How to Color Match Stains for Color Matching


Color-matching stains for woodworking projects can help make antique, unfinished and faded wood look like new. Matching an existing wood tone is a tedious process that requires some trial and error. Due to the differing color pigments in wood stain, color blending that combines two or more shades into one color that closely resembles the desired shade is often necessary. Color matching of wood stains most easily is accomplished when the pieces of wood come from the same tree species.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood stains
  • Paint brushes
  • Cotton cloths
  • Plastic mixing bowl
  • Select three small cans of wood stain that are different colors. Make sure the three stains are similar to the desired wood tone that you are aiming to match. Choose stains that are water-based or oil-based, but do not choose both. Do not mix water and oil stains.

  • Choose to test and apply the stain in a room with appropriate lighting conditions. Select a room that has the same lighting conditions as the room where the wood will be located permanently. Natural sunlight, fluorescent light bulbs and incandescent light bulbs each reflect light differently on a wood surface. Lighting can affect the appearance of the color tone of the wood.

  • Test a hidden area of the wood before staining the visible areas. Test scraps of the same wood or a small area on the back side of the wood furniture to ensure that the stain matches the surrounding wood surface. Choose an inconspicuous part of the wood surface like the underside of a table or a small section of flooring that will be covered by a piece of furniture.

  • Apply a small amount of stain from one of the jars to the test area using a cotton cloth or paint brush. Use smooth even strokes that flow in the same direction as the wood grain. Let the area dry for 30 minutes.

  • Examine the stained surface. Mix two or three of the stain colors in a small plastic bowl if the single stain application does not match the wood. Apply the wood stain mixture to the test area to get the desired wood color. Measure the amounts of each stain color using a tablespoon or measuring cup to ensure that you can replicate the mixture. Record the stain "recipe" so it can be recreated in the future. Allow the stain to dry for 30 minutes after each test.

Tips & Warnings

  • Do not judge the color matching by the color of the stain in the jar. The pigments in the wet liquid will change when the stain is applied to the wood. As the wood dries, it will absorb some of the stain, often making the wood appear lighter than the stain in the jar.
  • Do not touch the stain while it is drying. Fingerprints can affect the appearance of the wood and negatively affect the color matching.

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  • Photo Credit wood lawn chair image by Daniel Gillies from
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