How to Stain UGLY Oak Wood Darker {easily}

My father in law is going to give me the HARDEST time for this post. He LOVES oak. He loves it so much. He should marry it. I have had at least 25 conversations with him about the “precious” oak in his home. Listen, it’s not my house, so whether or not they change it is their choice, not mine. But, my MIL {who I introduced you to HERE} keeps asking my opinion about how to update their home. I tell her what I would do and it always begins with, “I would change the oak.” My FIL just rolls his eyes because he loves it. I usually tell them that I would paint it all white actually {like I did to my cousin’s cabinets}, but today I’m going to teach you how to STAIN oak. It is super easy and with the right products, you can have a beautiful dark stained oak in no time.

I’m going to be completely blunt and brutally honest here….If you have any oak in your home this color, you need to change it. I’m not trying to be mean, but it definitely dates your home, and believe it or not, it isn’t hard to change.

Outdated-Kitchen

source

I don’t have anything against oak {the wood}. In fact, I think it is quite pretty with the amazing wood grains and such. It’s just the honey oak color that screams 1975 that isn’t my favorite. Side note, I actually CHOSE oak for my wall-bed project, so maybe that proves it to you that I actually don’t have a personal vendetta against it.

This specific clock was a project for a friend, so feel free to think about the old oak items you’ve seen at the thrift store, or heaven forbid the honey oak cabinets that you might have in your bathroom or kitchen…

how-to-stain-oak-darker-easily

For those of you who would like a quick overview of the process, I made this fast and furious video.

For the rest of you who need detailed instructions, have no fear, I am here:

Items needed for this project:

General Finishes Java Gel Stain {yes the brand does matter}

General Finishes Top Coat {satin sheen} {yes the brand does matter}

2 old socks {one for the stain, one for the top coat}

Citri-strip {if your oak is really glossy I recommend stripping off the top coat, but if I was doing a bathroom or kitchen project, I would NOT spend the time to do this. I’m just being completely honest. I would only do this if it was going to take 15 minutes vs 15 hours.}

220 grit sand paper

Vinyl Gloves to put on under the sock so your hands don’t look like you have leprosy after you get done. {Or if you are like me, you look like you’ve been painting or staining something 90% of your life, so what’s the point.}

Turn on some rockin’ 90’s music and let’s get started…shall we!?!

Check out the beauty of this bad boy. My friend Heather’s husband was obsessed with keeping this thing. Why? I’m not really sure. Maybe he loves oak like my Father in Law.

oak

Step 1: Strip off the shiny top coat.  Listen up though, if I would have had a big project to do, I would have skipped this step. I only did it because it was fast and it took me less than 20 minutes to quickly strip off the top coat. Follow the instructions on the bottle. After you get done stripping off the top coat, you need to thoroughly clean off the excess product before moving onto step 2.

wood stripperStep 2: Lightly Sand with 220 grit sand paper. If you know me, you know I love 220 grit sand paper. Maybe I should marry IT?!@? I talk about it a lot in my spray painting tutorial posts, and my painting furniture 101 post.  Again when I say LIGHTLY sand, that means take only a minute or two to rough up the surface of your project.
  220-grit-sandpaperIMG_3658
Step 3: Put on your gloves and old sock and start rubbing on your gel stain. I do not recommend using any other brands of stain. I love this brand THAT much. I was unable to find the product locally, so I bought mine on Amazon.
java gel staingeneral-finishes-topcoat-satin
Step 4: Let the stain dry completely and repeat until you reach the desired darkness. I think I did 3 coats on this project.

IMG_3671

Step 5: After your stain has dried, wipe on your topcoat with your other old sock.

topcoat

Doesn’t it look pretty!?! It just finishes the look in my opinion. Let dry completely in between coats. I did two coats of top coat.

satin topcoat

Now Heather’s husband is welcome to display the clock again!

how-to-stain-oakhow-to-stain-oak-darker-color how-to-stain-oak-darker

Thank you to this and this tutorial for guiding me on this process.

Think of the possibilities.

 

Ready set, CHANGE THAT

 

UGLY OAK!

 

 

Comments

  1. 1
    Danielle says:

    Thanks for your tips.. and I agree. That yellow look is OUT! I have gross yellow stained oak stairs in my entryway. You have motivated me to change that! I’m determined now..lol. There are 7 steps and I don’t think I will need to use the stripper.. there are only 3 coats of stain on them now (of that ugly stuff). Do you think the 220 grit sandpaper would be good enough for sanding stairs?

