The 5 Best Woods for Staining

Posted by Donovan Thornhill on Jul 27th 2023

woods that are good for staining

Wood stains are a relatively low-cost way to completely change the look and feel of your solid wood cabinet doors. Whether you're looking to make a subtle change in your kitchen or want your cabinets to appear darker - wood stains are the way to go.

However, not all wood types are ideal for staining. The best wood for staining needs open structures that absorb and retain the stain. It should also have a consistent absorption rate to ensure you don't end up with a blotchy or uneven appearance.

When done correctly, wood-stained cabinets have a high-end look that complements the natural color variation of the wood you choose. Some woods stain easier and more effectively than others, which is something to be aware of if you plan to stain your cabinet doors in the near future.

We're here to walk you through the best wood for staining so you can find custom cabinet doors that complement the aesthetic you're trying to achieve.

5 Woods That Are Good for Staining

Wood stain is a translucent coating that you apply to your solid wood cabinet doors to enhance the natural beauty of the wood grain. When shopping for the best wood to stain, you'll want to consider the natural grain pattern, hues, and color vibrancy to find a match that complements your vision.

Here are our five top choices:

1. Oak

Oak is arguably one of the most popular wood choices for cabinet doors. This type of wood ranges between 1200 to 1400 on the Janka hardness ranking, so you can feel confident that your cabinets won't wear and tear as easily and you're getting the most out of your investment. The two most popular types of oak are red and white. While both types of wood are relatively easy to stain, they come with different results.

Red oak is more porous than white oak. So it will absorb the wood stain quicker and deeper. White oak will be more resistant to the stain and may require a few additional coats to get the look you're trying to achieve.

Red oak will also have a more prominent color and wood grain after a stain. While white oak will be more subtle. Both types of oak will look great with a wood stain but provide two completely different results. This is something to be mindful of when shopping for custom cabinet doors or looking for the cheapest wood that stains well.

2. Ash

One of the best woods for staining is ash. The gorgeous light color and open-grain pattern help achieve a more distinct look, allowing the true natural beauty of the wood grain to flourish.

Since ash is a natural cream color, it can be strategically stained to resemble different wood types. This is one of the best woods to stain walnut, oak, or any of your favorite darker shades.

3. Cedar

Cedar wood is known for its tight-grained pattern and gorgeous reddish-brown hue. It's the perfect wood type for kitchens with a vintage touch or rustic farmhouse feel. Cedar wood is a popular type of wood for cabinets because of its natural durability and overall aesthetic.

Cedar is also one of the best woods for staining because the wood is porous and absorbs wood stains. Cedar is versatile enough to showcase a dark walnut, brown or grey stain. Whether you're looking for the best wood for espresso stain or a rich dark grey tone - you can feel confident cedar wood will help you achieve the look you're going for.

4. Hickory

Hickory is known for its stunning coarse-textured grain pattern and natural warm shades. This type of wood comes in different shades, including a subtle light cream and a reddish brown with a warmer hue. This wood is unique because the different natural color variations will often live on the same piece of wood, providing a truly distinctive look.

Hickory has an open and porous structure, which means it can easily absorb wood stains well. While it's not the cheapest wood that stains well, it is one of the most durable and is 1820 on the Janka hardness scale.

5. Chestnut

Chestnut is known and loved for its natural rich, warm hue and brown tones. The elegant grain pattern pairs beautifully with modern kitchen styles and is ideal for individuals who love the natural wood aesthetic.

Chestnut is moderately porous and can fully absorb the wood stain, helping you achieve an even balanced look. This is one of the best woods for staining because of its versatility and simplicity. Whether you're looking to keep things light and airy or dark and bold - chestnut can accommodate any shade of stain you desire.

Tips for Using Wood Stain

best woods for staining

Once you decide which is the best wood stain for your project - it's time to start staining. While the actual staining is a relatively straightforward process, the entire project could take a few hours or even a few days.

Here are a few tips to help you streamline the wood staining process.

- Prep Your Cabinet Doors

Before you apply your stain, you'll want to prepare the wood for the treatment. Unfinished cabinet doors may require additional sanding to remove imperfections and unwanted roughness from the wood.

- Do a Test Patch

Consider doing a test patch on a small portion of the cabinet door. This will ensure you like the color before you start staining the entire cabinet door.

- Use a Brush to Apply The Stain

Using a brush to apply the stain is crucial to getting the desired color. Apply even coats to avoid oversaturating pieces of wood. If you accidentally get too much stain on the wood, you can use a dry washcloth to wipe it off. The best brush for staining wood is a bristle brush or a brush made with polyester material.

- Apply Multiple Coats

You may need to apply a few coats to get the desired look you're trying to achieve. Every wood type is different, and the darker the stain you want to achieve, the more coats you'll need to apply. For example, the best wood for staining gray may require 2-3 additional coats of stain to get the look you're going for.

- What is the Best Wood to Paint?

If you're choosing to paint your cabinet doors, we recommend a paint-grade option rather than solid wood cabinet doors. Paint-grade wood is unfinished, sanded wood that is already prepared and ready to be painted. The best types of wood include Paint Grade Poplar Wood, Medium Density Fiberboard, and Paint Grade Soft Maple Wood. To learn more, read our Guide to Paint-Grade Cabinet Doors.

Explore Custom Cabinet Doors From

At, we offer a variety of cabinet door styles available in a variety of wood species. You can order your cabinet doors unfinished directly from us, so you can easily stain them on your own in your home.

Before placing your order, it's best to weigh the pros and cons of the different wood types we have available. Whether you're looking for the best wood for staining dark, walnut, or grey - we have what you need to get the complete look for your home.

Explore our selection of cabinet doors today.

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