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While the bulk of the work is required to be done before applying the best wood stain, this will be the most satisfying finish to all wood based projects. Each finish in this review can be used for all outdoor wood projects. However, you’ll need to take a closer look at what you’re purchasing before you can determine which one is the best wood stain for the job.
Not to worry, Best Wood Carving Tools has already accumulated all the best possible choices for your specific wooden project. Regardless if your project is for fences, decks, furniture, or woodworking project there’s a recommendation here for exactly what you need.
Top Overall: Ready Seal 112 Wood Stain & Sealer “Best wood stain for any project. Heavily resilient against weather conditions and preserves the quality of wood”
Best Deck Stain: Ready Seal 512 Deck Stain and Sealer “Longest lasting deck stain with superior fiber penetration. Goof proof so it’s easy to apply and requires no primer.”
Best Fence Stain: Olympic Transparent Stain for Wood “Compatible with various methods including sprayers and roller for easy application. Has enhanced waterproof protection that prevents cracking in wood.”
Best for Indoors: SamaN TEW Interior Water Based Stain “Designated for any type of interior woodworking and furniture. Environmentally friendly and safe for people and pets.”
Additional picks: Best Gel Stain, Best Exterior Stain, Best Water Based Stain
Best Wood Stain Overall
With a seemingly endless range of versatility, the Read Seal 112 is widely recognized as a staple for compatibility. One reason for that is because it is an oil-based, semi transparent stain and requires no primer before applying. Application methods vary from spraying, rolling, and brushing, but they hardly have distinguishable differences due to the efficient fiber penetration. However, its true effectiveness starts 14 days after using, which is only a mild inconvenience given the outstanding outcome.
Several important attributes that heavily contribute to Ready Seal having the best wood stain overall start with the nature of this type of stain. With oil-based options taking the lead in convenience and longevity, additional methods for preserving the wood require annual reapplication (pressure wash, reapply).
In comparison to most stains, the application process with the 112 isn’t so lengthy. The best way to stain a deck first requires the removal of all mildew, dust, dirt, oil, and grease from the surface before starting. Additionally, all other stains need to be completely stripped before hand. The wood needs to dry before being able to apply the stain, and depending on the weather, this could take up to 72 hours.
Oil-based stains are much more ideal to apply outside on decks, fences, outside furniture, etc. because of the fumes they emit. Try to keep its interior usage to a minimum, or better yet, refer to our other recommendations for a stain appropriate for indoor use. Otherwise it goes right into the wood easy without streaks. Holds up against the sun well, but would thrive in a semi shaded area. No cosmetic issues like residue, stickiness, or paint peeling for a decent price.
Best Gel Stain
General Finishes (GF) has the best gel stain that is satisfying and impressive, but isn’t crazy expensive. To some, it’s the best way to stain wood for interior and exterior furniture. Pigment stains, similar to GF Gel Stain and products of theirs, contain pigment particles suspended within the gel or dye. This creates abrasions in the grain that obscure its texture, effectively penetrating deep into the fibers. Although its impression on those fibers are slower than other stains, this just ensures that it is even and consistent.
The consistency of the best gel stain for cabinets, a thicker base that requires stirring before using, makes it convenient to apply on wood held in upright positions. It is most often used for large portions of wood, its application is easily applicable making it the best gel stain for furniture and woodworking projects. Basically, it is a denser version of other types you’ve used, however it applies more like a paint. Because of this, a light sanding is all that your project needs before putting it on.
To get a grasp of the noticeable comparison in penetrating effects, it’s best to just see it. The door in the left side photo was applied with a gel by Miniwax, and the right side photo with the General Finishes option.
Miniwax inhibits obvious inconsistencies compared to GF. The results from GF are visibly more forgiving on the wood fibers making it look ten times better. The best gel stain is designed to compliment wood, and the comparison of quality in this example is night and day.
