is a thick paint that doesn’t drip when I use it and it allows me to finish my whole project at once. With this wood stain, I prefer to sand the wood rough instead of smooth, and the effect of staining gets much better due to the formula it uses.
Minwax might be the best gel stain brand, and it is available at a really good price. It is intended mainly for indoor use, and the good side is that it is easily applied on hardwood as well as the softwood.
It is available in oak stain colors, but also other colors that can match nicely most of my projects. It can be applied with both a brush and a cloth.
On the downside, it takes forever to dry and it is difficult to estimate how long it should dry before wiping off the excess after spreading the gel. This is something I had to learn over time, but I wish I knew about this challenge beforehand.
It can not be applied on a colored surface, you have to remove the previous layers and then roughen the wood with a hard grain again.
- Durable gel stain, easy to apply.
- Available in beautiful colors, good quality.
- Good price for the product.
- It takes a long time to dry properly.
- The gel requires rough sanding prior to application.
To Sum Up
I am not a big fan of gel stains when compared to oil or water based wood stains. This paint will ensure a durable and pretty effect, but it is more demanding to use in terms of preparing the wood and removing the excess gel. Overall, this is the best gel stain I have used so far, so if you like gel stains I would recommend this one.
Ready Seal 512 Pail Natural Cedar Exterior Stain – Easy to apply outdoor wood paint
I love that it can be sprayed on the wooden surface and it just sticks to the wood without aggressive application. I also don’t have to sand it in between layers, which is a plus.
With this brand I can choose between 9 natural stain colors, and give my wood a makeover. It is suitable for softwood, but hardwood requires multiple layers in order for the wood to give into the paint.
What I specifically dislike about this paint is that you can only see the true color after about two weeks or so, while at the beginning it appears very dark so I cannot be sure straight away if I am happy with the result.
- Durable paint for outside use.
- It can be easily applied with brush, cloth, or spray.
- The colors to choose from are beautiful shades.
- It takes over 10 days for the color to reach the desired shade.
- An expensive investment.
To Sum Up
This is another quality outdoor paint that is easier to apply than most wood stains I could find. It reaches the full color in a few weeks, but the colors are beautiful as a result. It is an expensive investment, especially if you are not working on a specific outdoor project.
General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain – Safe stains for wood, great for hardwood
This water based stain is an excellent choice for the type of wood that is hard to stain. For example, with my maple projects, I couldn’t find a better fit than this paint. Maple has a beautiful color and this natural stain really helps it glow.
General Finishes is a brand that insists on not using any toxic chemicals which makes this paint one of the best interior wood stains. Nothing harsh vaporizes while using it, and it is easy to clean afterwards.
Unlike many water based stains, this paint is quite thick and it can be easily applied with any fabric material or a sponge. With proper sanding in between coats, it is easily spread evenly on the whole wooden surface.
- Water-based but thick and non-toxic.
- Easy to apply.
- Good for both softwood and hardwood.
- Harder wood requires multiple coats.
- A sealer might be necessary since it can wear off quickly.
To Sum Up
This is my number one choice and one of the best wood stains for hardwood and wood of darker shades. It is clean and easy to spread, but it is probably a good strategy to cover it with a sealer additionally, and not worry about the durability of the paint.
SamaN TEW-212-12, Antique Walnut, Interior Water Based Stain for Fine Wood – Cheap wood stain, suitable for beginners
Water based wood stains are not as common as the oil based stain gels, but they are very useful and generally dry faster. This is the case with these water based stain colors as well.
It is thick to apply and one layer will get most of the work done. This is a wood stainer for softwood, and it is not a good option when you work with mahogany, maple or oak.
You can choose from a list of wood stains colors and experiment with different shadings on your project. It is a surprisingly cheap product and good for beginners.
- Easy to apply and dries very quickly.
- Safe to use and good for beginners.
- There are many colors available to choose from.
- It is not expensive.
- Not suitable for hardwood.
- It isn’t very durable and needs re-applying after a while.
Each of the products mentioned in my wood stain reviews are good choices depending on the project you are working with. I personally prefer water based stains and I consider General Finishes Water Based Wood Stain to be the best wood stain for wood carving projects. When you are choosing the best stains for wood, consider what type of project you are planning on doing with them, and this will help you choose the kind of paint that is the best fit for your workshop.