  2. 2

    My home has UGLY oak throughout. Granted, it’s not as “honey” or as light as the oak you speak of in this post. But to me, oak is oak is oak. It is a very well-made home, built in ’92. The cabinets throughout the house (kit/bath/laund) all have cathedral style, raised-panel doors, and all interior doors are six-pane raised panel Colonial style. Well made. Yes. But it kills me that I’m stuck with all of this oak. We plan to move in three years, give or take, and my husband thinks painting white would be a) a mistake; and b) a waste of time; c) a gamble.

    I’m showing him your blog post.

    I’ll continue suffering silently. Just glad that I feel validated now that I’ve read this post. Thanks for sharing.

    • 3

      My husband feels the same way about our oak cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom…I have yet to persuade him to let me paint them – we are thinking of moving too and he feels that this is a selling feature since they are real wood!! LOL – granted ours aren’t quite as yellow-y as these you have shown…I’m not sure I want really dark cabinets either…I am book-marking this post for future reference – thanks!

  3. 4

    Brooke, what if YOUR cabinets were oak, but ALL of the trim throughout your house (door facings, woodwork, interior doors, window facings) were oak as well.

    Do you paint ALL of this white? Labor intensive project worth it for resell value?

    Your opinion is appreciated. :)

    • 5

      Paint all of your trim white, you will never regret it and it will make a nice contrast with wall color and make rooms look less chopped up.

      • 6
        Dana Dean says:

        Ugly oak paneling !

        My breezeway looks amazing now.

        I cut textured (w/stripes) wallpaper to fit each vertical indent in the paneling (5″ widths) and used wallpaper glue to adhere it. I even put this textured wallpaper on a ‘very’ inexpensive ceiling. The entire room was
        painted white with a satin finish. A M A Z I N G ! The project is 7 years old and still looks great.

        Yes, this was very labor intensive … but with a television in the room … some movies … and the need to DIY
        … it got done. Many people think I have expensive wood paneling. I have stopped explaining
        my use of wallpaper.

        I have also cut medallion textured wallpaper into square panels and glued them to plain interior doors and painted them white. Very nice !

        … Now I am going to update an old, inexpensive kitchen cupboard resurfacing job. I cut the sandpaper to
        fit my mini sander this morning. This time I am going to use stain. More later …

  4. 7

    I feel the pain of anyone having to live with oak cabinets, trim, everything. That was my case when I lived in Seattle. The house was beautiful and I loved the floor plan but there is oak EVERYWHERE!! I was not allowed to change it in anyway. Oh how I wanted to paint all that trim! I live in Pennsylvania now. I don’t have one lick of oak in my house except old pieces that have been painted. I wish I had known about this gel stain 10 years ago. (I might still have been living in Seattle!)

  5. 8

    Ugh, my parents have soooooo much oak through their house and my dad sounds like your FIL. He gets his feathers all ruffled if I mention anything about it. I want paint it ALL white!

  6. 9

    I have stairwell handrails to do.

    • 10

      I did my handrails right when we moved in to our new 1983 split entry home. I knew those honey-oak handrails and my ugly brass chandelier had to go. I used this method and while it took me several days (as I wanted it really dark, espresso-colored) it turned out beautifully. I spray painted the chandelier with a metallic oil rubbed bronze to match and now the entryway looks so much better.

      Good luck — it’s easy, though messy! It will so be worth it!

      • 11

        I have pictures of my handrail project here: http://blog.dulcedesigns.net.

      • 12

        Michelle, what shade stain did you use on your stairs/handrails?

        I got those TOO!

        He MIGHT agree to let me stain this abundance of wood trim and such throughout the house darker, but he won’t agree to painting.

        But I’m thinking: Darker stain? What’s the point of all that work if it doesn’t really accomplish my reason for wanting to change it in the first place, i.e., TOO MUCH WOOD!

        :)

  7. 13
    Kimberly says:

    T – I would recommend you paint all the oak trim in your house white. Most buyers want a home that is not dated and oak trim just screams “I’m old”. They also want a home that is move in ready, so they will not want to do this work themselves.

