Waterlox products are compatible with most stains. There are many methods and options available when choosing a stain. The goal of this guide is to go over the basics, possibilities and considerations when adding color.
As with paint colors, staining or coloring wood is a personal choice. What works for one person may not be the desired look for your project. A picture on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, or a blog may match a vision; however, there may be special preparation steps, procedures or techniques needed to achieve the same look. Wood is a natural and unpredictable substrate and can vary greatly by species, tree, cut of wood, board and even within the same board, so getting two projects to match exactly can be very difficult.
1 The tips below are generalizations. We do not test all products from all manufacturers. Wood is unpredictable. Always test any technique, material and product(s) on an inconspicuous area or scrap piece of wood (prepared the same way) before proceeding. This will help test for color and compatibility.
Before Staining Considerations
How you prepare your wood surface can greatly affect your final color. Some things to consider:
- How well does my species of wood accept stain? Some species of wood, like pine, maple, birch, fir, cherry, etc. may not accept stain evenly and care needs to be taken to ensure an even color. This can mean using a pre-stain conditioner, gel stains or other methods.
- How dark or how much color do I want to impart to the wood? The amount of color you want to achieve by staining can be affected by many factors. Final sanding at a lower grit (coarser) will keep the wood pores more open and allow the wood to accept more color. Water popping the wood can GREATLY increase the amount of stain the wood accepts. Using a conditioner can decrease the amount of color that the wood accepts. Other factors such as how the wood is milled can affect how much stain the wood will accept.
- Do I want a warmer color or cooler more neutral color? Putting clear coats over your stain may change your final color. For instance, our URETHANE or TRUETONE Buff-In Tung Oil Finish products are more clear and would be a better choice over neutral colors like whites or grays. Our ORIGINAL, MARINE and H2OLOX products are amber in color and will generally create warmer tones as you apply coats.
A traditional stain application would be one where the staining procedure is its own individual step. This is almost always done on raw wood or in some cases, over a pre-stain conditioner for harder to stain woods like maple, pine, birch, etc. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for application steps, techniques and most importantly, dry times.
Most types of stains will be compatible under any Waterlox products, including water-based, oil-based, dyes, quick dry stains, alcohol based, etc. Gel-stains or high-solids stains generally contain additional solids that may negatively affect the ability of the Waterlox products to penetrate into the surface, but they can also be used if tested properly. A cross-hatch test is recommended to determine inter-coat adhesion. The only stain types to fully avoid would be anything containing wax or silicone.
As a general rule of thumb, double the recommended drying time or wait at least 72 hours on most stains to ensure they are fully dry. Waterlox products contain solvents which can re-dissolve undried stain and may affect the color.
For TRUETONE Color-Infused Tung Oil stains, the normal recommended drying time is 24 hours when top coating with the TRUETONE Buff-In Tung Oil Finish. If top coating with other Waterlox finishes, we recommend 48 hours of dry time to lock in the color better, this is due to the higher solvent content of the other finishes.
When traditional stain is used in a traditional manner, it is not considered a protective coat / layer. It is an added step in the process and will not change or eliminate other steps in any of our guides.
Waterlox TRUETONE stains do count as a step in the process because they contain a large amount of tung oil, therefore they will count as one of the protective layers.
A possible time saving alternative is to mix a stain or dye into the first coat of Waterlox sealers (UTOS, ORIGINAL Sealer & Semi-Gloss Finish or MARINE Sealer). This can help distribute the stain more evenly and may eliminate the need for a pre-stain conditioner. There are a few important considerations when choosing this method.
- The stain needs to be OIL-BASED. Waterlox sealers use mineral spirits as the main solvent. They will not mix with water-based or alcohol-based products. If using a powdered dye, make sure it can be dissolved in non-polar or oil-based solvents.
- Stain should only be mixed into the first coat of Waterlox sealer. This should be used as the base coat. Additional tinted layers can be used, but they may not color the wood as desired. AT LEAST two non-tinted coats of some type of finish are required to protect any color process.
- The maximum ratio of conventional oil-based stain to Waterlox ORIGINAL Sealer/ Finish or MARINE Sealer is 1 part stain mixed into 4 parts Waterlox. Higher ratios may greatly extend drying times or cause poor drying overall. Color will be diluted; so for very dark stains, use a traditional method.
- The maximum ratio of conventional oil-based stain to UNIVERSAL Tung Oil Sealer (UTOS) is 5-10% stain to UTOS. Very little stain is needed to adjust color.
- When using TRUETONE stain colors and top coating with ORIGINAL, MARINE, H2OLOX or URETHANE products, you can add 1 part ORIGINAL Sealer & Finish to 6 parts of TRUETONE stain without affecting color. This will help speed up the dry time and get a more positive dry. Do not use this method if using the TRUETONE Buff-In Tung Oil finish for the top coats, as it can lead to water-spotting.
Color After Coating
In general, staining should be the first step and should be done on raw wood (or over a wood conditioner if used). Stains are designed to dye the wood fibers and to get color and pigment soaked into the wood. This is very difficult if the wood is already sealed.
If you want to change the color of a project after it has been finished, there are a few options.
- The best course of action is to sand or strip the existing finish and start over with bare wood. Most stains are not designed to be standalone layers on top or between other layers2. If they are used over another finish, they may create a very weak layer that can lead to coating failures. Waterlox TRUETONE Color-Infused Tung Oil stains must be applied to raw wood and raw wood only.
2 The only exception is when using one coat of MARINE Sealer or ORIGINAL Sealer & Semi-Gloss Finish as a thin coat in place of a pre-stain conditioner. This works better on softer woods that are still relatively absorbent even after one coat of the sealers. This DOES NOT APPLY to the UTOS.
- You can apply a tinted coat of Waterlox ORIGINAL Sealer & Semi-Gloss Finish or MARINE Sealer. These Waterlox Sealers will adhere well to most surfaces, so you can add a tinted coat (sometimes considered glaze or toner) on top of an existing finish. This essentially adds some actual coating reinforcement to the stain allowing it to adhere well. Here are some things to consider:
- An additional two (2) non-tinted clear coats over the color coat to ensure that the color is protected, especially on working surfaces like floors or countertops is recommended. If this causes the final film to be too thick, then sanding before the tint coat may be needed.
- The maximum ratio is 1 part stain to 4 parts ORIGINAL Sealer & Semi-Gloss Finish or MARINE Sealer, therefore the color will be diluted.
- This will look different than staining the wood itself. Staining the wood itself tends to highlight the grain differences by collecting more pigment in the open grain, and less color in the closed grain. Tinting the clear sealer will put an even ‘candy coat’ over the wood surface.