Wood Dye vs. Wood Stain; How and When to Use Each

I bet most of you reading this haven’t heard of wood dye. Why would anyone use wood dye (also known as wood tint)? We hear about wood stain every day but until last year I hadn’t heard of wood dye. When I first heard of it I had so many questions. What was it made from? Was it water based or oil based or both? I was curious to try this new wood finish. I’m going to share all about the pros and cons of wood dye vs. wood stain and why you would use each.

Wood dye vs. wood stain

Before we dive into why you would use each, I want to talk about what they are first.

What is wood stain?

Wood stains can even be created from household items like coffee and tea! Today I’m talking about the store bought wood stains.

Wood stains are primarily used to color wood while they sometimes provide a protection to the top layer of the wood. There are two main types of stains; oil based and water based.

Types of wood stain categories

There are two main types of wood stain categories; Penetrating and surface finishes.

Penetrating wood stains are products that seep down in the wood and dry inside the wood. These are best applied with a cloth and really give the wood that natural finish because they don’t hide the grain and natural wood look.

Surface wood stains are just as they say; the product dries on the surface of the wood. These stains make wood more durable because they protect the surface. That being said, surface stains are typically the best choice for high traffic wood stains. Examples of surface stains are products like Varathane and Minwax stains.

Pros of Oil based wood stain:

  • Requires longer dry time which allows for a more even finish
  • More durable
  • Less maintenance
  • Most common type of stain

Pros of water based wood stain:

  • Dries quickly
  • No harsh fumes
  • Easy cleanup
  • penetrates the wood deeper

Most people know what wood stain is and have probably used it at least once. You can see where I applied wood stain over a bench that had been previously stained below.

How to apply wood stain over wood stain

I’ve also used wood stain on a variety of different projects like when I repurposed a few wooden crates, added a beautiful ebony stain to the top of our chalk painted dining room table and stained a few DIY floating dining room shelves.

Enough about wood stain, let’s talk about wood dye or wood tint.

What is wood dye or wood tint?

Wood dye (also known as wood tint) is comprised of a colorant and a solvent (like alcohol or water). Unlike wood stain, which sits on the top of the wood surface, wood dye penetrates the wood and colors the wood from within. The color is more translucent than the color from a wood stain.

WHY you would use wood dye vs. wood stain?

Wood stains are used to not only color the wood, but often times they are used to add a layer of protection to it.

Wood dyes, on the other hand, penetrate the wood and do not give a protective layer like most wood stains do.

Like I said earlier, wood dyes are more translucent. This is helpful when you want the wood grain to show. The dyes are made of much smaller molecules than wood stains, so light can pass through them easier.

This is good in one sense, like if you want wood grain to show, but not good if you want to protect the surface of the wood. You always need to add a top coat or sealer to a surface that you’ve applied wood dye to.

Wood stains are similar to paint in that they both are primarily surface coatings. Dye’s, on the other hand, penetrate deep because the molecules are smaller.

Wood dye’s are great to use when whitewashing a furniture piece, especially if you want to whitewash in a fun color.

Also, wood dye’s can be mixed into solvents like Shellac, lacquers or water based finishes.

If you want to achieve a rich color, you can use both together! Apply the wood dye first so it penetrates the wood and then add the stain over it.

wood stain vs. wood dye and how to use each

Disclosure: the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase from one of these links I will receive a small commission, but rest assured you won’t pay anymore for the product.

Pros of Wood Dye:

  • Translucent
  • No harmful odors
  • Comes in an array of colors
  • Easy clean up
  • Can be mixed with other solvents and sealers

Pros of Wood Stain:

  • Very Durable
  • Easier to apply because they don’t dry as quick as wood dye’s
  • Works better with outdoor wood
  • Comes in either oil or water based

Where do you buy wood tint? I purchased my wood tint on Amazon. You can see a few products below.

This particular product comes in an array of colors. See below.

Wood Dye

You can see another product below that comes in a “dye kit.”

Video about Wood Dye vs. Wood Stain and how to use each;

WOOD DYE vs. WOOD STAIN and what are the differences

I hope this post has helped you better understand how to use wood stain vs. how to use wood dye.

Thanks for stopping by!


12 thoughts on “Wood Dye vs. Wood Stain; How and When to Use Each

  1. Great post!
    I have some vintage flicks reed bamboo furniture that needs updated, I was hoping to darken the color it’s very very light.
    What do you think would work better to achieve this stain or dye (tint).

    1. Thank you Linda!
      As far as which type? If you want a more translucent finish (like you can see the under tones of the original finish) I would go with the wood tint. If you are wanting to “cover” the finish, I would go with a wood dye. I hope this helps and good luck!

  2. You said in the text that wood dye and wood tint are the same thing, but later on you advise using “tint” for translucent and “dye” for opaque finishes. That was confusing, and I think you must have meant to use “stain” for the opaque finish? Am I right?

    The content was good; but the number of ads flashing and using up screen space made it unpleasant to read.

    Your content was good, but the

  3. Can Dyed wood be laminated and sanded? Will the color stand up and what type of wood do you recommend? I intend to laminate, sand and finish with clear so the colored grain shows.

    1. I don’t see why it can’t be laminated and sanded. It depends on how much you sand it as to how much the dye will show. Anything with a large grain will take the dye better. So like oak an ash would show well. Good luck with your projects. Let me know how it goes, I’m curious.

  4. A very useful article, thank you.
    Can you achieve a sharp edge with a dye or will it seep under masking tape?

    1. Since wood dye tends to penetrate the wood I would think that it would seep under the masking tape. If you are wanting a crisp line you need to find a stain that sits on top of the wood and doesn’t seep into it.

  5. I’m really wanting to do a maple tabletop with a wood dye, a shade of blue/green. But I’m worried that years down the road somebody will hate me for it, if it’s so deep that they can’t take it back to a natural wood. Would they be able to?

    Thanks for great information!

    1. As long as it’s solid wood you should be able to sand it down. If you want to sand it down in the future you might want to look into using like a gel stain or a stain that sits on top of the surface and doesn’t penetrate too deep so it will be easier to sand off down the road.

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