    • 14

      Kimberly, thank you for your feedback. I’m sharing this with my husband. I would love to ask this question of a realtor regarding the pros/cons of painting wood trim throughout in terms of resell value.

      Let’s put an end to this male-dominated misconception once and for all.

      • 15

        I’m with all of you in the “my house is full of oak” category. It’s taken some time, but I finally convinced my husband to let me start painting the cabinets and the trim white. Check out this blog…this was my inspiration and really sold me on painting everything white. Her before and after pics are awesome! http://www.livelovediy.com/p/our-house.html

  8. 16

    I stained my oak cabinets and skipped the deglosser step. Big mistake. Granted the stain was a different brand than what you used, so that might have made a difference, but I sure wish I would have used it in the first place.

  9. 17
    Elizabeth says:

    This could not have come at a better time! I used cabinet transformations on my horrible oak cabinets, but am going to try this on my kitchen table. Love everything you do! Happy painting and staining :)

  10. 18

    I think this comes in both water and oil base? What did you use? Thanks! I want to experiment a little before tackling our cabinets.

    • 19

      It is oil base. Click on the links in the post and it will take you directly to the exact products that I bought. Good luck!

  11. 20

    Oh thank goodness I am not the only one that is sick and tired of oak. I hate it!!! I live in KS and am looking at houses right now and every freaking house I look at has oak. Even the newer ones. As if this is the only wood out there. I too, love the painted white look.
    I just can’t stand an all oak kitchen. They are all the same.
    If I had a white french kitchen with dark wood floors I would be in heaven!

  12. 22

    Do you think this would work on floors, too? Or too risky?

    • 23

      I would contact General Finishes and ask. I’m not sure, and they would definitely know. Good luck!

  13. 24

    I did this to my oak bathroom vanities, and I LOVE General Finishes stain. SO easy to work with.

    Britt

  14. 25

    I used those same products to refinish my bathroom vanity. It is beautiful! My husband was SO impressed. I stained and finished all our woodwork when we built our house. It was a huge pain. General Finishes is so much easier to use, or maybe it’s the gel products. Either way I’m a believer.

  15. 26

    Would this process work on stairs? How would I go up and down to do the staining and top coating without leaving prints?

    • 27

      Yes I’m sure it would. You would start at the top, stain all the stairs on the way down and wait until it is completely dry before doing another coat. It would be tough because your stairs would be out if order for days. But once the stain was dry you could walk on them to the top and put on another coat going down again. Then the drying process would begin again before a 3rd coat could be applied. Same as the topcoat. It would be tough but I’m sure it would be beautiful!

    • 28

      I painted my old stairs years ago started on top and did 1,3,5,7….. when completely finished did stairs 2,4,6….so we could normaly go up and downstairs while drying.

    • 30

      Ingrid, do every other step. This way you’ll still be able to use the stairs while they dry. ;0)

  16. 31
    Margaret says:

    What if you don’t have time to strip, how do you stain on TOP of the topcoat?

    • 32

      You can, but you definitely need to sand a little first to help the stain adhere. Plus I would do a small test area. But most tutorials I have seen do not strip first, they start with sanding. Good luck!

  17. 33

    Thank you for this tutorial! I just ordered the stain gel and topcoat to redo my glider.

  18. 34

    This is AWESOME! I have been avoiding buying thrifted oak furniture because I wanted a wood piece but not THAT wood piece. Now I know how to make them beautiful! Thank you!

  19. 35

    I just did this exact process this week to stain my oak banisters. I LOVE them!! It’s a long process waiting for each coat to dry, but so easy to do and worth the wait. Funny story…when I went to the only store in Salt Lake City to sell the General Finishes stain, the guy knew exactly what I was looking for when I walked in and asked where the stain section was. He said they get a ton of “Pinterest people” coming in and looking for it. haha Now onto staining my coat rack and maybe the bathroom vanities. Honey oak color be gone!

  20. 38

    Wow! This is awesome! I have so many old oak pieces in a guest room that I can’t stand looking at. I was going to paint them, but now I think I might just stain them!

