How to Stain Wood Darker – Easy Timber Enhancement Guide

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Wood is regarded as one of the best materials for home renovations, art, and construction. This is largely due to its appearance and strength; however, there are ways to enhance this and the best method is staining. Staining wood allows you to bring out the natural beauty of the wood grain while preserving it. Knowing how to stain wood darker will allow you to bring out the elegance of the piece while heightening the overall feel of the room.



The Benefits of Staining Wood

There are a variety of reasons why you should stain wood. These reasons range from enhancing and highlighting the natural beauty of the wood to the penetration of the wood grain. The best part about darkening wood is that it is very simple and with a few simple products and patience, you can produce a great finish.

Guide for Staining Wood Darker


It Enhances the Natural Beauty of the Wood

When selecting the proper wood stain and finish, the natural beauty of the wood can be enhanced instead of masked. Masking often occurs when trying to stain furniture darker with the incorrect product for the application. Staining will bring out the beauty in any wooden surface or furniture piece, whether it is a wooden staircase or a wooden trunk.

Benefits of Staining Wood Darker


Staining Breaches the Wood Grain

Assuming that you have chosen the correct stain, it could breach the surface of the wood and seep into the wood grain. This will prevent moisture buildup from the inside which is a common cause of wood rot. Wooden window frames, doors, and wood siding will benefit the most from adding a clear coat to the stain as this allows for easy maintenance.


It Maintains a Visible Wood Grain

Due to the wide range of wood stains available, you will not always need to stain light wood dark to the point where it resembles a solid color. Stains can be purchased in clear, semi-clear, and solid colors with a range of additional options for tinting. This allows you to choose how much of the wood grain you would like to see.

Dark Stain Enhances Wood Grain



What Is Needed for Staining Wood?

The materials needed for staining wood are inexpensive and can be found at your local hardware store or on online stores such as Amazon. While you could get away with using some of these, having all of them will make things easier for you when learning how to stain wood darker. These items include the following:

  • Tarp or newspaper
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Wood conditioner
  • Paint brushes
  • Wood stain
  • Cloth
  • Lacquer
  • Gloves
  • Ventilator mask



Preparing the Wood and Staining

We do not recommend trying to stain furniture darker or any type of wood without preparing it. The most important step in how to stain wood darker with a good finish is to prepare the surface. This ensures that the stain is able to penetrate the wood and give it the finish that you desire.


Prepare the Work Area

Ensure that you have a well-ventilated area to work in and lay down some newspaper or tarp to catch any drippings as well as wood dust. If you have chosen to do this indoors, it is best to have a fan on at all times to ensure maximum airflow. Since your workstation will involve the use of chemicals and light sanding, it is vital that you have enough fresh air moving through the room.

Safety Gear for Staining Wood Darker

Working outside is a good idea too, but you will not have any control over the elements. This could be a huge problem if you are not working in clear weather. Wood stain is also highly flammable and the fumes of oil-based stains can be extremely dangerous to inhale. We would recommend using a mask to protect yourself from volatile organic compounds (VOC).


Safe Wood Stain Alternatives

The good news is that there is a range of non-toxic wood staining products around. The bad news is that they are either very bad at their job or they are difficult to find. These products include hemp, walnut, tung, and linseed oils. Furthermore, waxes such as carnaubu and beeswax can also be used.

Safe Dark Stain Alternatives

Unfortunately, oils can be incredibly expensive, and we are not referring to the products that you will generally find on the shelf of your local hardware store. These are oil and varnish blends that contain an array of toxic chemicals. 100% Linseed oil is available everywhere, but it does not provide any form of protection.

The best non-toxic option would be water-based polyurethane. This is easily accessible and it will provide an excellent finish to your project.


Preparing the Wood for Stain

Here you will begin with 120-grit sandpaper and you will sand with the grain. If you are unsure of which direction that is, run your fingernail along the surface and if it catches any wood pieces then it is going against the grain. Going with the grain will ensure that you do not leave any scratches on the surface.

The next step is to use 220-grit sandpaper, which is smoother and will eliminate any roughness on the wood. Once again, only sand with the grain of the wood. Once completed, ensure that there are no rough spots left.

Prepare Wood to Stain Darker


Why Should You Prepare Wood Before Staining?

Preparing wood before staining ensures that you remove any prior coatings that were used to protect the surface of the wood. Not only will this guarantee an easier application of the wood stain, but you are also guaranteed a better finish that will last much longer.


Condition the Wood

Wood conditioner prevents blotching and streaking in woods and this ensures that you end up with an even stain. Wood conditioner can be applied with a paintbrush, the size depends on your preference. However, wood conditioner must be applied when staining porous or soft woods such as maple, birch, alder, and pine. This conditioner is also quick drying and it is best to apply the stain within two hours after the conditioner had been applied.

