Matching Stains

Matching Stains

Matching Stains

Trying to match a stain coloration?  What could one do if the stain coloration was not known?  You may wish to consider playing the “mad scientist” and intermixing your own stains.  Here’s what you would need:

  • A variety of pre-mixed stain colorations – You can purchase small canisters of pre-mixed colorations to experiment with.  These stains should all be from the same manufacturer to ensure that there would be no compatibility problems with the resulting mixture.
  • Some small, disposable paper cups (Dixie® Cups work best)
  • Some plastic spoons
  • A piece of paper and a pen/pencil
  • A scrap piece of sample wood to test colorations on.

Take a good look at the original coloration you want to achieve.  Try to identify the various hues that make up the coloration.  Select a pre-mixed stain color that you feel is close to the desired coloration.  This will be referenced as the base color.  Determine what coloration the stain is lacking.  Perhaps you need to achieve a more reddish hue, or maybe you are looking for a darker brown.  Identify other pre-mixed stains that would add these desired hues to the initially selected pre-mixed stain.

Now you get to play “Mad Scientist”.  Use plastic spoons (one for each color stain that you will use) to add a spoonful (or more) of each stain coloration into the paper cup.  The paper and pen is required to keep track of how many spoonfuls of each color you added.  How much you will actually add of each color is simply a matter of trial and error.  Make certain to make note of your formula (for example - Formula One:  2 parts Golden Oak to 3 parts Red Oak stain).  Mix well and then apply the resulting mixture to the scrap piece of wood (label the stained portion with your formula mixture number).  Once dry, check the coloration to see if further “tweaking” is necessary.  If you should proceed to experiment further, do not use the initial mixture cup (make a new mixture and then increase parts of any certain stain as required).  Always begin with a fresh cup and spoons so that your formulation and notes will be as accurate as possible.  Remember that this formula will be used to create a larger amount of color.  Also, remember that this is a trial and error process (so do not expect to come across the desired color on the first go-around).

Once you have achieved the coloration you are looking for, you may use your formulation to mix a larger amount.  Let’s say that the desired color formula happens to be 2 parts (spoonfuls) of Golden Oak to one part (spoonful) of Red Oak.  To make a larger amount, your formula tells you what you will need for each color.  In the case example, I would purchase and mix 2 quarts of Golden oak to One quart of Red Oak stain in an empty gallon container (smaller amounts can be made from smaller canisters of pre-mixed stain).  Use a permanent marker to label the top of the gallon container with your formula for future reference.  If coloration should run low, but you still require more, make certain to save about 1/3 to ¼ of the initial stain mixture.  Mix a new batch (as per your formula notes) and add it to the original remaining mixture.  This will help ensure color consistency between batch mixtures.

Note that color mixes can involve more than two pre-mixed stain colorations (however, make certain you keep a detailed record of your mixture).  Most of all, have fun with your experiments.  You never know what colors you will come across when doing so.

July 27, 2021
Mike Schilling
March 20, 2022
When trying to match or repair stained wood from an old clock case, it is sometimes difficult because older pigments contained lead which changes the color slightly. Years ago, I worked in a furniture repair/upholstery shop. To achieve the proper tint, we often used shoe dye along with staining...
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