How to Darken Wood to Match Old Oak

Updated February 21, 2017

Darkening wood to match existing pieces of furniture or cabinetry in a room is important to the continuity of the design flow. Matching colours is not as difficult as it seems, although it is a slow process. Rushing through this process will not grant the results you are seeking. Choose the easiest method based on your preference.

Sand the surface with extra-fine grade sandpaper, following the wood grain. Do not sand across the wood grain or move in a circular motion. Rub the wood surface following the grain, using an extra-fine sanding pad.

Use a tack cloth to pick up and remove all sanding dust and bits of wood. A tack cloth is a sticky cloth that grabs and holds onto sawdust.

Choose a stain lighter in colour than the old oak colour. Bring a small piece such as a drawer or small table with you to the store when matching colours.

Apply one coat of stain at a time with a soft lint-free cloth. Wipe up excess stain immediately with a lint-free cloth and allow it to dry thoroughly between applications, generally two to four hours. Build the colour slowly until it matches the old oak.

Sand the surface with extra-fine grade sandpaper, following the grain of the wood. Immediately follow by rubbing with an extra-fine sanding pad.

Remove all dust with a tack cloth.

Choose a closely matching shade of tinted polyurethane sealant.

Apply a light coat of polyurethane sealant with a foam brush while keeping consistent pressure in order to avoid darker and lighter colour variations. Allow the tinted polyurethane to dry completely, typically three to four hours.

Apply successive light coats as necessary. Build the colour slowly until it reaches the colour of the old oak.

Wash a previously painted or stained surface with degreasing soap to remove all waxes and polishes. Dry thoroughly with a rag.

Rub the surface with an extra-fine sanding pad, following the direction of the wood grain.

Wipe the surface with a tack cloth to remove all sawdust.

Choose a matching pigmented glaze.

Apply the glaze with a lint-free soft cloth in light, even coats, allowing each coat to dry fully, generally two to four hours, before applying successive coats. Build the colour slowly to achieve the desired colour.


Practice applying stains and colourants in concealed areas of the furniture.


Apply stain only in a well-ventilated area. Wear gloves and a face mask for protection.

Things You'll Need

  • Extra-fine grade sandpaper
  • Extra-fine sanding pad
  • Tack cloth
  • Stain
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Rag
  • Tinted polyurethane
  • Foam brush
  • Degreasing soap
  • Pigmented glaze
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About the Author

Sal Marco began writing professionally in 2009. He has written many online home improvement articles based on his more than 20 years of experience in the home improvement and building industries. He has worked as both part of a team and as a site supervisor. Marco has a Bachelor of Science in management science from Kean University.