Applying conditioner before staining is also ideal if you’re working with reclaimed wood that may have dried out over the years.

Condition Reclaimed Wood Before Staining


Types of Wood Conditioner

There are three types of wood conditioner available, oil-based, water-based, and shellac. Oil-based wood conditioners are meant to be used with oil-based stains, whereas water-based wood conditioners are meant to be used with water-based stains. Shellac, on the other hand, is typically used as a finish, but dewaxed shellac can be diluted to be used as a conditioner.


Prepare and Apply the Wood Stain

Before you can apply the wood stain, it is always best to stir the can to mix in any of the stain color that has settled on the bottom of the can. Once thoroughly mixed, you can either use a clean cloth or a paintbrush to apply the stain to the wood. When darkening wood, it is best to apply the stain with the grain and to get a uniform coverage across the entire surface.

Tips to Stain Wood Darker


Choosing a Stain

When learning how to darken wood stain there are four types to consider before starting your next project. Each type has various pros and cons, so it is important to analyze each one before getting started. Two of the most popular options are the oil-based and water-based variants, take a look at the table below to compare the two.

Criteria Oil-based Water-based
Durability 2 years +10 years
Cost Cheap Expensive
VOC Level High, requires protective equipment Low, no strong fumes are emitted
Drying Time 24 to 48 hours 8 to 10 hours
Viscosity Thick Thin
Effect on Wood Provides a rich color with a soft glow Clear and does not change the color of the wood


Allowing the Stain to Settle

After the first coat has been applied, wait five minutes, and if you would like the stain to be darker you can leave it on a bit longer. For a less dark appearance, leave it on for less than five minutes and remove the excess wood stain with a cloth. Allow the stain to dry and then add a lacquer or polyurethane finish. This is to protect the wood, but before doing this, ensure that there is no dust on the surface.

Stain Wood Darker with Gel Stain



Alternative Staining Methods

If you are learning how to make wood stain darker, but you are not keen on using traditional wood staining products then you will be pleased to learn that there are alternatives. These involve the use of everyday items that are also much safer to use than oil-based stain.



Coffee can be used to stain almost anything and it turns out that it can be useful when it comes to staining wood. All you will need is a pot of coffee, 120 and 220-grit sandpaper, as well as a paintbrush or a rag. Brew the coffee as strongly as possible and let it cool in a bowl. Then prepare your surface by sanding the wood with the grain with the 120-grit and 220-grit sandpaper. Once this is done, wipe down the surface to remove any debris.

Stain Wood Darker with Coffee

You can now use a paintbrush or a rag to stain the wooden surface. In our experience, the rag works best as it allows you to soak up more coffee than a paintbrush. Once you have applied your first coat, let it dry and then continue to add more coats until you are happy with the finish.


Tea and Vinegar

This seems like an unusual combination, but it is one of the safest methods if you want to stain light wood dark. This method involves creating iron acetate by making a solution of water and vinegar and soaking a ball of steel wool in it. The supplies needed include apple cider vinegar, fine-grit steel wool, black tea bags, boiling water, lint-free cloths, and a chip brush.

The solution will need to be prepared in advance as it requires two to three days. Once the iron acetate is ready, use a heat-resistant container to hold two cups of boiling water and add three black tea bags. The tea bags should steep for two hours. Prepare your surface with 220-grit sandpaper and then wipe it down.

Stain Wood Darker with Vinegar

Use the chip brush to apply the tea and after an hour you can sop up the extra fluid. With the same chip brush, apply the iron acetate and this should react with the tannins in the tea to produce a dark wood stain. You can repeat the process for a darker finish and then apply a protective finish to ensure that the stain is protected.



How to Make Wood Stain Darker

It is possible to want to stain a wooden surface that has already been stained. While it will be extremely difficult to go from medium to light stain, it is quite easy to go from medium to dark stain. If it does not have a clear coat or any type of protective layer on it, all you need to do is apply a layer of the darker stain.

Staining Dark Wood Darker

Should it already be coated with varnish or lacquer, you will need to use 150-grit sandpaper to remove the coating from the wood. Once this is done, you will need to wipe down the surface and then you can apply a new coat of stain.

If you have applied a stain that was too light, it is best to apply the new stain on a scrap piece of wood before you apply it to your project.



Getting the Perfect Finish

While you will not always want to go from medium to dark, you will always want the best finish. Some of us would simply follow the process and call it a day, but to the perfectionist, there are a few tips to follow that will allow you to get the best possible finish.


Use a Coarser Grit

The deeper the sanding strokes the more space is left for the color to settle. This is the benefit of using a coarser grit. Simply sand the surface down until the scratches are hidden. If the sanding strokes are going with the grain, you could potentially use 150-grit or perhaps 120-grit, but we do not recommend using anything coarser than this. You could also use an orbital sander and then complete the process with sanding with the grain by hand.