  21. 39

    My home has oak cabinets, oak doors, oak trim, oak everything. Everyone who comes in my home comments on how beautiful my house is and says it looks like a BH&G magazine. I am not saying this to brag or pat myself on the back, but oak doesn’t have to be ugly!!! I used a lot of black and dark cherry furniture with an almost-black leather sofa. Changing the oak is out of the question…there is far too much of it. But it can look beautiful and fresh and modern when paired with the right things!!! There are other solutions than just “change it”.

    • 40

      Dixie,
      I would love to see pictures of your home. Send them to me if you want at allthingsthriftyassistant at gmail dot com. I believe you!

      • 41

        I am not a photographer, so I’m sure the lighting and staging won’t be right… but I will get some pictures as soon as I clean up a little! :) I love your blog, by the way! :) Thanks for taking time to reply!

  22. 42
    Nicole H. says:

    Oh thank you thank you thank you! I have an oak desk that is that honey color and I just hate it. I didn’t want to paint it, but this would be PERFECT.

  23. 43

    I am redoing my stair banister. The rail I want to do a darker stain and the spindles white. I have been sanding but do you suggest I use the citri-strip? And any primer before the white that you’d suggest? Thanks for your help! I love your blog!

    • 44

      It depends how glossy your banister is before you start. If it is REALLY glossy I would use citri=strip, but if not I would just sand with 220 to rough up the surface a bit and get sanding. I would try it on the back side of the banister in a spot that won’t be too noticeable and see how it looks. That way you know what it will look like. I bet you won’t have to strip it.

  24. 45

    What a great idea! I love repurposing items instead of buying new! We’ll be featuring this over at Someday Crafts tomorrow!

  25. 46

    I have an almost identical ugly clock. It was the first thing my now husband bought for our apartment (which had previously been my apartment) when we moved in together. I hate it. He loves it. It’s been hidden in a box in the basement for four year. I’m going to have to give this a try!

  26. 47

    would or could you do this on furniture such as a dresser/armoire etc. I have found some beautiful sumter furniture at the good will all intake but it is that ugly oak color. My son has a dark brown wood bed from Pottery Barn. Buying the good will oak furniture and staining it the same color would save me a lot of money. Is the doable.

    Thank you
    Paula

    • 48

      Hi Paula! Yes this would work!! Good luck!

      • 49

        thank you. I am not going to strip it —as you mention –it would take to long. I know I have to use the 220 grit sand though prior to using the gel stain.

        Thanks so much!

        Paula

      • 50

        thank you. I am not going to strip it —as you mention –it would take to long. I know I have to use the 220 grit sand though prior to using the gel stain.

        Thanks so much!

        Paula

      • 51

        thank you. I am not going to strip it —as you mention –it would take to long. I know I have to use the 220 grit sand though prior to using the gel stain.

        Thanks so much!

        Paula

  27. 52

    Very nice transformation, Brooke! I look forward to seeing more.

    -Bruce

  28. 53

    Hello,

    I followed your instructions while staining my vanity in a guest bath. I did one coat last night at 8pm and another coat this morning at 8am. The finish feels very sticky, even before applying the 2nd coat. Im not sure what I did wrong on this one. Can yoiu please give me some advice? Im panicing a little bit :)

    • 54

      Leslie,
      I think you need to wait a little longer between coats then. Maybe the room it’s in doesn’t get enough ventilation to dry quick enough. Don’t panic, just let it dry longer before you re-coat again. It will be ok. Then make sure you let it dry long enough before you put on the poly.

      • 55

        Hi Brooke,

        I am a wood coatings specialist, who works for a national paint and wood coatings company. You should not apply stain without wiping it off. Stain is made up of tiny ground pigments or rocks. Those “rocks” are a barrier between the substrate and the clear finish coat, so you want to achieve the color with as little pigment on the surface as possible. Applying stain, especially in multiple coats, without wiping can result in poor adhesion and failure of the top coat. It may not happen right away, but later if bumped into or dropped, the top coat will shatter, or it will eventually start to delaminate. If you check the tech data sheet on the product you are recommending you will see that it does state to wipe it off. There are stains that incorporate dyes to color the wood faster and since they are disolved in the thinner they leave little to do barrier. I am not saying use dye stains alone, as those are seldom color fast. The use of a stain which has both pigment and dye is prefered to achieve the color the fastest with the least barriers to adhesion. Wiping and allowing adequate time to cure between coats will also prevent blushing, or milking up of the clear coat.

