How to Match Wood Stain: A Comprehensive Guide by a Pro Painter

Bob Thomas


Matching wood stain can be a daunting task, especially if you're trying to match the color of an existing piece of furniture or woodwork.

As a qualified painter and decorator, I've come across many situations where clients wanted to match the stain on their newly installed woodwork with their existing furniture.

With some trial and error and a few expert tips, you can achieve the perfect match.

In this guide, I'll share the steps and tips you need to follow to match wood stain like a pro.

Quick Summary

To match wood stain, follow these steps: 1) Identify the wood species, 2) Clean and sand the surface, 3) Choose the right stain color, 4) Test the stain on a hidden area, 5) Apply the stain evenly, and 6) Seal the stained wood with a protective topcoat. Following these steps and using the right tools and techniques will ensure a perfect match and a professional-looking finish.

Identify the Wood Species

Different wood species absorb stain differently, so it's essential to identify the wood species of the piece you're trying to match.

Common wood species include oak, pine, maple, and cherry.

If you're unsure of the wood species, consult with a local woodworker or take a sample to a home improvement store for assistance.

Pro Tip: Familiarize yourself with the appearance and grain patterns of various wood species to make identification easier in the future.

Clean and Sand the Surface

Before staining, ensure that the wood surface is clean and free of dirt, dust, and debris.

Clean the surface with a damp cloth and allow it to dry.

Sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper (around 120-grit) to remove any existing finish or imperfections. 

Follow up with fine-grit sandpaper (around 220-grit) to create a smooth and even surface.

Choose the Right Stain Color

Selecting the right stain color is crucial for achieving a perfect match.

Visit a local paint or home improvement store and obtain stain color charts or samples.

Compare these samples to the existing stain in natural light to find the closest match.

Keep in mind that the final color may vary slightly depending on the wood species and application technique.

Test the Stain on a Hidden Area

Before applying the stain to the entire surface, test it on a hidden area or a scrap piece of the same wood species.

This will give you a better idea of how the stain will look on your project and allow you to make any necessary adjustments to the stain color or application technique.

Apply the Stain Evenly

When you're ready to stain, use a clean, lint-free cloth or a high-quality brush to apply the stain evenly.

Apply the stain in the direction of the wood grain, and make sure to cover the entire surface.

Allow the stain to penetrate the wood for the recommended time (usually 5-15 minutes), then wipe off the excess stain with a clean cloth.

Seal the Stained Wood

Once the stain has dried, protect the wood with a clear topcoat, such as polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer.

Apply the topcoat with a clean brush, following the manufacturer's instructions for the number of coats and drying times.

Tools and Materials Needed for Matching Wood Stain


Sandpaper (120-grit and 220-grit)

Wood Stain

Lint-free cloth

Protective Topcoat

High-quality brush

Stain Color Chart or Samples

Frequently Asked Questions Section (FAQs)

Q. How do I choose the best type of wood stain for my project?

  A: The choice of wood stain depends on the specific requirements of your project, such as the level of protection, the desired finish, and the wood species.

Consider factors like water-based or oil-based stains, durability, and drying times.

Consult with a professional at a paint store or a home improvement center for tailored advice.

Q. Can I stain wood that has already been painted or sealed?

  A: Staining wood that has already been painted or sealed can be challenging.

You'll need to remove the existing finish by sanding, stripping, or using a paint remover before applying the stain.

Be aware that this process can be time-consuming and may not result in the desired appearance.

Q. What precautions should I take when staining wood outdoors?

  A: When staining wood outdoors, ensure that the weather conditions are suitable, with temperatures ideally between 50-90°F (10-32°C) and low humidity.

Avoid staining in direct sunlight or when rain is expected.

Additionally, protect surrounding areas from potential spills or splatters with drop cloths or masking tape.

Q. Can I mix different stain colors to create a custom shade?

  A: Yes, you can mix different stain colors to create a custom shade.

However, it is important to only mix stains of the same type (e.g., oil-based with oil-based).

Test the mixed stain on a scrap piece of wood before applying it to your project to ensure the desired color is achieved.

Q. How do I maintain the appearance of my stained wood?

  A: To maintain the appearance of stained wood, keep it clean by regularly wiping it with a damp cloth and mild soap solution.

Avoid harsh chemicals that could damage the finish.

Depending on the type of stain and the conditions to which the wood is exposed, you may need to reapply the stain or add a protective topcoat every few years.

Q. How do I dispose of leftover wood stain?

  A: It is crucial to dispose of leftover wood stain properly to prevent environmental hazards.

Consult your local waste disposal guidelines for information on how to dispose of wood stain in your area.

Some communities offer designated drop-off sites or special collection events for household hazardous waste.

Never pour unused stain down the drain or into the ground.


In conclusion, matching wood stain is a skill that can greatly enhance the overall aesthetics of your home or workspace.

By following the comprehensive steps outlined in this guide, you'll be well-equipped to tackle any wood staining project with confidence.

Identifying the wood species, selecting the right stain color, testing the stain, and applying it evenly are all essential components of the process. 

Remember to always work in a well-ventilated area and be patient throughout each step.

With practice and persistence, you'll soon master the art of matching wood stains, resulting in beautifully cohesive and harmonious wood finishes that elevate the look and feel of your space.

Suggested Products:

  1. High-quality wood stain: Minwax Wood Finish - A well-regarded wood stain that offers a wide range of colors, Minwax Wood Finish penetrates deep into the wood fibers, enhancing the wood grain and providing long-lasting protection. Ideal for creating a beautiful and durable wood surface for your woodworking projects.
  2. Sandpaper: 3M Pro Grade Precision Sanding Sheets - These high-performance sanding sheets are perfect for prepping your wood surface before staining, ensuring an even and smooth finish. The variety of grits allows for versatility in removing imperfections and smoothing out the wood.
  3. Wood conditioner: Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner - This wood conditioner is essential for preventing blotchiness and uneven stain penetration, especially on soft or porous woods. By using Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner before staining, you'll achieve a more consistent and professional-looking finish.
  4. Stain applicator: Wooster Brush Foam King Paintbrush - A high-quality foam brush that ensures a smooth and even application of wood stain. The Wooster Brush Foam King Paintbrush minimizes brush marks and provides better control for an impeccable finish on your woodworking projects.
  5. Wood cleaner: Murphy's Oil Soap - This gentle, non-toxic wood cleaner is ideal for cleaning and maintaining the appearance of stained wood surfaces. It removes dirt and grime without damaging the wood finish, keeping your stained wood looking fresh and well-maintained.
  6. Protective topcoat: General Finishes High-Performance Water Based Topcoat - This high-quality, water-based topcoat provides an extra layer of protection and durability to your stained wood projects. Available in a variety of sheens, it offers excellent resistance to water, scratches, and wear, ensuring your stained wood remains beautiful for years to come.
  7. Drop cloth: Trimaco SuperTuff Canvas Drop Cloth - Protect your workspace and surrounding areas from potential spills and splatters during the wood staining process with this durable and absorbent canvas drop cloth. It can be easily washed and reused for multiple projects, making it an eco-friendly option.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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