Sanding Wood for Darker Stain


Increase the Pigment to Vehicle Ratio in the Stain

Binder and thinner together, or all the liquid, serve as the vehicle. The hue of the wood will be darker the higher the ratio. There are various methods for doing this:

  • Increase the stain’s pigment content. Although there are pigments for all sorts of stains, it is recommended that you employ oil-based pigments alongside oil-based stains. Keep complete notes so you can replicate your work if necessary.
  • Give the stain more time to dry on the wood before cleaning it away. This improves the balance of color to the amount of stain used by allowing part of the diluent to dissipate. Since you do not have to sit around for long to see a difference, this approach works best on stains that cure quickly, like lacquer stains.
  • After the first coat of stain has completely dried, apply a second. The coloring will typically be darker as a result, but the procedure will take an extra step, which will slow down production.
  • Swap out the liquid stain for a gel or glaze stain. A higher proportion of pigment is typically found in glazes and gel stains.


Embrace the Dirty Wipe

Keep some of the extra stain on your cloth. Keep a thin layer of stain that cures to a darker shade on the wood. To get the color even, particularly on large and numerous surfaces, will need experience. Similar to keeping the stain on for a longer time this technique works well with a stain that dries quickly, like lacquer stain.

Wiping on Darker Wood Stain

A dirty wipe has two drawbacks. It will thoroughly muddy the surface of the wood than if you simply wipe off the remainder. The other is that, if left too thick, it can result in a weak bond to the wood. The finish must be able to attach to the wood and penetrate the stain. If it is unable to do this, a bump or scratch could cause the finish to disintegrate at the stain layer.


Wet the Wood to Lift the Grain

Since you need to let the surface of the wood cure for this approach to function, it requires an additional step. By employing a water-based stain, the process might be streamlined to one stage. When you sweep off the excess, the grain will be raised and the color will become darker.

Try not to sand the layer of stain smooth; if you do, you will probably sand through in some spots. Instead, use the first layer of finish to “bury” the elevated grain. When this coat has dry, sand it smooth.


Try Using Dye

Both liquid dyes, commonly referred to as non-grain-raising, and granules that you mix in the fluid are accessible. By employing a greater dye-to-liquid ratio or by adding additional applications, thick woods can be dyed in whatever shade you desire. Since there is no build, there is no chance of breakup at the stain level.

Stain Wood Darker with Dye


Apply Toner Between Each Finish

A toner, which is always applied to the wood, is a color included in your finish. Color will become murky if the pigment is used. Without muddying the hue, the dye will darken it. So dye is used for the majority of toning. If you have not gotten the stain quite perfect, you can also adjust the colors along with intensifying it. When refinishing, toning is particularly helpful for matching colors.


Apply a Glaze

The simplest way to uniformly apply glaze to wood is to brush, spray, and then thin it with a brush. To do this properly without leaving observable brush strokes will require experience. Glazes always contain pigment; thus, they can’t help but slightly muddy the wood.

Applying Wood Glaze with Cloth

Toning is typically a preferable way to deepen or adjust a color because glazing can be challenging to apply properly. But if you choose not to spray, glazing is helpful. Highlighting is better accomplished using glazing.



Caring for Stained Wood

The aftercare is very simple, but be sure to first read the product description to see if there are any particular aftercare instructions for the stain you’ve bought. Just be careful to keep any stained wood clean on a regular basis. However, if you have been staining decking, a good decking cleaning will usually help you get back on track unless the deck is in really bad shape.

How to Care for Darker Stained Wood

With so many possibilities available, you’re likely to discover a stain that suits your needs. First test a small amount of the stain you are applying, because each bit of wood is distinct and varied. Allow for the wood stain to fully dry before viewing the end product, as the color frequently changes during the application and drying processes.


If you are learning how to darken wood stain or if you are an experienced DIY expert looking for ideas, there are plenty of methods that can be used to achieve your desired outcome. The only aspect of wood staining that we recommend you approach with caution is handling oil-based stains, as these can be quite dangerous. Good luck with your wood staining project! Remember to prioritize safety and have fun with learning how to stain wood darker.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Type of Wood Stain Is the Most Durable?

Oil-based wood stain products are the most durable, but they are also the most dangerous to work with. However, if you are careful, this is a cost-effective product that can be used on a variety of different woods to produce rich and long-lasting results.


Can I Use Coarser Sandpaper Than 120-Grit?

No, we suggest that you stick to 120-grit or higher, as anything lower will result in damage to the surface of the wood. Always remember to ensure that you are sanding with the grain of the wood instead of against it for the best results.


Is It Possible to Stain on Top of a Varnished Surface?

No, you will need to sand the varnish off from the surface to ensure that the stain is able to soak into the wood. If you do not do this, you will end up with a poor finish that can easily be removed.