6 Effective Tips To Stain Wood to a Darker & Richer Color

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 06/19/23 • 

If you’re looking to stain your wood darker, there are several ways you can go about it. In this article, we’ll explore five of these ways you can use to make sure your stained wood comes out darker. Let’s not keep you waiting.

1. Sand The Wood to a Coarser Grit

Sanding wood to a smoother surface is always one of the steps when preparing it for staining. However, did you know the finer you sand the wood’s surface, the less the stain will be able to penetrate? Sanding the wood with #220 grit sandpaper and more before staining will leave less room for the colorant to lodge. Thus, you’ll have a lighter stained surface.

If you’re looking to make the stain darker, you’ll need to sand the wood rough enough, but the scratches should not show. You should be good if you avoid sanding across the grain.

Sanding the wood along the grain with #120 or #150 grit sandpaper will leave a smooth surface to the touch but a rough surface such that the stain can penetrate deeper.

2. Raise The Grain of the Wood

If sanding the wood to a coarser grit is not an option, you can try this method.

First, wet the wood with water and let it dry. This process raises the grain of the wood and makes it appear rougher to the touch. The rougher surface accepts stain readily, and for pigment-based stains, more colorant will be lodged, creating a darker stained finish.

Water-based stains will also raise the grain of the wood, so when you wipe off the stain, it will create a darker finish. However, because water-based stains are fast drying, you will need some help wiping off the excess on larger surfaces.

3. Add More Pigment to The Stain

Different types of stains will vary in color intensity depending on the ratio of the colorant (pigment, dye, chemical) to the liquid (oil, solvent, varnish, thinner, etc.). The higher the ratio of the colorant in the stain, the darker the stain will color the wood.

You can buy any desired pigment colorant and add it to your stain to improve its ratio. Once you mix the pigment colorant to your stain, test it on a scrap piece of wood to see the results. If the results are satisfactory, you can go ahead and apply the stain to the wood and enjoy the darker-colored stain appearance.

4. Leave The Stain Longer Before Wiping

As opposed to popular belief, leaving the stain longer does not make it absorbed deeper into the wood fibers. Leaving it longer allows the thinner used to evaporate; thus, the pigment remains concentrated and stains the wood darker.

To create a darker coloring, leave some of the excess stains instead of wiping them. However, don’t leave too much stain because this will also come with its fair share of problems, such as streaking or you can muddy the wood.

5. Use Gel Stains to Stain Wood

A gel stain is a regular oil-based or varnish-based stain that is thickened. It is thickened by adding more pigment colorant; thus, it is also very concentrated. Because of the higher ratio of pigment colorant to the solvent, a gel stain will color a wood darker.

Apart from staining your wood darker, gel stains also help to minimize or eliminate blotching because of the reduced viscosity. Apply gel stain as you would with a normal stain by wiping or brushing it, then wiping off the excess before it dries.

Compared to most liquid stains, gel stains dry up very fast. So, make sure to work faster, work on smaller spots at a time, or get a second person to wipe the stain as you apply it.

6. Apply a Second Coat of Stain

This is very straightforward and only needs a little explaining. Once you apply your stain and notice it is not darker as you wish, wait for it dry and apply the second coat. Usually, this will make the stain darker once the excess has been wiped off.


Hello there! This is the Make Wood Better Team. Here, we share informative how-tos and guides focused on making wood better. Whether it's finishing wood, maintenance, or restoration, there's something on this website for you to learn and improve your skills.