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How to Choose the Perfect Stain Color

Are you looking for the perfect stain color for your next DIY project? Today I’m sharing my tips to choose the best stain color.

I’m a super indecisive person when it comes to my own DIY projects.

If Anne or my sister needs advice because they can’t decide between A or B I’m the first to tell them what to do.

But when it comes to my own home I usually can’t make a decision.

I’m the poster child for “paralysis by analysis”!

So it may come as no surprise that when I was trying to find the perfect stain color for my new custom laundry room door I was struck by a severe case of paralysis by analysis.

Hopefully, I can help you if you’re feeling the same way trying to decide on a stain color for your next project.

Be sure to read all the way to the end of my post to get my BEST tip for choosing the perfect stain color!

Where to Purchase Stain Colors

three different cans of stain in shopping cart at store

After doing a bit of research with my good friends google and Pinterest I headed to our local home improvement store for some stain samples.

I decided to use Minwax oil-based stain because it’s easy to find and affordable.

You can also order stain online if you prefer.

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Jacobean is a popular brown stain color that many DIY’ers use.

I also picked up Espresso which is a bit darker than Jacobean.

And a lighter color that I was drawn to while in the store Weathered Oak so I thought I’d give that one a try too.

can of miniwax provincial wood stain with blank background

I already had a can of Minwax Provincial at home.

So that gave me four samples to try.

Oh and lots of combinations if I wanted to mix stain colors.

Because you know that indecisive thing! LOL

I mixed stain colors before with the wood pallet headboard I made for Emma’s room.

And also for the DIY farmhouse row of hooks I made for Jake’s room.

But since this was a custom door I was a little nervous about choosing the perfect stain color.

How to Test Stain Colors

unfinished custom interior wood door with glass window on top half of door

You will want to test your stain sample colors on the same type of wood that you will be staining.

So if you’re building shelves out of pine boards…test your stain colors on a piece of pine.

If you’re staining a maple cabinet then test samples on a scrape piece of maple.

Different woods will absorb stain differently and won’t look the same.

So the same color on pine will look different on maple.

You can always try your stain sample on a small area of the wood where you won’t notice it later but since I was staining this gorgeous new custom oak door I didn’t want to risk messing it up.

sample wood board on cardboard being stained in kitchen

While I was purchasing stain at the home improvement store I also grabbed a 3″ x 2′ oak board to use for my sample wood.

Are you team brush or rag when it comes to applying stain?

I’m definitely team rag!

Using a rag gives me more control over an oil based stain when applying it to my projects.

Sorry, I’m getting a little off track here because this post isn’t about how to stain…you can read all about exactly how I stained my custom door here.

I grabbed my rag and tried out the first stain…Provincial on one side of the sample board.

sample piece of oak wood with half of the board stained leaning against unstained new custom door

Then I leaned the sample board against the unfinised wood door to see if I liked the color.

I’m not in love with the color of our hardwood floors but I don’t think they are changing anytime in the near future.

I mean we’ve already lived with them for 12 years and guess how long I haven’t liked them?

Yup…you guessed it…12 years!

Although I really liked the Provincial stain color…I wasn’t sure I loved it against the existing color of our hardwood floors.

So back to try more stain colors.

piece of oak sample wood leaning against unfinished oak door with different stain colors on sample

Next, I flipped over the board and tried the Weathered Oak on the top and the Jacobean on the bottom of the board.

I was really surprised that the Weathered Oak stain didn’t change the color of the sample oak board much at all.

And the stain actually looks gray when wet.

hand holding tshirt rag over opened can of minwax wood finish sitting on cardboard on door

Crazy right?!

That’s a white rag with Weathered Oak stain on it.

But I did kinda like the natural look of the Weathered Oak.

And as for the bottom of the sample board with the Jacobean…again a super pretty color but it was too dark for the door.

Maybe we were getting somewhere at least we were eliminating choices.

This is a bit of trial and error when sampling stains to find your perfect stain color.

sample board with three stain options on it leaning against unfinished door

Next I started experimenting with mixing colors.

I tried Weathered Oak over the Provincial and then over the Jacobean.

But all of those colors were still too dark.

Help I Can’t Find The Perfect Stain Color

Remember I told you earlier how indecisive I am?

Well I’m also a bit of a perfectionist in certain areas of my life.

And apparently choosing the perfect stain color is one of those areas! LOL

So since I didn’t love the darker colors and I really wanted a neutral color for the door I decided to stain the door in Minwax Weathered Oak and see how it came out.

I figured the color was light enough that I could always stain another color over it to darken it up if I wanted later.

door laying on saw horses after staining complete

I finished staining the door and really liked the color at night but during the day with the sun in this room it looked too light.

But the laundry room has no windows so I thought maybe it would work.

I let the door sit here for a few days…

then a few more days…

then two weeks went by and the door still sat here where I stained it.

And I still hadn’t hung the dang thing up in our laundry room.

So I guess I really didn’t like the color. UGH!

How to Create Your Own Perfect Stain Color

hand with clear glove on holding rag staining wood door

But remember the colors I had here at home to stain over the Weathered Oak were too dark when I did the samples.

And I didn’t want to further complicate things by going back to the store and adding more color choices.

So I came up with another plan!

Since I really liked the Weathered Oak but it was too light on it’s own.

And I really liked the Provincial but it was too dark on its own and even too dark when stained over the Weathered Oak.

I decided to combine the two colors and make my own perfect stain color.

Adding some of the Provincial to the Weathered Oak to darken the color up a little bit created exactly the color I was wanted.

Unfortunately, I didn’t measure the amounts so I won’t be able to give you the exact combination I used.

But if I had to guess I’d estimate about 1/4 Provinicial to 3/4 Weathered Oak.

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wood door with glass window on laundry room completed staining

And now I’m just so happy because I love the custom color of my laundry room door.

So are you ready for my absolute best tip???

Don’t be afraid to create a custom color with stain colors you already like to create the PERFECT stain color for your next DIY project.

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact me or leave a comment!

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