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Frequently Asked Questions
Start your project confidently and get the answers
to some of the most frequently asked questions
regarding wood staining.
Color - Light Stain Over Darker Stain
"I recently had a birch window seat installed in my living room and stained it with Varathane Premium Stain #239 "Light Cherry." After one light coat, I decided it is too orange a hue. I would prefer to have a more golden pecan or spring oak color. What can I do now?"

Both the colors you named are lighter than the one that is on there. It is easy enough to stain wood a second time if you are planning to go darker, but adding a lighter stain above a darker one often has little effect, and may result in slightly muddy coloration. Nevertheless, it is worth a try, since beyond that, your choices are to strip off the existing stain, a difficult and messy task, or paint over it in a solid color.

Assuming you want to keep the wood look, stain the wood a second time. Of the two colors you mentioned, your odds are far better with spring oak than with golden pecan. The slight greenish cast in spring oak will help offset the orange hue, but don’t be surprised to find the final color darker than either one alone. When you stain, you add color to what is already there. Only painting completely obscures what is below it.
Color - Matching Mixed Woods in Kitchen
"I am trying to select minimally toxic building and finishing materials for my new home, as I am chemically sensitive. The kitchen cabinets are southern yellow pine and the floor is red oak. I want to use clear waterbased polyurethane on the cabinets. How can I get a uniform look to all of the woods? They don’t necessarily have to match perfectly, but I do want the woods to complement each other rather than look jarringly thrown together. I am open to staining any or all of the woods."

I see no reason why yellow pine and red oak can’t coexist in their natural form. They’re both warm beige woods, and I sincerely doubt they would look at all jarring. Mixing woods adds texture and character to a room, and I think you’ve made an excellent choice. To keep it close to the cabinets, use a waterbased polyurethane floor finish as well.

You’ve raised the specter of toxicity, so I think it is worth mentioning that with few exceptions, coatings are not toxic once they are cured. The dangerous part of most coatings is the solvent, and that evaporates off. Waterbased coatings typically take at least 30 days to fully cure. Though waterbased coatings contain different solvents, and often fewer of them, they still contain materials that could cause a reaction in someone with allergies or sensitivities.
Color - Darkening Stain on Pine Chest
"I am trying to get a dark cherry finish on a pine chest I built. The cherry stain is way too light. How can I make this darker to match other pieces in the room?"

Use layered staining to get darker hues, and choose your stains by their color rather than their name. For example, you might get closer with a stain called "Cabernet" or "Red Mahogany," or a mixture of several stain colors. If the first stain application does not make the wood dark enough, apply a second after the first dries, but apply a coat of clear sealer after that.

Once the sealer is cured, you can make the wood darker still with aerosol cans of toner colors. These contain lacquer to which stain has been added, and come in a wide range of colors. A bit of toner sprayed onto the surface can blend and match almost any wood to almost any hue. After the toner is dry, continue with your clear protective coats.
Color - Darkening Finished Hemlock Window Frames
"I have several hemlock window frames already finished with 3 coats of oil based satin Varathane. The normal coloration from the oil base finish did not darken the appearance sufficiently. Is there any product that can be applied over this finish that will darken the appearance of these frames?"

There are a few ways to darken already finished wood, but before you choose one, consider the natural approach. Hemlock will darken over time merely with exposure to light, as will the oil finish already on there. You might want to sit back, wait, and let nature do it.

If not, any stain can be wiped on over a finish to alter the color. They will wipe off easily as well, but by carefully leaving some on the surface, you can get the color you want. A clean bristle brush will help you blend the stain without wiping it all off. You’ll also find glazes in the store, which are stains modified to make them thicker and a bit easier to manipulate on a finished surface. Either way, you will have to add another clear protective coat of polyurethane on top after the stain or glaze has dried.

Another trick is to stir some oil based stain into the oil based polyurethane, making a tinted finish. One coat of this will add color to the frames without requiring an additional protective coat. Be sure to apply it evenly to avoid streaks of color.
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