Oak stain colors can vary as much as you want them to. Usually oak stain manufacturers keep it simple, with colors ranging from light to dark in reference, but you can use any color dye or pigment to take the oak from black to white to red. Look closer, and you'll find that any shade or tint is available and is limited only by your imagination.
Oil stain is in a category all by itself. It takes longer to dry and therefore is not used commercially as much as the pigment and water-based stains. But the results of oil stain are actually superior. Oil-based stains penetrate deeper into the wood to highlight grain patterns better. Oil stain colors are on a simple scale. They range from “light,” which is a light amber color to “dark,” which is a deep brown color similar to coffee. Oil-based stains also have red dye added to get a “cherry” or “mahogany” look. Cherry is a bright red, while mahogany is subtler.
Ebony and fireside are the darkest of oak colors. Ebony is basically black with just a hint of grain showing through and was common in the 1930s. Ebony was developed to imitate the more expensive and exotic Ebony wood that is grown around the equator. Today Ebony is considered “deco” and used whenever a more dramatic look is desired. Fireside stain color is just slightly lighter but allows the grain to show through more than ebony. This darker line of stain is most often used on specialty pieces of furniture, seldom on kitchen cabinets.
The lighter side of oak stain can range from “whitewash” to “natural” to “spiced.” Whitewash is just what it sounds like. It has suspended white pigment to fill the grain of the oak with a blank white color; the grain pattern still shows but takes on a flat white look. The “natural” category of oak stain is actually a very light grain filler to highlight grain, while at the same time imparting a light golden color to the oak. Moving to the next in line is medium oak or “spiced” oak. These two colors impart a deep gold with a slight hint of red or auburn and are among favorites for kitchen cabinets.
Toners and colored lacquers are where oak can get the bright colors. Colored lacquers are often used on commercial projects that require mass production because the application of the stain is actually in the lacquer itself. The drawback to this is that it hides grain patterns. The benefits of using toned and colored lacquer are their versatility. Specialty items, like oak guitar bodies, can be tinted or toned from bright cherry red to brilliant yellow to dark blue and any color in between.