You might have old red oak flooring, furniture, or other decor pieces in your home that needs some color update and redo.
But before proceeding, you might wonder if you can stain your red oak grey, black, or any other darker or lighter color.
Since oak is porous, it can easily absorb stains better than many other kinds of wood, like maple or birch.
You can stain it all the way from lighter to darker colors, but be prepared to add relatively more coats of stain before the exact color comes out.
The shade of the red oak wood also matters when you want to stain your red oak grey. If it’s vibrant, for example, you will need a darker grey to offset the wood’s warm color.
Furthermore, mixing white and ebony (a very dark black) stains will help reduce pink undertones in red oak better than using a store-bought grey stain.
How to Stain Red Oak Grey?
Red oak hardwood comes with its characteristic textured grain and color with paler sapwood and light to medium brown (with a reddish cast) heartwood.
The upper layer of the timber has pinkish to reddish tones throughout, and it’s more porous than the deeper parts.
So, red oak is not the easiest wood to stain grey. But that doesn’t mean you can not.
To achieve a weathered look on your red oak furniture or floor, it is best to use a grey wood stain two to three shades lighter than the desired final color.
This way, you can gradually build up the darkness without overdoing it.
Before starting, always do a patch test on a small, inconspicuous area to see how the stain will look and react with the wood.
Step 1: Start by Sanding the Surface
No matter what kind of wood you are working with, always sand the surface to create a smooth base for the stain.
Sanding also opens up the wood’s pores and creates more areas for the stain to penetrate. As a result, the color will last longer.
Use medium-grit sandpaper (60 to 80) for red oak, and work your way up to finer grit (100 to 120) as you go along.
Just make sure to sand by hand in the direction of the grain to avoid damaging or tearing out the wood fibers of the veneer of a fiberboard.
Step 2: Clean the Surface to Remove the Dust
After you finish sanding and are content with the results, it’s time to remove all the leftover dust created from sanding. Many people recommend using a tack cloth; however, some argue it doesn’t do an adequate job.
Tack cloths have been known to leave residue behind, showing through the stain—not ideal.
To avoid this issue, I suggest using microfiber cloths in conjunction with tack clothes.
This will prevent any surface damage from happening due to missed dust particles.
Step 3: Apply a Pre-Stain Conditioner to Red Oak
Wood conditioners aren’t essential for staining wood; stains can still enter the pores without one being applied previously.
But applying a conditioner to the wood will produce a cleaner product without any stain blotches.
If you are working with dark wood, it is imperative to use a conditioner as it allows the stain to better grip the surface of the wood.
So, if you want to, apply a wood conditioner over the entire surface of the now-clean wood using a paintbrush – make short strokes while applying thin layers of conditioner.
Step 4: Wait for the Pre-Stain Conditioner to Dry
Let the conditioner sit on the wood for about 15 to 20 minutes before moving on.
If you are in a hurry, you can use a hair dryer on the low setting to speed up the drying process.
Step 5: Time to Stain the Red Oak Wood
When it’s time to start staining, I recommend mixing the stain thoroughly and using a synthetic paint brush since red oak is a porous wood.
Dip the brush into the stain can to apply a generous amount of product to the bristles.
Gently apply the stain in a circular motion, making sure to press it into the pores of the wood for best results. Your hand should be moving with the grain of the wood, not against it.
Apply an even coat of stain to the wood, and immediately afterward, wipe it off with a clean, dry cloth to achieve a light coloring effect.
If you prefer getting a darker tone, wait for five to ten minutes and apply subsequent coats of the stain over the surface.
Step 6: Allow the Stain to Dry and Apply Wood Finish
Once the stain has been applied to the wood, wait at least 24 hours for it to dry.
Once it is completely dried, you may then apply your chosen wood finish. Some common types of finishes are polyurethane and lacquer.
There is often a significant difference in drying time between these two options; usually, polyurethane takes longer to dry but produces a more durable end product that doesn’t get off easily.
Conversely, Lacquer has a shorter drying time but does not produce as high-quality of an end product as polyurethane does when dry.
If you want to protect your wooden flooring, it is best to use polyurethane as a barrier for stains and the wood itself.
But, to achieve a glossy effect on furniture, lacquer works wonders.
Staining Red Oak Black (or Other Dark Colors)
Red oak is a little bit tricky to stain dark black. While the process is pretty much the same as above, you will need to get the stain that is one shade darker than what you are aiming for.
The reason being is that once the stain dries, it will be one shade lighter.
So, if you want to stain your red oak floors or furniture in true black, the stain color should be much darker than ebony.
If you can’t find that, one good way to achieve the results is by using a black dye on the oak before staining with black.
This way, you can be sure that the final result will be as dark as you want it.
Applying the black dye is pretty easy – just follow the same steps as any other stain, and make sure to apply a generous amount over the entire surface with a brush or a clean rag.
Afterward, let it dry, and then proceed to stain with black. Some of the best black wood stains I have worked with before are Minwax True Black, Varathane Classic Black, and General Finishes Water-Based Matte Black.
How can You Get the Pink and Red Tones Out of Red Oak?
Neutralizing red tones in the wood is often preferred if you want to stain red oak to match white oak.
Although you cannot make your red oak look identical to white oak, there are ways to lighten the shade of red and achieve a similar effect.
One excellent method is to bleach the wood with a store-bought bleaching agent or prepare a homemade bleach using hydrogen peroxide and Lye.
This will help to brighten the wood and remove any unwanted red tones.
Here’s a step-by-step process for bleaching red oak cabinets and floors…
a) Protect yourself
Always use gloves and eye protection when working with or handling lye. Do this in a well-ventilated area, and be sure to read the instructions and warnings on the label.
b) Prepare the lye solution
Fill a plastic or glass container with 1 quart of water; do not use metal. Add lye to the water three tablespoons at a time, stirring slowly between each addition.
The amount of solution you make should be based on the wood you are bleaching.
Never pour water into the lye; instead, slowly add the lye to the water bit by bit. Also, never mix lye into your peroxide.
c) Apply the peroxide and then brush on the lye
Once the lye water solution is ready, keep it aside. We will start with peroxide first.
Pour a bit of hydrogen peroxide onto the red oak, ensuring you do not miss any spots.
After the surface is soaked in peroxide, spread the lye solution over with a foam brush getting good thick coverage.
d) Dry and rinse the bleached wood
After the wood has been treated with peroxide and lye, dry it in direct sunlight.
Once the wood has entirely dried, you might notice a slight yellow tint due to residue from the lye solution.
To get rid of this, rinse with water and white vinegar—the mild acid will dissolve any leftover lye on the wood.
Finally, rinse the wood surface with clean water, wipe it with a clean cloth and let it dry.
The pink and reddish tones within the wood have now been neutralized.
The bottom line
With different stains and processes, it’s crucial not to get discouraged when you want to stain your red oak, grey, black, white, or any other color.
Choose the stain and apply at least 2-3 coats to create a darker effect.
Or you can minimize the appearance of red hues and learn to apply a light stain that will give your floors a more whitewashed look without replacing them entirely.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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