How to Change Stain Color

Today’s post is a quick tip about how to change stain color. But maybe not in the way you might be thinking.

Gel stains are an amazing product! There are so many advantages: they don’t drip, you don’t have to sand or strip the previous finish, and you can control the depth of colour by the number of coats you apply. So what’s not to love? Well, what if you buy a few containers then realize you don’t like the colour for the project you have in mind after you test it?

This post isn’t about mixing stains together to produce a hybrid colour. There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing how to do that (and it’s fun just to experiment if you have a bunch of stains from the same brand). Nope. Instead, we’ll show you how we transformed a gel stain colour we didn’t like into one that we love using a universal colourant!

Supplies for How to Change Stain Color

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While working on converting a sewing table to a painted end table, we decided to stain the inside of the tops that lift open. Just in case someone still wants to hide a sewing machine in it, a stained surface will be more practical to sewing on.

Original stained sewing table before How to Change Stain Color on the inside of the lids

On closer inspection you can see the scratches on the veneer of this wooden top. That’s a job for gel stain. Gel stain can sit on the surface of previous finishes to hide imperfections. So you don’t even have to necessarily sand. However, you do have to clean the surface well first.

Inside lid of sewing table; scratched and damaged

With so many scratches, it doesn’t hurt to give the wood a light sanding with fine sandpaper. Don’t go overboard though; veneer is pretty thin and you don’t want to sand through it!

You can read more about how to apply get stain to finished wood and how to stain and seal wood from two of our blogger friends. You’ll see how gel stain works straight out of the tin on both finished and raw wood surfaces; french doors and a railing!

How to Change Stain Color

Watch this video, or continue reading below, for how to transform the colour of furniture stain out of the container.

Unlike using a stain on raw wood (which soaks in) gel stain is easy to test on a pre-existing surface to see if you like it first. Test on a small, preferably inconspicuous, area. If you don’t like it, you can remove it with a paint thinner such as mineral spirits.

We have two gel stains – Golden Ash and American Honey – neither one of which we like for this particular sewing table. Mixing them together doesn’t result in a colour we want to use either.

American Honey is the stain shown below on the right side of the paint stick. That’s the one we’re using to show you how to change stain colour.

Two tins of stain on top of wood sewing table top with paint stick showing two colours of stain

Can You Customize Wood Stain?

Wood stain can be customized with the addition of universal colour. We’ll deepen the tone of the American Honey gel stain with black colourant.

The colourant we’re using is made by Mixol and is called Schwarz Black. Mixol makes a line of concentrated universal tinting pastes that are highly concentrated (it even comes in metallics). You can add them to almost any type of paint and/or coating materials; you can even mix them together to create an infinite variety of custom colours.

Hand holding bottle of Mixol black colourant over the sewing table top lid

How to Customize Stain Colours

After opening the tin, thoroughly mix the gel stain. Then scoop some into another container, or a lid as we’re using here.

Scooping stain out of tin onto a plastic lid before showing How to Change Stain Color

Add a few drops of colourant at a time and stir well to mix. After all, you can add, but you can’t take away!

Applying drops of colourant into the stain in plastic lid

We stop at 10 drops. By the way, if you ever want to reproduce this stain colour again, be sure to measure everything precisely and write down the formula.

Mixing together stain and colourant in plastic lid showing How to Change Stain Color

Below, on the left, you can see how much the American Honey stain has changed with the addition of the universal tint. Since gel stain is somewhat translucent, it will still show through some of the stain original colour on the wood, unless you build up multiple layers of stain. You can control how the coverage you want with more coats.

Third colour of stain added onto paint stick; from left is new colour, golden ash (not used) and American honey

How to Apply Gel Stain

No Pain Gel Stain is an oil-based product, so it’s best to use it outdoors.

To apply gel stain, we think these applicator pads are amazing. On small projects like this we cut them in half and serge the cut edge to economize. They work beautifully to apply and also wipe back excess stain if you flip it around to the back.

Applicator pad with new mixed stain before applying to inside of sewing table lid

Spread the gel stain onto the wood by wiping in the direction of the grain. Look at the difference between the scratched area and just one application of stain!

Applying the stain with applicator pad to 3/4 of the sewing table lid

You can build up more layers if you wish but we’re stopping at one. Here’s a reminder of the before.

Before How to Change Stain Color

And here it is after one coat. The universal tint adds a richness that American Honey alone on this particular old stain wouldn’t achieve. It turned out exactly as we hoped!

After How to Change Stain Color showing finished stain

Important Info About Clean Up

Pay close attention to the warning on the label of stain. This stuff is oil based and therefore combustable. So when you dispose of the applicator pad or cotton rag, don’t ball it up with the gloves and throw it in the garbage. That’s an invitation to start a fire.

The best way to dispose of stain laden rags is in a tin can filled with water with a lid that closes. With no air, it can’t combust. Alternatively, lay them out flat to dry on an incombustible surface such as a metal tray – away from the sun.

Seal the Gel Stain

Gel stain MUST be sealed with a topcoat to protect it. We leave it to dry for a full 72 hours before applying a satin clear coat. The clear coat actually looks like it has a purple hue here when it goes on, but is a water based product that dries perfectly clear.

Jar of clear coat with brush resting on top beside wood sewing table lid that has been clear coated

Before & After How to Change Stain Color

Here’s how the table looks after a light sanding.

Before staining the sewing table

And now? Gel stain is a great choice if you don’t have missing veneer and you want to re-stain a piece of furniture. But if you do have extensive veneer damage and want to keep the wood look, check out our post on how to make wood filler look like wood grain.

After of How to Change Stain Color

So there you have it; an easy way of how to change stain color! Here’s how the inside lids of the sewing table look after re-assembling. You’ll see the final reveal of this sewing table turned painted end table in our next post.

New stain on inside of open re-assembled sewing table lids

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FAQ’s about Gel Stain

Can I stain over stain without sanding?

Yes, you can stain over pre-existing stain and finish with a gel stain. Add as many coats as you wish to the desired depth of colour. Then seal with a clear coat.

How do you lighten a stain that is too dark?

If just applied, you can remove gel stain that hasn’t cured with a paint thinner such as mineral spirits. If it’s an old piece, you could try sanding the stain back to bare wood. Then try an oil based gel stain like Dixie Belle’s No Pain Gel Stain in Pickling White to lighten up the wood.

Can you Customize Wood Stain?

You can customize stain by mixing like-brand colours together. You can also add a universal tint to completely change the tone of the stain as we have done in this tutorial.

Can you color over a stain?

Gel stain is perfect for colouring over pre-existing stain because it sits on top of the surface. Just be sure to seal it with clear coat once you’re happy with the new colour.

2 thoughts on “How to Change Stain Color

  1. Sara, I love this post. I have a lot of wood pieces in my home, so we stain much more often than paint and getting the right color out of the can doesn’t always work. I had no idea there were colorants…also…bad DIYer, I never measure and then I can never reproduce my colors. Great tip. Thanks for sharing. I’m off to share this one!

    • So happy to hear this was helpful Kim and thank you for sharing our tip 🙂

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