  29. 56
    Michelle Mcahn says:

    I have a spilt ranch and downstairs I have a shelf along the middle of the walls and it carries around the whole two rooms. I believe its noty pine and its a mid light stain. My taste is dark wood….can I use the 220 sand paper and the describe stain in blog for my noty pine . The prior owners of the home painted down stairs a peach tone and now I know why…because the stain on the noty pine has peach tones to it. So when I changes the color it looks horrible against this noty pine. I told my husband I should paint the shelf and the window trim and baseboard all white. He said are you crazy covering up all this natural beautiful wood. So of course now I am looking to change the stain color to a dark satin color…so I can be happy too :) and please my husband at the same time. Please help help help

  30. 57

    Yes, I so agree. The trend now, especially in our area (NY) is to do dark hardwood flooring. One of the great things about oak is that it is easy to stain. And, when you go darker in the color, the graining is less noticeable.

    In case it’s helpful, I wrote this article about changing the color of your hardwood floors: http://theflooringgirl.com/blog/hardwood-flooring-can-you-change-the-color-of-your-hardwood-floors.html

    PS: please use this comment instead. Above I posted the wrong link. I hope it’s okay that I posrted the link. If not, delete that portion of the comment.

    Oh, and BTW, we are also seeing lots of people painting their oak cabinets white and then going dark on the hardwood floors.

  31. 58

    DON’T USE 220 GRIT SANDPAPER IF YOU WANT IT TO GET DARK!!! Use 150 at most.

    I always appreciate when people post their how-to projects. But one HUGE issue that arose when I tried to stain a dresser is using 220 grit sandpaper made it impossible for the wood to take the stain in any significant amount. The directions on the gel stain say don’t go any higher than 150. After 3 coats and a lot of internal debating, I decided to just start over doing it the right way.

    Reading other websites and general finishes website, they say that if you go higher than 150 the wood won’t accept the stain well since 220 is “polishing” the wood. At which point you’re basically just painting it on.

  32. 59

    Oh my gosh, this is just what I have been looking for! I have ugly oak staircase!!!!!! Two to be exact, with lovely matching handrails, that go on forever! So, my question is I really don’t have to strip 35 steps and yards and yards and yards of handrails? I can lightly sand and stain? There is carpet on 75% of the stairs and they just did the end caps in oak. I want to replace with a seagrass runner and stain the end caps to look more up to date…

  33. 60
    Cami Dahmer says:

    I googled General Finishes Java Gel & General Finishers Gel Topcoat Wipe On Urethane and Sears came up. I like how you put on here how we can enter our zip code too…thanks for all of this great info. I’m going to give it a try….I’ve had 3 spine surgeries in 14 months and can not go thru too much labor to change furniture. This seems like an easy process!

  34. 61

    Hi Brooke, we recently purchased a home with a lot of updating needed (price and location were too good to pass up). Anyway, all the trim is clear pine stained medium oaky brown. All the interior doors are 6 panel clear pine and there are a few sets of French doors as well made of clear pine, stained medium brown. My wife would like me to paint it all white but I’m starting to see some of the benefits of how nicely the stained woodwork holds up to kids and dogs. In some of the rooms, painted nicely in gold and cream sponged on marble tones, it looks pretty nice but I think it would look nicer in either white or stained espresso. My wife agrees that we either need to go darker or go with white paint. Is staining all of the trim and doors darker any easier than painting it all white.

    Thanks

  35. 62

    Both would be a huge undertaking, but believe me, I’ve been there done that. To be honest, painting would probably be easier. Staining would take more coats and more prep work than painting. BUT, it would look to DIE for awesome. I love white trim too, so either way it will be an awesome change!

Trackbacks

  1. Great Home-Made Stain Tutorials! – Creatively Living Blog | Home stuff says:

    [...] Read more… [...]

  2. […] Apply stain with old socks. This makes sense. […]

  3. […] Feb 20, 2012 … When I moved into my house, all of the cabinetry was a builder grade yellowy colored honey oak. Which was perfectly fine. Very sturdy and kept … How to Stain UGLY Oak Wood Darker {easily} – Things Thrifty […]

  4. […] make the changes I’d like to! Then, one day I was scrolling through my blogroll and I found this post of Brooke’s from All Things Thrifty. It made me think, “hey, if it really is that easy, […]

Speak Your Mind

*