Stain and Waterlox.

Waterlox is compatible with stains. There are many methods and options available when choosing a stain. The goal of this guide is to go over the basics, some of the possibilities and possible considerations when adding your own color.

Like choosing paint colors for your walls, staining or coloring your wood is a very personal choice. What works for one person may not be the desired look for your project. You may also find a picture on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, a blog that matches your vision; however, there may be special preparation steps, procedures or techniques needed to achieve the same look. Ultimately, wood is a natural product and with that it can vary greatly from species to species, tree to tree, board to board and even within the same board, so getting two projects to match exactly can be very difficult.

** The tips below are generalizations and we do not test every single product from every manufacturer. It is always a good idea to test your colorization procedure on an inconspicuous area or scrap piece of wood (prepared the same way!) to ensure that you are happy with the color, but more importantly that the coating systems are compatible with one another.

Before Staining Considerations

How you prepare your wood surface can greatly affect your final color. Some things to consider at this point are:

  1. How well does my species of wood accept stain?
    Some species of wood, like pine, maple, birch, fir, cherry, etc. may not accept stain evenly and care needs to be taken to ensure an even color. This can mean using a pre-stain conditioner, gel stains or other methods.

  2. How dark or how much color do I want to impart to the wood?
    The amount of color you want to achieve by staining can be affected by a multitude of factors. Final sanding at a lower grit (coarser) will keep the wood more open and allow the wood to accept more color. Water popping the wood can GREATLY increase the amount of stain the wood accepts. Using a conditioner, as mentioned in point 1, can decrease the amount of color that the wood accepts. Other factors such as how the wood is milled can even affect how much stain the wood will accept.

  3. Do I want a warmer color or cooler more neutral color?
    Putting clear coats over your stain may change your final color. For instance, our Urethane products are more clear and would be a better choice over neutral colors like whites or grays. Our Original products are amber in color and will generally create warmer tones as you apply coats. Our Marine products have some additional yellow cast to them, so it will tilt the scale toward amber.

Staining Methods


A traditional stain application would be one that the staining procedure is its own individual step. This is almost always done on raw wood or in some cases, over a prestain conditioner for harder to stain woods like maple, pine, birch, etc. For this you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for application steps, techniques and most importantly, dry times. Most types of stains will work fine under any Waterlox products, including water-based, oil-based, dyes, quick dry stains, alcohol based, etc. Gel-stains or higher solids stains will also most likely work; however, they generally contain additional solids that may negatively affect the ability of the Waterlox products to penetrate into the surface. While this is less desirable, it is not a deal breaker. The only things that definitely need to be avoided would be anything containing wax or silicone.

As a general rule, double the recommended drying time or wait at least 72 hours on most stains to ensure they are fully dry. Waterlox products contain solvents which can redissolve undried stain and may affect your color. For our TrueTone Color-Infused Tung Oil stains, the normal recommended drying time is 24 hours when top coating with the TrueTone Buff-In Tung Oil Finish; however, if you decide to top with our other finish lines, we would recommend 48 hours of dry time to lock in the color better, due to the higher solvent content.

When used in a traditional manner, we do not count stains as any of the protective coat. Think of it as an added step in the process, but it will not change or eliminate other steps in any of our guides. This would only differ if using the TrueTone colored stains as it contains a large amount of tung oil, so it will also count as the first coat in your project.


A possible time saving alternative can be to mix a stain or dye into the Waterlox. This can also help to distribute the stain more evenly and may eliminate the need for a pre-stain conditioner. There are a few important considerations when choosing this method.

  1. The stain needs to be OIL-BASED. Waterlox uses mineral spirits as the main solvent. It will not mix well with water-based or alcohol-based products. If using a powdered dye, make sure it can be dissolved in non-polar or oil-based solvents.

  2. Stain should only be mixed into the Universal Tung Oil Sealer. This should be used as the base coat and it contains no additives that may interact with the stain.

  3. The maximum ratio of conventional oil-based stain to Waterlox would be 1 part stain mixed into 4 parts Waterlox. Higher ratios may greatly extend drying times or cause poor drying overall. Note that you will dilute your color, so for very dark stains, you may need to stick with a traditional method.

  4. As a special case: When using TrueTone colors and top coating with Original, Marine or Urethane products, you can add 1 part Original Sealer & Finish to 6 parts of TrueTone stain without affecting color. This will help speed up the dry time and get a more positive dry. You would not want to do this if using the TrueTone Buff-In Tung Oil finish for the top coats, as it can lead to water spotting.

Color After Coating

In general, staining should be the first step and should be done on raw wood (or over a conditioner if used). Stains are designed to dye the wood fibers and to get color and pigment soaked into the wood itself. Obviously this becomes very difficult if the wood is already sealed!

If you want to change the color of a project after it has been finished, there are a few options.

  • Best course of action is to usually sand off or strip the existing finish and start over.* Most stains are not designed to be standalone layers on top or between other layers. If they are used over another finish, they may create a very weak layer in your system that can lead to coating failures. You can check with the manufacturer of the stain to see if there are any work arounds. For our TrueTone Color-Infused Tung Oil stains, these must be applied to raw wood and raw wood only.

    *The only exception would maybe be if you had applied one coat of Marine Sealer or Original Sealer Finish. Some people have used thin coats of the sealer products in place of a pre-stain conditioner. This works better on softer woods that are still relatively absorbent even after one coat of Waterlox.

  • You can apply a tinted coat of Waterlox. Waterlox Sealers will adhere well to most surfaces, so you can add a tinted coat (sometimes considered glaze or toner) on top of an existing finish. This essentially adds some actual coating reinforcement to the stain allowing it to adhere well. Here are some things to consider if doing this:
    • We would recommend an additional two non-tinted clear coats over the color coat to ensure that the color is protected, especially on working surfaces like floors or countertops. If this causes the final film to be too thick, then sanding before the tint coat may be needed.
    • The maximum ratio would still be 1 part stain to 4 parts Waterlox, so your color will be diluted.
    • This will look different than staining the wood itself. Staining the wood itself tends to highlight the grain differences by collecting more pigment in the open grain, and less color in the closed grain. Tinting the clear will just put an even “candy coat” over the surface.

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