How to stain oak furniture

Furniture stain allows you to add a tint to wooden furniture, as well as protection from the elements. Oak has an open wood grain, which means that it needs a filler before staining to achieve a totally smooth wood look. However, many people prefer to forgo the filler and leave the oak with a more natural grainy look. Almost anyone can stain oak furniture with a few simple supplies.

Sand the furniture to smooth it. First use 120-grit sandpaper, then 220-grit sandpaper.

Fill the wood grain if a smooth texture is desirable. Wood fillers make the wood surface completely smooth. Open-grained woods, such as oak, naturally have small open grains on their surfaces. Wood fillers fill in these tiny splits and create a smooth surface. For the most natural wood look, do not use a filler.

Paint a layer of wood sealer on the furniture, using a paintbrush. Although wood does not need a sealer to receive a stain, sealers help the wood absorb stains more evenly. For example, wood without sealer may absorb more stain along the cut ends of the wood, like along the edges of a park bench, and will have an uneven colour after staining.

Paint a layer of wood stain on the furniture, using a paintbrush. Apply whichever type of stain seems best according to the directions on the stain packaging. The three main types of wood stains are oil-based stains, water-based stains and stain/finish combinations.

Paint a layer of wood finish over the stain with a paintbrush, unless the furniture has a layer of a stain/finish combination. Finish helps protect the wood against scratches and helps prevent the finish colour from wearing off unevenly over time.


Some types of sealers, stains and finishes have strong and unhealthy fumes. Stain furniture in an area with good ventilation to prevent negative heath effects and lightheadedness.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood filler (optional)
  • Wood sealer (recommended but optional)
  • Wood finish
  • Paintbrushes
  • 120- and 220-grit sandpaper
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About the Author

Lisa Chinn developed her research skills while working at a research university library. She writes for numerous publications, specializing in gardening, home care, wellness, copywriting, style and travel. Chinn also designs marketing materials, holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and is working toward a PhD in cognitive neuroscience.