What is the best wood for staining? One of the things that might interest you as a beginner carpenter is that many professional carpenters have their own tricks and styles. Just as every car has a different system and every mechanic is skilled in a particular field and brand, every carpenter works with a particular wood. A good and professional carpenter knows all kinds of wood and is familiar with its unique features.

One of the important features of wood is its staining susceptibility. Not all woods are suitable for staining, and not every stain is suitable for every wood. Some woods take stain well and some might not. In this article, we will introduce some of the best woods for staining and some tips on staining hard-to-stain woods.

The Reaction of Wood to a Variety of Stains

Most carpenters use a particular type of wood for many projects and avoid working with different wood types. Each wood has its own characteristics and attributes that require special carpentry skills to work with, and this is effective in the quality of the final result of the work.

For example, Maple wood reacts to moisture and various coatings and expands or shrinks. Many kinds of wood react to some stains. This reaction may be due to the moisture of the stain. Some other woods also absorb the stain. These reactions also depend on the stain (oil-based and water-based).

Not all Woods are the same

In general, we cannot obtain a general formula for all woods. For example, poplar wood is suitable for many woodworking projects and can be easily stained but is not suitable for staining with translucent stain.

Also, cherry wood does not require much force for cutting or forming, and it does not require much force to change. But one of the problems we face when working with cherry wood is the lack of homochromatic timbers. This makes the projects made with cherry wood to not be homogeneous.

So we have to consider different kinds of woods separately.

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Woods for Staining with Water-Based Paints

Some of the carpenters’ favorite stains are water-based paints. The water-based stain is very cheaper than oil-based stain and comes in many colors, but you should know that it won’t work that much well on some woods (like pine wood).

Softwoods like pine are very prone to staining and blotching, The moisture absorption coefficient of these woods is very high and hence water-based stain is not suitable for staining them. However, if a viable solution for you would be to work with hardwoods instead, we recommend going for it because in general woodworking with hardwoods is better for making colored projects with a variety of stains.

Some Woods and Their Staining Tips

In general, woods with tight grains don’t take stain well. For example, the stain will not penetrate maple wood well. So, softwoods over-absorbs the stain and you have to paint several times and hardwoods do not absorb well and the paint on the wood surface dries.

To ensure that any stain penetrates and fills hardwood deep pores, apply an amount of stain to the wood, then work it into the pores using a cloth in a swirling motion. Afterward, remove any unabsorbed stain by rubbing a clean cloth in the direction of the grain.

Here is a comparison of different woods in this field:


Oak is a popular hardwood and has a strong grain pattern and large, open pores that absorb stain easily. For that reason, oakwood takes stain very well. You can use a pre-stain wood.


Ashwood like oakwood is a popular hardwood and has a strong grain pattern and large, open pores that absorb stain easily. For that reason, ashwood takes stain well. For a better result, you can use pre-stain wood.

Maple wood

Maple wood does not take stain well as its name implies. Hard maple is an extremely dense, tight-pored wood that does not absorb any stains. Unlike oak and ash, the grain pattern of maple is uneven, causing it to absorb stains in varying degrees. To reduce any blotchiness, first, apply a coat of a pre-stain wood conditioner. Even then, it is advisable to only stain maple with light to medium colored stains.


This wood does not take stain well. Like hard maple, birchwood does not absorb stain evenly and should not be stained with dark-colored stains. When staining, first apply a pre-stain wood conditioner, then select stains in a lighter color.

Cherry Wood

Why would you want to stain this wood? The distinctive reddish color of cherry reduces the need to stain this popular wood.

Some woods have attractive natural colors and do not need to be painted. See red-colored woods and also natural wood colors chart.

Cherry wood is a hardwood but unlike oakwood and ash, it has a subtle grain pattern and small pores which do not absorb that much stain. This makes it difficult to make significant changes to its natural color. So we can say cherry doesn’t take stain well.

Mahogany Wood

This hardwood is noted for its dark, rich colors and its high levels of natural oils. In most instances, additional staining is not necessary.

Alder Wood

This wood is a hardwood and has many uses in woodworking. But this wood absorbs stains unevenly. To help reduce blotchiness when staining, first, apply a liberal coat of a pre-stain wood conditioner.

Pinewood & Cedarwood

These two popular softwoods look beautiful when finished naturally or with only a light application of stain. Problems arise, however, under darker stains, for all three absorb stain unevenly, especially around knots and blemishes. Always apply a liberal coat of a pre-stain wood conditioner prior to staining and even then select light to medium colors.

Walnut Wood Staining

Walnut is known for its incompatibility with stain and lacquer. This means that you have to work hard to achieve a durable coating on walnut. In the past, walnut oil and tung oil were used for staining walnut, which overtime gives the appearance of gray color that many people don’t like it. Sanding and applying varnish before painting walnut wood is very important.

See how to darken wood without stain.

List of the Best Wood for Staining

In summary, the list of the 4 best wood for staining is as follows:

  • Oakwood
  • Ashwood
  • Pinewood & Cedarwood (light stains only)


In this article, we discussed the reaction of some woods to stain. As we have seen, the best hardwoods for staining include oakwood and ashwood, and the best softwoods for staining are pinewood and cedarwood. But note that water-based paints are not suitable for softwoods. You also need to use a pre-stain wood conditioner to apply the base oil stains.

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