Which Wood Stain is Best for Me? A Guide for Furniture Makers

Furniture Makers Guide

Wooden furniture never loses its appeal. Handcrafted, old fashioned, rustic, or twentieth-century practical, wooden items bring warmth to any home interior, particularly if the finish is good.  This is where the skill and dedication of furniture makers come through.

Furniture makers know from experience that they can make hardwoods look amazing, and softwoods of indeterminate grain look great. It all has to do with the treatment given to the wood. Knowing what coats to apply to the wood and how to apply it can make the world of difference to what, on the face of it, might seem like quite ordinary pieces.

We're going to look at wood stains the and role they play in making the most of your furniture.

Look at the Wood

We recommend either clear coatings or wood stains since the natural grain of wood gives rise to a design aesthetic that humankind still cannot duplicate.

The first thing to do before deciding on a finish for your wooden furniture is to determine whether it is a hardwood or a softwood and what tree it comes from.

As a general rule, woods with a rich color or interesting grain such as maple, mahogany, cherry, aged pine, rosewood, or rare woods such as stinkwood, yellow wood, or teak look best when their natural color is preserved.

Wood that has an unremarkable grain or is very light in color such as poplar, ash, gum, beech, birch, and new pine are suitable for staining before finishing.

Because of the very many varieties of oak trees in existence, oak wood is possibly in a category of its own. Regardless of the loose division into the categories of red oaks and white oaks, oak invariably looks good with or without a stain. Unless you are certain that the wood would be improved by applying a stain to oak, it is probably best not to.

The Furniture Maker's Rule of Thumb on Staining

Your personal preference will influence your final decision a lot. The rule of thumb is that if you want a darker color wood with a more pronounced grain pattern, then staining wood is the way to go.

Most furniture makers or furniture restorers recommend that you test what a piece of furniture would look like unstained. You do this by applying a clear varnish or coating to a small inconspicuous area (underneath a table, for example) and waiting for it to dry. If the sample area looks as if it could do with a richer, warmer color, then opting for a stain is probably the better choice.

Products and Methods

As is evident from the company name, Aqua Coat makes water-based wood finishes. To gauge the precise level of eco-friendliness of our products, please read the downloadable Safety Data Sheets and Technical Data Sheets available for all our products. What's important to know about Aqua Coat is that each product is water-based, non-flammable, low odor, low VOCs, eco-friendly, easy to apply, and clean up.

The other benefit is that each coat you apply will dry more quickly than comparable traditional products. And who isn't in favor of quicker turnaround?

Methods will vary depending on the finish you want. The best finishes (whether showing the wood grain or more uniform) are achieved by applying successive coats of a combination of products. Not only do the coatings protect the wood, but they give the wood luster and depth.


We're going to discuss clear applications and contrast them with wood stains. For surfaces needing paint, read our blog post about our enamel water-based paint on this blog post.

Always ensure your wood surface as clean and as smooth as possible before applying your primer, pore filler, or grain filler. Sand the surface lightly and evenly and dust off thoroughly, if necessary.

Grain Filler

Our Clear Wood Grain Filler is ideal for filling pores in harder woods such as oak, mahogany, and ash. We recommend applying 2–3 coats and then sanding it lightly before applying your wood stain coat. You'll end up with a smooth-as-glass finish with a shine that makes it look as if you polished it for hours.

Because it's water-based, there is no odor, and it is also easy to clean up. For kitchen cabinets and doors, Aqua Coat has a White Cabinet Grain Filler. Make sure you get the clear one for your natural wood furniture projects!


Aqua Coat’s water-based Aqua Tone Stains will add color and beauty to your wood and give your project depth and vibrancy.  They can be used on any interior application and are made from the highest quality aniline dyes and pigments.  It can be brushed, wiped, sprayed, or dipped.

This fast-drying, non-bleeding, non-fading wood stain produces an even tone on all woods with low grain raise.  It is designed for use on all interior wood surfaces, cabinets, furniture, millwork, moldings, giftware, crafts, and all woodenware.

We have an infinite range of colors that can be made by mixing two or more Aqua Tone stains and/or tinting colors.  All Aqua Tone Stains may be intermixed to produce custom colors.  Standard colors can be thinned with Aqua Tone Clear Stain Base to produce lighter stains.


Once you have applied the stain of your choice and allowed it to dry, it is time to apply your topcoat. We have a choice. The first is the Aqua Coat Clear Lacquer which is a premium grade, hard acrylic emulsion polymer. A second coat after 60 minutes of applying the first one gives an excellent finish.  This product is clear, fast-drying, easy sanding, non-yellowing, low VOC, and low odor.

It is versatile in that it can be used as a sealant and a topcoat. It is water-resistant when dry.

Our top-of-the-range product, however, is the Aqua Thane Top Coat, and we really get excited about this product, and you probably will too.

It is a clear acrylic-urethane topcoat blended to ensure extra scratch resistance and provides additional protection against moisture.

Aqua-Thane is perfect for lightly pigmented coatings.  Both products are available in gloss, semi-gloss, satin, or flat finishes. The choice is yours!

Done and Dusted

Amateur and professional furniture makers all agree that using a planned multi-layered approach to coating your wooden furniture is the best way to ensure excellent, long-lasting results.

If you're in any doubt as to how to use our products, or which products would be best for your project, please give us a call. We would be happy to give you the advice that you need. We're on Facebook and Twitter too.


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