How to Stain Red Oak Wood

Wood, planked wall
  • 2-6 hours
  • Beginner
  • 5-25
What You'll Need
120-grit sandpaper
220-grit sandpaper
Clean, soft cloths
Clean water
Denatured alcohol
Wood conditioner
Wood sealer
Wood finish

In decorating or refinishing their homes, many homeowners prefer a more natural look, such as one they might get with red oak wood. Instead of painting natural wood surfaces, they choose to preserve the rich hue of the wood grain. Rather than cover hardwood floors with carpet, they enrich the color of these floors by staining them. Of the many types of hardwood that a homeowner may choose to preserve and showcase, red oak wood is one they can refinish to create beautiful tones of brown, red, or gold. Although red oak wood is porous and will likely take the stain you may prefer to use, if you want the best results possible from your staining, follow a proven staining procedure such as the one you will find below.

Smooth the Surface

electric sander

Use your 120-grit sandpaper and sand the wood surface you intend to stain, using strokes that follow the grain of the wood. Sanding across the wood grain will create scratches that you will find difficult to remove. When the surface is as smooth as possible, then begin sanding with your 220-grit sandpaper, also following the wood grain direction. When finished sanding, use a soft, dry cloth, or soft brush, and remove from the wood surface all wood dust from your sanding.

Rub Down the Surface

With a soft, clean rag you should now rub down all the surfaces you have sanded. If you intend to use a water-based stain, moisten your rag with water before using it to rub the surface. If your stain will be oil-based, moisten your rag with denatured alcohol.

Condition the Wood

To ensure that you will get even coverage and desired luster to your final finish, apply a wood conditioner. For oil-based stain, use an oil-based conditioner. For water-based stain, use a water-based conditioner. Use a paintbrush to apply the conditioner, working your paintbrush in strokes parallel with the wood grain. When you have covered the wood with a single coat of the conditioner, give the conditioner 10 minutes to penetrate into the wood. Then, use a clean absorbent cloth and wipe off any excess conditioner. Finally, allow two hours for it to dry completely.

Apply Stain

applying stain to a deck

Use a paintbrush or clean cloth and apply your first stain coat. Take your time, so the stain will be evenly applied. When finished applying the stain, allow 20 minutes, then remove any excess stain with a new, clean and dry cloth. After 4 hours, if needed, apply a second stain coat and allow it to dry for a full day and night.


For final protection and luster, apply a varnish or other wood finish product. Again, use an oil-based finish on the oil-based stain, water-based finish on the water-based stain. After 4 hours or more, apply additional coats to attain the degree of luster you'd like. Be sure to sand between coats, using your 220-grit sandpaper and removing any dust or debris before adding your next finish coat.