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How to stain pine to look like oak

Want to use wood stain to totally transform the look of your wood? Here’s how to stain pine to look like oak!

Pine is a super popular wood for beginner woodworkers to try building with. This is because it is readily available and relatively inexpensive.

It’s also a common wood to find when you purchase vintage furniture to refinish.

While pine is common, it’s not always the favorite aesthetic. Pine generally has a very light color to it with dark brown knots.

If you want your pine to look more like oak, you can achieve a similar look with wood stain.

However, it’s important to understand that you’re never going to make pine look like actual oak boards.

Oak is a hardwood with a totally different grain pattern than pine.

If your pine has a lot of dark knots, it’s gonna be really hard to cover up with a golden wood stain. If your goal is to cover up the knots, consider staining your pine to look like walnut instead.

While you cannot make pine boards look deceivingly like oak, you can give them the oak aesthetic with stain. Here’s how to do it.

How to stain pine to look like oak

Choosing the Right Stain

The most important part of this process will be choosing the right wood stain color. You can look at samples online (be sure to check out our test of the best warm toned wood stains!)

But, in reality you need to test your stain you your actual wood. Even 2 boards of the same species can absorb stain differently due to differences in age, dryness, and coloration.

If you have built your project, you’ve got it easy. Grab a scrap cut off and test stains there.

But, if it’s a furniture makeover or floors – you just have to pick a discrete spot to test on and sand it off later.

Wide shot of two tiered serving tray
two tiered serving tray, made from oak, oiled

Layering stains

Sometimes, especially if you are trying to match another piece of wood, it’s best to layer 2 different stains to get the exact color you are going for.

Because pine is light and oak is a bit warmer and darker, it can be a good option.

This can get a bit complicated. Always test and practice on scrap wood.

What color is oak?

Oak comes in golden and red varieties. They are light to mid-toned shades, always with warm undertones – shades of beige, yellow, brown, and red.

10 colors of wood stain on oak

The Best Oak Wood Stains

Here are some of the most popular oak colored wood stains and dyes.

Beware “Weathered Oak” stains which tend to be more gray – emphasis on “weathered” – than warm toned. Steer clear for this project!

the best wood stains for pine

How to stain pine to look like oak

Here’s how easy it is to give inexpensive pine the look of oak wood using stain.

Supplies needed:

  • Pine wood
  • Sand paper – 80, 150, and 220 grit + sander
  • Soft cloth or rag
  • Wood conditioner
  • Paint brush
  • Oak colored wood stain
  • Lint-free cloth or brush to apply stain
  • Matte topcoat + brush to apply
supplies needed to stain wood: gloves, lint free cloth, foam brush, or paint brush

Steps to stain pine to look like oak:

STEP 1: Sand

Pine is a super soft wood that doesn’t always accept stain evenly. So, you will want to prep it well for the best possible results.

If there is damage to your wood, you will want to use wood filler to fix it before sanding.

Then, you can sand the wood smooth. If the surface is rough, start with an 80 grit sand paper. Sand in the direction of the wood grain, up and down the board. This will help with any large rough spots.

Then, follow up with a sand paper in the 100s. Some people will do a round of sanding with each 120 and then 150-180 grit. Honestly, we usually use just 1 round of the 100s.

Finally, finish off with a 220 grit sandpaper. This will make the wood surface super smooth and almost soft to the touch.

generic sanding footage

STEP 2: Clean the wood

It’s important to wipe down your wood really well after sanding, before applying stain. Otherwise, you are basically painting the dirt in place, making it very hard to get off later.

Wipe your boards down with a clean, soft cloth. If it is very dirty, you can use a slightly damp cloth. Know that water may raise the grain, making it bumpy and need another round of 220 grit sanding again.

I know it’s annoying, but take your time and do a good job.

STEP 3: Apply wood conditioner

Wood conditioner is like a lotion for your wood, evening out the moisture level of the wood itself so that it absorbs stain evenly.

Without wood conditioner, dry spots in the wood will absorb more stain, leading to darker areas. This is the top cause of splotchy wood finishes.

If you want a really nice, smooth finish, use wood conditioner. It’s less important when using a light stain like golden oak, but still important for a quality finish.

Follow the instructions on your can, but typically you brush the conditioner on and let it dry. You will then want to apply stain within 24 hours.

applying pre stain wood conditioner to pine board

STEP 4: Apply stain

Finally, it’s time to stain your wood!

Stir the stain well, because the colored pigment can settle in the bottom of the can. Don’t shake stain – it can cause bubbles that transfer to the wood. Stir and scrape the bottom of the can as you do.

Dip your brush or cloth into the can and spread the stain onto the wood in the direction of the grain (up and down the board).

Work in small sections, being sure to not leave any pooling or drips, which will leave dark blotches.

Once you have finished each face or area of the board, go back with a clean cloth and wipe off any excess stain.

Let dry.

Staining a Table - Charleston Crafted

STEP 5: Optional – apply a second coat

Examine your wood – are you happy with the darkness and color?

If you want it to be darker, you can repeat the above process (step 4) to add a second coat of stain.

Let dry completely.

STEP 6: Apply a top coat

Always finish your project with a topcoat. I always recommend a matte or flat finish. But, a glossier finish can work for oak – it just depends on the final aesthetic you are going for!

Our Kitchen for Charleston Home & Design Magazine - Charleston Crafted
DIY Dining Room Table – pine wood stained to look like oak

Here are our favorite matte topcoats:

Follow the instructions on your can of sealant, but typically you want to apply in the direction of the grain with a brush.

Let dry and repeat for additional coats.

We typically do 2 coats of topcoat, but if something will get a lot of wear and tear (such as a tabletop) I have done as many as 4 coats.

With this process, you can easily and inexpensively give your pine wood the higher end pine!

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