How to Stain Wood Furniture Darker?

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When you want to darken the stain on the existing wood finish, one option is to completely refinish it. However, you can also darken the existing stain. In this article, you’ll learn how to prepare wood furniture to be darkened, four different methods for darkening stain on wood furniture, and how to choose between them. 

Preparing to Stain Wood Furniture Darker

Properly preparing wood furniture for darkening is essential to success. Don’t skip these steps, as they will get the wood ready to accept a darker stain.

1. Sand Away the Shiny Clear Coat

Stain is not a protective product, so it is often covered by a glossy top coat to add protection from moisture and impact. Stain tends to have a matte finish, so if the surface has a sheen to it, give it a light sanding

Fine-grain sandpaper (100 to 120-grit) will work well to scuff up the surface without removing material or existing stain. Use an even pressure and sand in the direction of the wood grain. Stop when the surface sheen has disappeared. 

You can skip this step if you’re using gel stain to darken the wood. 

2. Remove the Dust

Use a water-dampened rag or a tack cloth to remove the dust created by sanding. All of the products mentioned require a dust-free surface to properly adhere to your furniture and darken the stain. 

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3. Clean the Wood

Use wood cleaner or water and mild detergent to prepare and clean the surface to accept an additional product. Oils and grime can build up on furniture over the years, and most people don’t clean their table legs with any frequency. 

Use a cloth rag and a brush to get into all the nooks and crannies. Oily or dirty areas of the wood may repel the darkening agents you’re trying to use. 

Methods For Darkening Wood Stain on Furniture

Below are four easy ways to darken stained wood; boiled linseed oil, gel stain, traditional stain, and tinted polyurethane. 

1. Use Linseed Oil

For a gradual darkening effect, choose boiled linseed oil. This conditioning and color-changing product will have an immediate subtle effect, while continuing to darken as it ages.  

  1. Prepare your workspace. When the furniture is clean and dry, place it on top of a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area. Don a pair of gloves and have a few clean, lint-free rags nearby. 
  2. Apply the boiled linseed oil. Wet a portion of the rag with boiled linseed oil and wipe it onto the wood. Rub the oil in, moving in the direction of the grain. Boiled linseed oil moisturizes wood, so it may sink in quickly, and the wood will look dry. Apply enough boiled linseed oil so that the surface looks soft and wet. Change rags as needed. 
  3. Wait. Once the entire surface has been covered and has a uniform appearance, step away from the project for 30 minutes to allow the oil to dry. 
  4. Using a dry, clean cloth, buff the furniture to remove excess oil. Depending on how much excess there is, you may need to use several rags. Hang any oil-soaked cloth up to dry before disposal; wadded up rags used to apply linseed oil can spontaneously combust.
  5. Allow time to cure. Wait a minimum of 24 hours before using the furniture or setting items on top of it, to avoid disturbing the finish. If possible, a week of cure time should be sufficient. Curing, a separate process from drying, is required for the finish to reach it’s maximum hardness and resist impact damage. 

Learn more about the differences in linseed oil and mineral oil.

2. Use Gel Stain

Gel stain is easy to apply and does not require removal of the previous finish to get great, even results. Choose this method when you don’t mind hiding some of the finer features of the wood grain. 

Opening a tight lid gel stain can
  1. Assemble your materials. After moving your furniture to a well-lit area with good ventilation, grab a can of gel stain in your desired shade, and a brush. Gloves will help protect your skin from the stain. 
  2. Apply the gel stain. Use the brush to apply the thick, pudding-like gel stain in an even layer. There is no need to rub gel stain in, or to wipe off the excess – this product sits on top of the wood rather than seeping into it. If there are thick globs or accumulation in corners, you can brush or wipe those away to avoid variance in color. 
  3. Wait for the gel stain to dry. Gel stain takes a minimum of 24 hours to dry. It will effectively and evenly cover a lighter stain with a darker color in just one coat. It does not protect wood, and may scuff with use. Many people choose to cover gel stain with a coat of clear polyurethane for additional protection. Make sure to allow the stain ample time to cure before applying the poly.

Learn other options for darkening wood that don’t involve stain.

3. Use Tinted Polyurethane

To darken stain and add protection in a single step, use a tinted polyurethane. 

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  1. Choose your color. Tinted polyurethane adds a layer of color on top of stain. The original color and the added tint of the polyurethane will blend to create a new appearance. If you’re able to experiment on a test board stained with the original product, you may come up with several interesting color combinations. If not, it’s best to stick to a darker shade of the same color as your existing furniture. 
  2. Assemble your materials. As with the two other options for darkening wood stain on furniture, polyurethane should be applied in a well-ventilated area with good light. Gloves are a good idea, as tinted polyurethane can drip, run or splash onto your skin, where it may cause sensitivity. Pour the tinted poly into a clean container, and grab a tapered brush. 
  3. Apply the tinted polyurethane. Dip the brush about one-third of the way into the container of polyurethane, and apply it in a long, slow, smooth stroke, moving in the direction of the grain. Lift the brush when it runs dry, then flip it over and repeat with the other side of the brush before reloading. 

    You won’t be rubbing in the polyurethane or wiping away the excess, so it’s important to apply this product in very thin coats. To prevent streaks, avoid overlap – position the brush so that, as you apply pressure and the bristles expand, it just barely touches the wet area of the wood. 
  1. Allow to dry. Water-based polyurethane dries in two to four hours. Oil-based poly can take six, eight, or even 24 hours to fully dry. Make sure to pick wisely between water-based and oil-based poly. Allowing the furniture to sit for a few days before subjecting it to use will help keep it in its pristine condition. 
Inside of polyurethane can

4. Use Traditional Wood Stain

You can darken wood furniture with an extra coat of wood stain. Just make sure that the stain underneath has fully cured. This takes about 20 days for water-based stain, or 30 days for oil-based stain.

If you don’t want to wait that long, just make sure you apply a stain with the same base as the original finish. 

Learn more about the best sprayer for stain in our review.

Which Method of Darkening Wood Stain on Furniture Should I Choose? 

While there are no absolutes, here is a good guide for which method to use for darkening wood stain:

  • To darken wood stain and add protection at the same time, apply tinted polyurethane
  • For a subtle darkening effect that will grow deeper over time, boiled linseed oil is the best choice. 
  • Gel stain is the best way to darken wood with minimal effort and preparation. It also obscures the finer details of the wood. 
  • If there is no protective coating on your furniture, simply add another coat of stain to darken the color. 

Conclusion

Darkening wood furniture is an easy project. Choose traditional wood stain, a gel stain, tinted polyurethane, or boiled linseed oil to darken wood furniture. Preparing the furniture for the darkening treatment helps ensure a successful outcome. 

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.