Making Your Own Oil Stain
By Sal Marino
Step By Step Instructions For Making Your Own Quality Oil Stain
Sometimes it is impossible to find a stain that is the exact color you need. This is especially true if you are building a piece of furniture and want to match the color to an existing piece. No matter how many colors stain manufactures offer, these companies will never be able to supply us with the infinite number of color combonations needed to suit every job. When I ran into this problem, I always remember saying to myself, "If I only knew what was in this stain, I could make it myself". Over the years through research and a lot of experimentation, I have come up with an excellent home brewed pigmented oil stain which I would like to share with you. Most commercial pigmented oil stains contain a few basic ingredients. First I will list each of these ingredients and give you a brief description of what purpose each serves in the make up of the stain.
- Pigment (Color) The pigment is what actually gives the
stain its particular color. Toady most pigments are synthetic
finely ground powders. Years ago artists and cabinet makers
made their own pigments by drying and then grinding natural
materials. For example: to make a red pigment, an artist
would take red rose petals, let them dry out completely
and then grind the petals to a fine red powder.
- Vehicle. Something needs to be added to the pigment in
order to carry it onto the workpiece and distribute it
evenly across the surface. If you were to apply a dry
powder, it would be impossible to evenly apply it. The
vehicle most commonly used in an oil stain is some type
of petroleum based solvent. In many cases this is a mineral
- Binder. If the stain just consisted of pigment and vehicle,
it will not work very well. You see because the vehicle
is a solvent it will evaporate shortly after the stain
has been applied to the surface. When that happens, the
pigment will return to its powered form and just blow
off the surface. Therefore, we need to add something to
the stain formula to hold the pigment in the pores and
on the surface of the wood after the vehicle has evaporated.
An oil is usually used to accomplish this task. Most commercial
manufactures use linseed oil, however some use tung oil
and market their stain as a tung oil stain. Linseed oil
will never evaporate, thus it will hold the powered pigment
in place. Also, because linseed oil is thicker than a
solvent, it will add more body to the stain.
- Drier. Last, stain manufactures add a drying agent to
the formula to help it dry quicker. Usually this is some
type of metallic drier like cobalt. This is sold commercially
under the name Japan drier. It can be purchased in art
supply stores, some paint stores and some mail order woodworking
The following formula should yield about 1 quart of oil stain. You do not need to add Japan drier to this formula because because the Japan color and boiled linseed oil contain drier. If you want the stain to dry a little quicker, you can add some additional Japan drier, but no more than 1/2 ounce. If you add too much drier, the stain will not work properly.
Vehicle. Quart of mineral spirits or pure gum turpentine.
This will be your vehicle that will carry the pigment
onto the surface. Either of the two solvents will work
well, but if you want to reduce the odor of the stain,
use mineral spirits.
- Binder. 7 Ounces of boiled linseed oil. Boiled linseed
oil will be your binder to help keep the pigment in the
pores and on the surface of the wood and also add body
to the stain. Use boiled linseed not raw linseed oil.
Boiled linseed oil has Japan drier added to it and will
help the stain dry quicker. Raw linseed oil will never
- Pigment Max. of 4 ounces of Japan color(s). Japan colors
are very similar to the oil paints that artists use to
paint pictures (the type that are sold in tubes in art
supply stores). The main difference between artists oil
paints and Japan colors is that Japan colors have driers
added to it. Japan colors are also finely ground pigments
suspended in a linseed oil base. However, Japan colors
are too thick to use as a stain directly out of the can.
They are available in many colors including earth tones
that will match the natural colors of many woods, and
are also available in brilliant colors like reds, greens,
yellows and more. Any of these colors can be intermixed,
but you should not use more than a total of 4 ounces of
Japan colors to the formula. Adding more Japan color will
start to make the stain too thick and it will be hard
Remember, the Japan color and boiled linseed oil already contain driers, therefore you do not need to add any Japan drier. However, if the stain is not drying properly, or not quick enough, you can add some Japan drier, but NO MORE THAN 1/2 Ounce.
is a woodworker and a finishing expert from New York. He works for Constantine's. He teaches woodworking classes at Constantine's, offers private instruction, lectures around the United States and is a finishing consultant to many woodworking and restoration companies. He is also the author of numerous woodworking articles.