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Wood Stain vs Paint for Wooden Furniture: Choosing the Best Finish for Your Project

  • by Joshua Cordray
Wood Stain vs Paint for Wooden Furniture: Choosing the Best Finish for Your Project

How are you going to finish your furniture? Wood stain and paint are popular choices. Each can give you a specific look that enhances the beauty of your piece of furniture. 

But wood stain and paint are quite different. Stain soaks into the wood and leaves the grain very obvious. Paint sits on top of the wood and creates its own finish.

Before we get into the details of each, let's have a quick chat about how you "finish your finish."

How to Finish the Finish: Artisan Born Expert Advice

After years of assembling furniture and putting the final touches on furniture, we've learned a few things. Here's the short story:

Both stain and paint need a protective finish on top of them.

We use a top quality polyurethane finish to preserve the natural beauty of the wood. Our products are made from handpicked, kiln-dried wood. Paint and stain aren't required because we want the natural look.

Would you like a specific color or stain? We now offer white oak stains with the Rubio Monocoat. This is a beautiful stain with low VOCs, no toxins and genuinely eco-friendly production. 

Whether you finish your furniture with the natural look or a stain, our expert polyurethane finish protects the wood from fading, cracking, and other damage.   

Understanding Wood Stain

Wood stain is a popular choice for protecting and enhancing the beauty of wood surfaces. It's especially well-suited for hardwood floors, flat surfaces, and outdoor projects. Unlike paint, which sits on top of the wood, stain soaks into the wood grain, creating a natural, transparent finish. Wood stain can enhance the natural beauty of wood surfaces, making it an ideal choice for those who want to maintain the natural state of their wood.

Types of Wood Stain: Exploring Options for Furniture Pieces

There are several types of wood stain to choose from, including:

  • Gel stain: great for detailed work and vertical surfaces, gel stains are thick and easy to apply

  • Solid stain: provide an opaque finish, covering the natural grain of the wood

  • Semi-transparent stains: enhance the natural grain of the wood while providing protection, semi-transparent stains come in a range of colors

When choosing a wood stain, consider the following factors:

  • Color: wood stain comes in a range of natural colors, from light to dark

  • Finish: wood stain can provide a glossy, matte, or satin finish

  • Durability: some wood stains are more durable than others, making them suitable for high-traffic areas or outdoor use

Enhancing Natural Wood Beauty by Showing the Wood Grain

Wood stain is a great choice if you want to maintain the natural beauty of your wood surfaces. It enhances the natural grain and color of the wood, creating a warm and inviting finish. Unlike paint, which covers up the wood grain, stain allows the natural beauty of the wood to shine through. Wood stain can:

  • Accentuate the wood grain

  • Add depth and dimension to the wood

  • Protect the wood from damage when paired with a protective coating

Protecting a Stained Surface with a Protective Layer

Applying multiple coats of wood stain provides a durable finish that resists moisture damage and fading. However, it's important to note that stain is not a substitute for a protective clear coat. Applying a clear coat over the stain finish provides an extra layer of protection and makes maintenance easier. Some popular clear coat options include:

  • Polyurethane: a water-based or oil-based coating that provides a hard, protective finish

  • Varnish: a clear, protective coating that enhances the natural beauty of the wood

  • Lacquer: a fast-drying, protective coating that provides a high-gloss finish

  • Beeswax: a natural, non-toxic option that provides a protective barrier and enhances the natural beauty of the wood

  • Tung oil: a natural, non-toxic oil that penetrates the wood and provides a protective finish

Remember, when working with wood stain, it's important to:

  • Sand the surface thoroughly

  • Apply several coats to achieve the desired color and finish

  • Consider applying a primer first to ensure an even finish

With proper application and maintenance, staining wood can provide a beautiful and durable finish for your wood surfaces.

The Case for Paint

When it comes to wood finishing, paint is a popular choice among homeowners and DIYers. And for good reason - it's easy to use, versatile, and affordable. Paint is ideal for large surfaces, such as walls and ceilings, and can be used to create a uniform finish and color. Plus, it's a great option for those who want to cover up the natural grain of the wood or create a bold, opaque finish.

Choosing the Right Paint

With so many types of paint on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your project. But by considering a few key factors, you can make an informed decision.

First, think about the surface you're painting. If it's a high-traffic area or will be exposed to moisture, you'll want to choose a paint that's durable and water-resistant.

Next, consider the look you want to achieve. Do you want a glossy finish or a matte finish?

Finally, think about the color you want to use. With so many options available, you're sure to find the perfect shade to match your style.