Best Water Based Stain
Another General Finishes recommendation coming at you here partly due to my own bias (it’s difficult finding the best water based stain), but mainly because it is formulated to administer workability identical to the best oil based deck stain. The thicker consistency is generally ideal since it allows for controlled penetration that generates rich, dark, uniform colors with otherwise typically difficult-to-stain wood fibers, like maple or pine. The spread itself is easy and effortlessly blends, but most of all it can be repaired much more efficiently.
Awarded as “Amazon’s choice”, this is the best water based wood stain compatible with indoor applications. It has a low odor, low VOC, noncombustible, and water cleanup making it ideal for interior use. The method of application varies more on your preference, however it is brushable and sprayabale with an average dry time of 1+ hour.
You can apply one coat, but two is generally the right amount in order to get the pigment to firmly stick to the fibers. If you have a previous stain or finish on the wood, this best water based wood stain is still usable over that existing one. When applying over an existing stain, give the coat at least 1 hour (if not more) to dry, but if you are using it with raw wood then 30+ minutes will suffice. The re-coat however requires 2+ hours of dry time.
Important note, this state is not shiny and will not bring out a glossy look unless you seal it with a varnish. The product is effective and firmly sticks to wood fibers, but if you intend for a glossy or semi-gloss finish then I would suggest getting additional materials that will bring out your intended results!
Best Deck Stain
Some of the main concerns raised when looking for the best deck stain have to do with longevity, convenience of application, and its resilience to weather conditions. The best wood stain will need to withstand every aspect of these common issues which Ready Seal 512 is a fantastic oil based, best semi transparent deck stain and sealer suitable for all exterior projects. Understand that upkeep is necessary to preserve the aesthetic quality, but this particular option is goof proof, so you don’t need to be overly cautious when putting it on. If this is you’re first time, you can find out the best way to stain a deck through our step-by-step process after our product reviews.
512 Ready Seal is kin to the best wood stain overall recommended at the top of this list. Its similarities have more to do with the process of application, 2 in 1 stain/seal, and method of coverage (spray, roll, or brush). 512 sets itself apart as the best deck stain primarily because of how diligently it is able to withstand dramatic temperature variations and direct sunlight. It blocks most UV rays helping it preserve the quality of the wood. Don’t apply the 512 over an existing paint or newly stained surface. Regardless if this is the best semi transparent deck stain, putting a stain over a previous seal inhibits it from having an effective fiber penetration.
Furthermore, not much preparation is necessary before throwing on coats, which is a huge reason why it is considered the best deck stain. The time and effort it generally takes to apply any kind of stains, particularly oil-based, are often what discourage people from getting it in the first place. Contrary to what is easier to do, the best deck stain is going to be oil based, regardless if it takes more effort to apply than the alternative water based option. Its long term compatibility is significantly more beneficial because of its superior resistance against damage. The Real Seal 512’s more often preferred as a result of its durability. Even though oil based options like this one emits potentially harmful fumes, if you follow our step-by-step process on the best way to stain a deck, then you can be much closer to protecting yourself during the staining procedure.
Best Exterior Wood Stain
DEFY seems to quite literally defy any competition as the best exterior wood stain. What sets this option apart from the rest is its all-around functionality with different outside projects. There is not a specific type of project that it is designated for. It can be applied to fences, decks, outdoor furniture, and anything else you might need it for. I could just say this stain is durable, but that won’t be doing it justice. More specifically, it is extremely resistant to color fading and mildew, the two most prominent issues for wood that is constantly subjected to weather conditions making it the best semi transparent deck stain.
Often referred to as “sunscreen for your wood”, DEFY’s best exterior wood stain is water-based semi-transparent. The sunscreen reference is a result of the small zinc particles which break up throughout the stain and reflect the sun’s harmful UV rays. What this does is prevents any graying in the wood fibers and helps maintain its color. Great for applying effortlessly given the nature of its base type, and even better for protecting wood from weather damage. The color finish itself is natural matte, so if you want that glossy type look then you can just add a seal after it dries to acquire it. Additionally, its active mildew prevention is an effect of the same zinc-nano-particles that protect the wood from UV rays, they natural hinder mold development.
