What Wood Should You Avoid Staining

Out of all the wood finishes, staining really brings the beauty out of wooden grain. It deepens its color and can even change the shade if you want it to. But like most finishes, stains get absorbed into the wood itself. So if by any chance some wooden project you worked on is not taking well to staining, it might be you are using the wrong wood. In this article, we will be guiding you on what wood you should avoid staining.

You should avoid using stains on woods with smaller pores. This is because the small pores do not absorb the stain properly. So it just sits atop instead of getting absorbed into the grain. Softwoods also do not take stains well because of the lack of pores on them. To summarize closed-grain woods and softwoods with no pores should be avoided when staining without preparation. 

Most hardwoods are porous and take well to stain, but not closed-grain hardwoods. Their pores are very small, microscopic even, so stains do not get absorbed properly into them. Stain needs to be absorbed by the wood and its grain for it to darken its color. A key thing to note here is that stain does not protect the surface of the wood. You will need to apply a top coat of a clear finishing like polyurethane.

List of Woods to Avoid Staining

The list of softwoods is a bit too long to completely mention here. Also, the closed-grain non-porous hardwoods are also in huge quantities as well. But we will try to get the names of the most popular woods that people work with, in their workshops.


One of the most inexpensive woods in the United States, the Pine is a softwood that is the staple of the country and the preferred wood of choice for most woodworkers. It is very light in color, often referred to as white wood, and could heavily benefit from staining. But due to its nature as a softwood, most stains leave blotches on its surface.


Another wood that can heavily benefit from staining, poplar is an inexpensive material for woodworkers. It is light in color but the grain can be found in various shades. In fact, it is one of the softest softwoods so it is even worse at staining than pine or any other in its category.


Not the first choice for a woodworker, birch is an inexpensive hardwood that can be made to look luxurious if it is stained properly. It has a very beautiful grain pattern, resembling that of more expensive choices like cherry and walnut. A little darker shade of stain would make it look like luxurious hardwood thanks to that quality.


Maple is a super strong hardwood often used in bowling alleys and basketball courts due to its strength and durability. Usually, people do not stain maple, because it has very small pores and uneven grain patterns. But if you are planning on doing so, it would be better to prepare it first. Otherwise, it will leave blotchy marks all over the surface.


Cherry is an extremely beautiful hardwood that is already pretty dark in hue. So staining a cherry piece is often not preferred or even required. Though if you do end up trying to stain it, you will find out that it does not take well to staining. The stain blotches up on the surface due to uneven absorption by the grain and pores. So it is best to leave cherry wood alone unless you are a super experienced woodworker.


Alder is often called the softwood of the hardwood family because of its nature. It is just above pine and poplar when it comes to its strength, but due to its grain and pores, it is classified as a hardwood. But the pores it has are very small and because of that, it does not stain very well either.

How to Know Which Wood to Avoid Staining

So the wood you are trying to stain is not on the list above and you can’t find any information on whether it can be stained or not online either. This can happen and become stressful if you really want to try a shade of the stain on the piece you are working on. 

If the wood is inexpensive, you can just take a small part of the wood and put the stain on one spot to see if it takes it well. Usually, after you wipe the stain off and let it sit for 30 minutes the blotches are quite visible. This way you don’t end up wasting tons of time over pondering whether the wood is taking well to stain or you should be avoiding it.

In case the wood is expensive and you don’t have a lot to work with, you wouldn’t want to waste it. So try to see the pore structure of the wood. If the pores are big and visible to the naked eye like they are with woods like oak, then it will take well to the stain.

If the pores are too small and not visible to the naked eye at all, then it would be wise to not stain the wood at all. Though we are sure you can still use a little bit of the wood to experiment the stain with. If it does not stain well, then that means it’s not absorbed a lot and can be sanded off.

Why Should You Not Stain Some Kinds of Wood

So there are some rare woods that you should try staining. Those include cherry, maple, mahogany, and aged pine. These woods are naturally very dark in hue and extremely beautiful without staining. Then there is the fact that they do not stain well either due to their pore structure.

We already discussed how cherry and pine are great options but keep in mind that aged pine are not great with stains. They blotch up very easily and would ruin the whole look of the wood and waste time along with expensive resources.

Mahogany is a very expensive wood that is imported and is already a very dark hue and the shade is beautiful. It is hardwood and one of the most durable ones at that. With a shade so dark already, staining it would be such a waste of a beautiful resource.

Maple, on the other hand, is extremely hard to stain and due to its grain structure, it won’t look as good either.

Alternatives to Staining Wood

There are plenty of other alternatives to staining wood that will enhance and make it look beautiful. One of them is rub-on colored wax which can give you a similar effect to staining. Though the look is similar it is more superficial since colored wax does not get absorbed by the wood but sits atop it.

This Dark Mahogany Colored Wax by Briwax is a pretty example of how you can substitute stain for colored waxes. You can also find it in different hues if you like, for instance, ebony, dark brown, and walnut, etc.

Since wax sits on the surface though, you will require to reapply it after a while. But this can be a benefit too because then if you don’t like the look of the wax on the wood, you can rub it off using steel wool and apply a different color or a different finish altogether.

Applying Conditioner Before Staining

If you are working on softwood that has no pores whatsoever, you can always try to apply a wood conditioner before staining. A wood conditioner basically penetrates the surface and helps stains adhere to it better preventing blotchiness and uneven coloring.

This Pre-stain Wood Conditioner by the Minwax brand is the one most woodworkers use on their projects.

Using Gel Stains

Gel stains are just like colored wax in the sense that they do not get absorbed by the wood but rather stick to the surface. So if the wood is a non-porous and closed-grain hardwood or softwood then you can consider using gel stains instead of traditional oil-based stuff.

Though they are not the same thing, they do give similar effects visually. You can still see the beauty of the wood while the hue of the gel stain darkens it.

Final Thoughts

With a little bit of preparation and research, you can completely avoid uneven or blotched staining on your wooden projects. Just read ahead about the type of wood you are working with and whether its grain structure is open or closed. Softwoods should be prepared before staining otherwise they will not take well to stain. So just having that information at hand can save you time and resources.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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