Here are some options for the type of paint you could use:

  • Latex paint: Water-based, easy to clean up, and dries quickly. Good choice for most interior and exterior projects, especially for those who want a fast-drying and low-odor option.

  • Oil-based paint: Provides a smooth, glossy finish and is great for trim work and furniture. Good choice for those who want a durable and long-lasting finish, but be aware it takes longer to dry and has strong fumes.

  • Chalk paint: A type of latex paint that's known for its matte finish and ease of use. Good choice for those who want a distressed or vintage look, or for painting furniture and decor.

  • Spray paint: Fast and easy to apply, great for small surfaces and adding a pop of color. Good choice for those who want a quick and easy way to add color and protection.

  • Enamel paint: Provides a hard, glossy finish and is great for surfaces that need extra protection. Good choice for those who want a durable and chip-resistant finish.

  • Acrylic paint: Water-based and fast-drying, great for interior and exterior projects. Good choice for those who want a versatile and low-odor option.

  • Epoxy paint: Provides a strong, durable finish and is great for surfaces that need extra protection. Good choice for those who want a long-lasting and resistant finish.

  • Urethane paint: Provides a hard, glossy finish and is great for surfaces that need extra protection. Good choice for those who want a durable and resistant finish.

  • Primer and paint in one: A convenient option that combines primer and paint in one product. Good choice for those who want to save time and effort.

Achieving a Professional-Looking Finish

Painting can be intimidating, especially when you're aiming for a professional-looking finish. But don't worry, we've got you covered! With these expert tips and tricks, you'll be well on your way to achieving a beautiful, smooth finish that will make your project stand out.

Prepare Wood Surfaces for Perfection

Before you even pick up a paintbrush, make sure your surface is ready for painting. A smooth finish starts with a smooth surface. Take the time to sand and clean your surface thoroughly to ensure a professional-looking finish. Here's the sandpaper guide you never knew you needed:

  • Coarse (80-100 grit): Use for initial sanding to remove old finish, smooth out rough wood, and create a surface for painting.

  • Medium (120-150 grit): Use for secondary sanding to further smooth out the wood and remove any remaining imperfections.

  • Fine (220-240 grit): Use for final sanding to create a smooth, even surface for painting.

Remember to always sand with the grain of the wood, and work your way up through the grits for a smooth finish. It's also important to wipe away any dust or debris between sanding to ensure a clean surface for painting.

Prime for Success

Primer is an essential step in achieving a professional-looking finish. Primer helps the paint adhere better and ensures a more even coat. Don't skip this step - it's worth the extra time and effort!

Here are three quick tips for getting the best results from your primer:

  • Choose a primer specifically designed for wood: These primers are usually labeled as "wood primer" or "stain-blocking primer" and are formulated to seal the wood and create a smooth surface for painting.

  • Use a stain-blocking primer if necessary: If you're painting over a dark or bold color, or if the wood has a lot of knots or stains, consider using a stain-blocking primer to prevent the old color from bleeding through.

  • Consider a primer with a built-in sealer: Some primers have a built-in sealer that helps protect the wood from moisture and adds an extra layer of durability to the finish.

Pay attention to that second tip! If you've got a knotty wood, like pine, that stain blocker will be worth every penny later.

Paint Like a Pro

Now it's time to paint! Apply thin, even coats, allowing each coat to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. And don't forget to lightly sand between coats for a smooth finish.

Expert Painting Tips:

  1. Choose the right paint sheen: Select a paint sheen that suits your project's needs. Flat (matte) sheen is ideal for most wood projects, while eggshell or satin sheen can add a subtle shine.

  2. Apply paint in thin, even coats: Avoid applying too much paint at once, as this can lead to drips, runs, and uneven coverage.

  3. Use a "wet" edge: Maintain a "wet" edge by painting in sections and working in small areas to prevent lap marks and streaks.

  4. Use a paint additive for extra protection: Consider adding a paint additive like a water repellent or UV protector to enhance the paint's durability and performance.

  5. Inspect and touch up: Inspect your work as you go and touch up any mistakes or areas that need extra attention.

These tips will help you achieve a professional-looking finish and ensure a beautiful, long-lasting result for your wood painting project.

Comparing Wood Stain and Paint

When it comes to enhancing the beauty of wood furniture, two popular options stand out: wood stain and paint. While both offer unique benefits, they differ significantly in terms of cost, ease of use, durability, and aesthetic appeal.

Price Comparison: Which is More Cost-Effective?

Wood stain and paint vary in price, depending on the brand, quality, and quantity. Generally, wood stain is less expensive than paint, with prices ranging from $20 to $150 per gallon. Paint, on the other hand, can cost between $50 to $200 per gallon.

