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How to Layer Wood Stain

Staining wood is such a fun and easy way to add dimension and protect the wood.  Layering stain is the process of overlapping multiple coats of different stain colors to create depth.  

There are a few different ways to layer stains and each way will give different effects.  My favorite way to layer stain is a wet on wet application.

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Step One: Prep your Wood

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Be sure to remove any old stain and clean your wood before staining.  Use denatured alcohol and a lint-free rag to wipe down the wood. 

Then to ensure you get the smoothest stain finish, treat your wood with a pre-stain wood conditioner. 

Step Two: Prep your Palette (Stains)

When I am doing a wet on wet stain, I normally like to pour small amounts of stain from the can into a cup.  I do this because I only use one paint brush when I am staining with the two different colors and I don’t want to mix a whole can of stain.  I used different combos depending on the finish I want. 

So grab two cups, any cup will work.  I normally use solo cups and pour your two different stains into the cups. 

Step Three: Apply First Stain

Using a disposable paint brush or lint-free rag wipe on your first stain.  Brush on liberally, and do not wipe dry! 

You can lightly dab in spots where there is heavy excess. 

Step Four: Apply Second Stain

This is where the magic happens! 

Immediately after applying your first stain, wipe on your second stain.  This enables both stain colors to fully permeate the wood without allowing the first stain color to dry and create a seal between the first and second layers.

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Step Five: Wipe off Excess stain

At this point, once you’ve allowed your layered stains to set for a moment you can now use a clean dry rag to wipe off any excess.  

Step Six: Apply a Topcoat Finish

Using a lint-free rag wipe on your top coat.  My favorite top coat is the Matte from General Finishes.

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A few of my Favorite Stain Layered Projects!

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The free desk flip!  This is much more than just a layered stained.  I bleached the wood, layered stains, then applied a white wash, and a matte top coat.  But for the layered stains I used Weathered Oak and then Early American.

The DIY Extra Large Lanterns!  I wanted these to look like a dark barn wood.  For this finish I layered first Weathered Oak stain and then Jacobean stain.  These have a like poly finish since they are used outdoors. 

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The free table flip! Rachel picked up this table off the side of the road!  She did not use the wet on wet stain method but instead allowed dry times between the layers.  The finish is Weathered Oak, then a white wash, then Jacobean. 

There are endless possibilities and combinations for layering stains.  Play around with different combinations but be sure to consider the type and colors of the wood you are using.  

If you want a weathered look or a natural wood look but your wood is very red you should use a stain combination that will lighten or wash out the red color.  Think back to high school art class and reference the color wheel!  Use a stain that will pull the opposite color. For red wood, pick a stain that is has a blue/green hue to it. 

There is really no magic formula with stain!  It’s all trial and error, and you can always tweak it before applying a topcoat finish! 


How to Layer Wood Stains

Prep Time 1 hour
Build Time 1 hour
Dry Time 8 hours
Total Time 10 hours


  • Paint Brush
  • Lint-Free Rags
  • Disposable Cups


  • Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner
  • Wood Stain #1
  • Wood Stain #2
  • Matte (Flat) Top Coat
  • Denatured Alcohol


  • Prep Your Wood
  • Prep Your Palette
  • Apply First Stain
  • Apply Second Stain
  • Wipe Off Excess Stain
  • Apply a Top Coat Finish
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