I've just completed putting together my first fireplace hearth, mantle,
the whole works. It's made of oak and it's now time to stain. I'm
looking to keep the color relatively light and don't particularly want
to grain to pop out, but rather keep a somewhat even consistency across
the piece. Any recommendations would be much appreciated. I've
invested a lot of time and effort in this and needless to say don't want
to screw it up with a bad staining job. Thanks in advance.
Get Fleckner's finishing book!
Basically with oak the various growth rates between rings allows for a
of stain absorption. To eliminate this difference the wood needs to be
You could seal with shellac then stain to the desired shade or use a dye
in several post
seal layers of shellac (or no dye at all and use some blonde or orange
Best bet is to try whatever on a piece of scrap to get the grain and
color the way you
In general it is three steps to get low grain contrast. 1-seal,
2-tint/dye/stain, 3-seal again (top coat)
Top coat with whatever you feel appropriate to protect the surfaces
(varnish, poly, etc...)
Your best bet is to gather up some of your scraps and trying a few stains you
are considering. Finish them with whatever top coat you will use and look at
the result in different lighting.
I have some commercially made red oak furniture and it turned out cherry stain
was a perfect match but that probably would not have been my first guess. I
just picked up several of those little cans of different colors and tried them.
The sample blocks at the store are a rough guide but YMMV with your wood.
I like oak as it is, but you may want to change the "age" a bit. I've used
Minwax Golden Oak with good results. It tones down or makes it mellow but
does not hide the natural grain and color very much. You look at it and you
still know it is oak.
I just brushed it on, wiped it, then gave a few coats of Norm-o-thane for
For a real light oak color, I like the "Golden Oak" stains also.
On red oak, I've had good luck with the Watco "Golden Oak" oil based
finishes, topped with a Bartley's Gel Varnish .
For white oak, ZARS 114 Provincial is my current favorite for a slightly
darker finish, but still light by most standards. Poly/oil
(tung/blo/varnish) top coats darkens the 114 Provincial just slightly. With
amber shellac top coats, it gets a more pronounced, 'aged' appearance.
John Paquay's got a good method for oil staining/finishing using Watco on
his website ... give it a look. The part about wet sanding after about the
third coat of Danish oil works very well with oak of any type.
Another vote for Minwax Golden Oak stain. I've used it for years on
projects. I apply Minwax satin Poly over the stain after it's dried.
Finish a few pieces of scrap first. The wife has "approved" the Golden Oak
stain for the kitchen cabinets I'll be building shortly.
Getting it right is a function of application technique, surface prep and
product. I'd look into using a gel stain.. maybe one of those stain/poly
blends...they tend to not soak into the wood too much and lay more on the
surface. Try buying a few pints from different manufacturers...test out on
scrap wood. Starting with a sanding sealer will help with getting an even
coat. In the end it's a living product and you are not expected to produce
a "factory" finish.
I second the Flexner recommendation. Everyone should have a copy.
If you don't want much contrast, you must fill the pores, prior to staining.
Not just seal it. The large pores will grab the stain in some areas, and it
will not penetrate at all in others. You must fill those pores to prevent
the pigment in the stain from collecting there.
If you only want a slight color change (and haven't installed the
unit, yet), you should consider harnessing the power of the sun...it
works effectively, quickly, cheaply, and _most important_ - evenly:
(remove the ZZZ to contact me)
Are you trying to lighten the color? Does the wood vary in color
across the board (personally don't recall this being a problem with
oak). If not, I'll second Leon's recommendation of an oil based
varnish - gives a warm glow to oak (much nicer than water based, BTW).
Likewise, Swingman's suggestion from John Paquay's site of Danish oil
- with the added benefit of allowing you to change the color if needed
by using one of the "colored" oils.
Hard to know exactly what you want, but it seems you may not need to
stain at all (there's nore requirement to stain before putting on a
If you want an even consistency, use a water based dye like trans-tint. You
don't get the large contrast in early and latewood colors with a dye. I
especially use it with dark stains where the contrast is even more
pronounced with a stain. Even a light stain such as golden oak shows quite
a bit of contrast as compared to a dye.
Also, you could seal the wood using a 1 pound cut of shellac and scuff sand
with 320 grit before staining.
I finished building a shaker style high boy dresser and I too spent alot of
I like the oak and wanted to keep it relatively light in color so I opted
for the "Tried and True Varnish Oil." Built up great. Then built up a wax
surface to protect. To see their propaganda goto:
and for a video tip goto:
Good Luck, Jack.
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