Oil-Based Stain Versus Water-Based Stain

Here is a quick compare between oil-based stain and water-based stain.

Oil-Based Stain

Oil-based stains have been in use for many years and they are still the most commonly used stain today. They consist of a coloring agent dissolved in an oil base - usually linseed oil or a linseed oil/varnish mix, and they can be thinned and cleaned-up with mineral spirits. An oil-based stain is often referred to as a "pigment stain" but although some do contain only pigment, many contain pigment and dye, and others contain only dye. The type of coloring agent is important because it affects how the stain is absorbed into and colors the wood.

Many people find oil-based stains easier to use than water-based stains because they dry slower which allows more time to remove the excess, and they don't raise the wood grain. An oil stain can be used under most clear top coats but it is essential that the stain is fully cured if a water-based top coat is applied.

Water-Based Stain

Water-based stains have been gaining in popularity in recent years. They are more environmentally friendly, give off fewer noxious odors, pollute less, dry faster (a double-edged sword), and are easier to clean up than oil-based stains. Because they use water as the base solvent, water-based stains are thinned and cleaned-up with water. Using water as the base also leads to one of their biggest drawbacks: raising of the the wood grain. Sanding down the raised grain inevitably leads to sanding through the actual stain so it is advisable to raise the grain and sand it off before applying the stain. This is easily done by wiping the wood with a wet cloth.

Water-based stains typically cost considerably more than oil-based stains and are not yet as commonly available. However, expect prices to drop and availability to improve as more and more people choose them as a greener alternative to oil-based stains.