On top of being the best exterior wood stain, it is relatively low in preparation maintenance when applying coats. Sanding or stripping the wood surface isn’t required prior to using. Its optional, but you can throw on a brightener and then use the DEFY best exterior wood stain.
Best Fence Stain
Fences are most often vulnerable to weather conditions. There are two factors that a responsible for making wood turn gray, and once this process begins to take place, you’ll need the best wood stain to replace the discoloration. Constant sun water exposure causes degradation of the outermost wood cells, which become gray as their natural oils dry out and further development of small mildew spores of the surface of the wood. Olympic offers the best fence stain that can prevent the process of graying while effectively retaining a natural look. Additionally, in our current generation of transparent and natural-tone tinted finishes, this is its current job, but I’ve yet to see one do it as persistently as Olympics products do (except for Flood, they also have great products).
Similar to a couple other best wood stain suggestions, the Olympic option acts as a sealer as well. The two for one combo generally proves to be useful, but specifically beneficial to fences given that nature at which they are positioned and separated. Applying stains to fences is a lot different than dealing with furniture or decks because of this. Now I don’t judge the method to your madness, so I’ll just state what is predictably easiest for the project. It’s difficult to beat the good ole’ airless spray gun method when coating fences. One with changeable tips should work great. Olympic stains are compatible with roller, sprays, and brushes so whatever method you prefer is your own preference.
Its coverage per gallon is approximately 250-350 square feet or both sides of a 25 foot long fence. If your fence or area of application is bigger any bit bigger than that then just multiply the length per gallon by however many you purchase. Olympic has the best fence stain I’ve come across for withstanding extreme weather exposure with a focus in waterproofing protection to prevent cracking.
Best Interior Wood Stain
Indoor stains need a bit more consideration because of the fumes which permeate the air. Even though oil-based options penetrate wood fibers better, it is best to avoid using them due to their toxicity levels. The best indoor stain is going to be SamaN’s water-based stain. Reason for this is that it doesn’t emit toxins in the air, making it ideal for indoor projects and safe for people and pets. Its environmentally friendly 12-ounce container is capable of coating up to 75 square feet. However, 1 quart options are available in case additional coverage is required.
SamaN is a French-Canadian based woodworking company that draws finish inspirations from country, rustic, traditional, and contemporary looks. While the company itself is not nearly as recognized as our other best wood stain recommendations, its origin derives from wood art and, as a result, its effectiveness is often trusted.
Aspects of SamaN’s interior wood finish are unparalleled compared to most general options. This finish does not raise wood grain, nor does it leave overlapping marks. The first coat is light, but by adding a second coat (which isn’t necessarily required, but do as you like) or even a third color it is deep and vibrant. The best method to use is anything but spraying, this causes air bubbles for this particular stain, so stick with a brush or sponge.
Guide to finding the best wood stain
Deciding what the best wood finish is is a lengthier process than just picking something that’ll get the job done. It’s incredibly easy to overlook several essential factors that can cause botched stain jobs. Whereas you can take the time to learn before you leap. Murphy’s Law suggests that you should come prepared regardless.
- Water or oil based stains?
You can get stains in water based or oil based options, but each one impacts the wood differently. Its influence on the wood greatly determines which is the best wood finish for you and could very well be the difference between good and bad.
The best water based wood stain will have a heavy resiliency against the sun, is easier to install, less fumes to deal with, and is ready sooner than the latter option. However, it still harbors its own downfalls. Naturally, water based finishes contain larger molecules and don’t penetrate the wood as well, so its life span is in turn much shorter. This option has improved over the years.
The best oil based stain penetrates the wood better and preserves the natural look of the wood. Additionally, it prevents mold and mildew, known be a cause for wood decay. Overall, it is more suitable for maintaining the preservation of the wood’s health and stability. However, breathing in its toxic vapors and extensive application of oil based stains bring many health related hazards with it.
- Choose the pigment
Stains are color pigments mixed with an oil based thinner, usually, that allows the distribution to be even. Thinner soaks the wood, seeps inside to color the fibers, the excess amount is typically wiped off, and evaporates quickly which helps with drying. Stain alone can not provide any extra protection for the wood.