Ease of Use: Which is More User-Friendly?

Applying wood stain is often easier than painting, as it requires less preparation and no primer. Wood stain can be applied directly to the wood surface, and it absorbs quickly. Paint, however, requires a primer and multiple coats, making the process more labor-intensive.

Durability Showdown: Which Finish Lasts Longer?

Wood stain and paint offer varying levels of durability. Wood stain provides a natural, long-lasting finish that resists fading and wear, but it may need to be reapplied every 5 years. Paint, on the other hand, can last up to 12 years, depending on the quality and type of paint used.

Aesthetic Appeal: Which Finish Offers More Style Options for Wood Furniture?

Both wood stain and paint offer unique aesthetic possibilities. Wood stain enhances the natural beauty of the wood, bringing out its grain and texture. Paint, on the other hand, provides a wide range of colors and finishes, allowing for bold, creative expressions.

Coverage Comparison: How Much Surface Area Can You Cover?

When it comes to coverage, wood stain and paint have similar estimates. A gallon of wood stain can cover approximately 350 to 400 square feet, while a gallon of paint can cover the same amount, depending on the type of paint and the surface it is being applied to.

Application and Maintenance

At Artisan Born, we understand the importance of proper application and maintenance for achieving a beautiful and long-lasting wood finish. Our expert woodworkers have shared their knowledge to guide you through the process.

Essential Tools Needed for Wood Stain and Paint

Our woodworkers recommend the following essential tools for applying wood stain and paint:

  • High-quality brushes and rollers

  • Sandpaper (various grits)

  • Wood filler (optional)

  • Rags

  • Drop cloths

  • Paint tray (for paint)

  • Stain applicator pads (for stain)

Preparing Surfaces for Wood Finish: Prep Work and Sanding

Our experts emphasize the importance of proper surface preparation, including:

  • Sanding the wood to create a smooth surface

  • Filling any holes or cracks with wood filler

  • Sanding again to ensure a smooth finish

  • Considering the wood grain direction when sanding and applying the finish

Applying Wood Stain and Paint: A Step-by-Step Guide

Our woodworkers recommend the following step-by-step process for applying wood stain and paint:

  • Applying wood stain:

    • Apply stain to the wood surface using a clean cloth or applicator pad

    • Work in small sections, wiping away excess stain as you go

    • Allow the stain to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions

  • Applying paint:

    • Apply primer to the wood surface (optional)

    • Apply paint using a roller or brush, working in sections

    • Allow the paint to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions

Ongoing Maintenance for Long-Lasting Wood Finishes

Our experts recommend the following tips for maintaining and preserving your wood finish:

  • Regularly dust and clean the wood surface

  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners

  • Apply a clear coat of polyurethane or varnish to protect the finish

  • Touch up any scratches or damage as soon as possible

Choosing the Right Finish for Your Project

Selecting the perfect finish for your wood project can be overwhelming, but by considering a few key factors, you can make an informed decision that ensures a beautiful and long-lasting result.

Budgeting for Success: How Much Are You Willing to Spend?

Determining your budget is crucial in choosing the right finish. Wood stain and paint vary in price, with stain generally being more expensive. Consider how much you're willing to spend and balance that with the quality and durability you need. Keep in mind that cheaper options may require more maintenance and touch-ups.

Assessing Your Skill Level: Which Finish is Right for You?

Your skill level plays a significant role in achieving a professional-looking finish. If you're a beginner, paint might be a more forgiving option, as it's easier to apply and correct mistakes. Wood stain, on the other hand, requires more expertise and patience. Be honest about your skills and choose a finish that suits your abilities.

Durability Needs: How Much Wear and Tear Will Your Finish Face?

Consider the purpose and location of your project. If it will be exposed to heavy use or harsh conditions, you'll need a finish that can withstand the wear and tear. Wood stain is generally more durable, but some paints offer advanced formulas for added protection.

Aesthetic Goals: What Style Are You Trying to Achieve?

Your desired aesthetic is a crucial factor in choosing a finish. Wood stain enhances the natural beauty of the wood, while paint offers a wide range of colors and styles. Consider the style you're aiming for and choose a finish that aligns with your vision. Remember, the finish will greatly impact the final appearance of your project.


Choosing the right finish for your wood project can be a daunting task, but with the expert guidance of Artisan Born, you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting result. Our woodworkers have shared their knowledge to help you navigate the process, from preparing surfaces to applying the finish. Whether you choose wood stain or paint, Artisan Born's expert advice will ensure that your project turns out exactly as you envisioned. Trust us to help you bring your woodworking dreams to life.


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