My Favorite Wood Stains

What wood stain colors are best? I have my favorite wood stain colors and anyone who works with wood stain likely has their favorites as well. Walking into the hardware store in hopes to find the perfect stain color can feel daunting. You might question how the stain color will look on specific types of wood. This guide has been created to help make the process of selecting a wood stain a little easier. Below you’ll see several different wood stains on actual wood and actual projects plus my favorite combination of stains that make a custom color I love.

Wood Stain Colors - Seven wood stains worth trying. Picture of wood stain tins stacked on top of each other on a work bench.

My home has a really casual coastal feel so a lot of light wood tones and muted colors. My selection of favorite wood stains complements that style as well. If you are looking for wood stains that will give your projects a more natural look, then this is a great guide for you.

Seven Wood Stains To Try

I pulled my most used stain colors and tested each of them on a board of select pine from the Home Depot. It’s important to remember that the type of wood will affect the stain color dramatically. I opted to use a pine board for this because it’s fairly inexpensive, readily available, and a type of wood that is commonly used for DIY projects. Pine has a slight natural yellow undertone. It’s also important to note that pine can be challenging to stain – it can result in blotchiness. Using a wood conditioner before staining can help with this. To show the most accurate stain color, I didn’t pre-treat this wood or finish it with any type of protectant.

If you are looking for colored stains check out these guides for wood stains:

Guide to White Wood Stains
Guide to Blue Wood Stains
Guide to Gray Wood Stains

Seven wood stain tins and how they look on a pine board.

Jacobean by Varathane

Examples of Jacobean wood stain and special walnut wood stain on a piece of pine board

Jacobean is the darkest of the stain colors you see here. It’s a rich dark brown. On the pine board, I think it pulls a little bit gray but not much. It definitely looks a lot richer and darker next to Special Walnut. I love Jacobean on wood floors – it’s a beautiful color to contrast with white painted trim.

Special Walnut by Varathane

Special Walnut is a color we used a lot in the very beginning of our furniture flipping days. It’s a beautiful rich brown that isn’t super dark but is not light either. It has a slightly red undertone but it’s really quite even. Special Walnut has a more traditional feel to it. I like to layer it with other colors to make a custom color that I use a lot in our home – more on that later.

Examples of special walnut wood stain and summer oak wood stain on a piece of pine board

Summer Oak by Varathane

When I first swiped on Summer Oak it almost was like the wood hadn’t been stained at all. Summer Oak has yellow undertones which match the pine quite nicely. This color would work well for a more natural finish look. I would be careful with using this stain color on any woods that have red undertones otherwise you may end up with something rather orange-y.

Examples of Classic Oak wood stain and Flagstone wood stain on a piece of pine board

Classic Oak by Varathane

Classic Oak is another color that I had to wait until it dried to see what the color held. This is the more natural of all of the finishes. It has a very slight yellow undertone. I can see myself using this on wood that has been bleached or something with a slightly darker grain.

Flagstone by Varathane

Beginning with Flagstone, we’re getting into the gray wood stains that are a category of their own. I like all of them very much but rarely do I use them on their own – more on that below. Flagstone is the classic medium gray when swiped onto pine. If you are looking for a reliable gray stain I think this one is a good option.

Examples of Briarsmoke wood stain and weathered oak wood stain on a piece of pine board

Briarsmoke by Varathane

Briarsmoke is a dark gray stain that almost has a chocolatey brown feel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very gray, but it has a rich depth that almost pulls brown. For the right project, this could be a really great wood stain option.

Weathered Oak by Varathane

The sample of Weathered Oak looks a bit splotchy here but this light gray finish reminds me of beach wood. It has some blue undertones but is an overall a nice soft gray. I love to pair it with Special Walnut for a custom stain color. I also used it over my bleached dresser and it’s really nice beachy finish.

My favorite combination of wood stains

Sometimes one stain alone does not do the trick and you need to mix and combine to get the color that you are going for. It may take some practice to get the stain color you desire. I have a certain combination of stains that I like to use to get my desired finish.

Whitewashed wood stain on a piece of wood.

I like to start with Special Walnut as a base, and then layer Varathane Sunbleached or Varathane White Wash overtop. To achieve my favorite wood stain look – you stain the wood first with Special Walnut, wipe off the excess, and allow it to dry. Then wipe on the Varathane White Wash stain – wiping off the excess. I also like using Varathane Sunbleached – it’s a bit thinner consistency.

Combination of wood stains - unfinished wood and a light brown wood stain on a work bench.

After the White Wash stain is wiped off you can see it has a really nice muted wood tone. That’s the desired stained color. I think it’s a nice beachy look that goes well with my home aesthetic.

You can see my favorite combination of wood stains here on the DIY canvas project that I did. I use this combination of stains on almost everything now like these floating shelves and the large shelf we added to the laundry room.

Tips for Staining Wood

Wood Staining Supplies You’ll Need

Lint Free Cloth
Wood Conditioner
Stain(s) of your choice
Wood finishing coat (like polyurethane)

Make sure the wood project is clean and dry before beginning your staining project. Using a wood conditioner is really helpful to avoid splotchiness on certain pieces of wood. If you do use a wood conditioner, make sure it’s completely dry before moving on to the staining process. After you’ve stained your wood project, you’ll want to put some type of protectant on it. I like using polyurethane.

I hope this guide gave you a better idea of how wood stains actually look on wood. Go forth and crush all the wood staining projects!

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