The penetrating oils are used to coat the wood fibers and provide a bit of protection, depending on the formula. They come in a wide selection often with varying qualities, from food safe contact oils (which is the best wood finish for cutting boards), to marine oils like what you would use for boat decking. Such penetrating oils are typically resistant to water. Depending on exposure to elements, the oils diminish over time and require reapplication.
Film-forming protectants (shellac, lacquer, varnish, etc.), provide a protective shell over the wood that is more waterproof, but less breathable. This sort of shell has its own set of benefits and setbacks. It is subject to brittleness and can flake off and any additional moisture can cause the wood to shrink or swell, which can cause even more flaking.
(Non-film forming, Oil Based) Basically, this is a mix of pigments and penetrating oil that colors the fibers of the wood and coats it, providing protection to the fibers and locking in the color. Over time, even the oils from the best deck stain eventually wear off, which is why it requires annual upkeep to reapply lost oils. Fortunately, there’s no need to strip the deck to prepare for reapplication, simply cleaning will suffice. The longest lasting deck stain will be an option of this type.
(Non-film forming, Water based) It is similar to its oil-based counterpart, but exhibits all of the less appealing qualities. Even if it wears off in the elements, due to the nature of the water-base stains, it more often than not requires frequent maintenance because of its accelerated timeline. It’s not surprising for these to need re-coating at the 6 month mark for outdoor furniture, fences, and decks. Compared to its oil based counterpart, this option won’t be the longest lasting deck stain, but it is safe to use.
(Film forming) A little amount of color pigment is added to a transparent film-forming finish fortified with UV protectants (similar to semi-solid/solid stain). It can provide slight staining of the surface of the wood, however its primary function is as a color semi-transparent protective shell over the wood, allowing more visible wood grain. “Visible” refers to the different colors between the wood grain and the annual rings, which makes up the figure of the wood. The texture of the grain will be muted but is still typically present in this and the other two levels of pigment.
Semi-Solid and Solid
Like the film-forming semi-transparent, these both use even more pigments so the wood features are less and less visible. Semi-solid being slightly visible and solid is not visible. The film-forming options typically last 2-3 years before it needs reapplication, but the benefits of longevity are unfortunately lost because of the incredibly irritating upkeep process. Generally, it requires you to clean the deck, remove/scrape off all loose/cracking film, sand, and then re-apply. However, if you are one who feels satisfaction from the required labor, then this type could be the best wood finish for you.
How To Apply
Take these set of rules as the universal process to any project. Obviously some aspects, such as dry time, aren’t applicable to small projects, but this is the best way to stain a deck and most projects these products are designated for.
1. Apply with utensil
There are a number of methods for coating the best wood stain. These can vary greatly or hardly at all depending on the type of project in focus. For situations dealing with vertical wooden objects (fences, doors, cabinets, etc.) it is generally best to use a sprayer. In contrast, the best way to stain a deck is with a roller. Big, flat horizontal surfaces take longer to coat, so a roller makes more sense to use because it covers surface areas quicker than a brush would. A brush is more suitable for smaller projects that need meticulous strokes like furniture.
2. Maintain color consistency by blending containers
If you’re wanting to acquire the same or similar wood color then mixing and matching multiple containers will help maintain color consistency. This process is much more trial and error, but if you’ve done color mixing before or at least know the type of wood you are working with then it shouldn’t be that difficult.
3. Apply two coats but leave to dry for at least 45 minutes between
If there’s any rule that is universal to all “Laws of Stain Application”, even for the best deck stain, it is this one. The dry time period of at least 45 minutes is absolutely critical to the fiber attachment process. I’ve heard comments about people only waiting 15 minutes between coats, and not being pleased with the end result. Don’t be this person. If you can’t do it right the first time, then you have time to do it all over again.
4. Minimum of 48 to 72 hours dry time
The amount of time needed for the coated area to dry usually is dependent on specific aspects such as temperature, humidity, and surface porosity. Some of these aspects may hinder the drying process or speed it up, so it is most ideal to wait the full 72 hours regardless.
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