I’ve long maintained that stain is a pain. I now realize that kind of thinking was, well, inane.
Ages ago, I wouldn’t dream of doing a project without staining it. As a beginner, I worked with pine and plain plywood a lot, and those need some added color in most applications. I didn’t realize – or even much notice – that the blotching it caused looked terrible. In my naiveté I considered it a feature, not a drawback.
But as my skills improved, I found myself using stains less and less. Golden oak stain, an early favorite of mine, is actually unnecessary as unstained oak turns that color naturally on its own. Making any light-colored wood darker with a walnut stain, another staple in my beginning years, rarely works well because of blotching or grain mismatch. I also learned that some woods don’t need a stain at all to look better, just a little bit of time. Cherry is a perfect example of this, as is black walnut.
Maybe it’s a sign of maturity, but I’ve changed my mind a bit in recent years. I now like oak that’s been darkened with stain, and I’ve changed the appearance of some utility projects for the better with a bit of color. Putting walnut stain on walnut was something I would never have done 10 years ago, but I’ve had some wonderful results with that lately.
This newfound insight on color has also encouraged me to experiment a bit with dyes, something I’d never considered years ago. Not all of my attempts at dying have worked, but I’m still learning. The bottom line is that stain isn’t the terrible thing I’d considered it for several years. The key is knowing when to use it and when to, um, abstain.