Step By Step Instructions For Making Your Own Quality Oil Stain
Sometimes it is impossible to find a stain that is the exact color you need. This is especially true if you are
building a piece of furniture and want to match the color to an existing piece. No matter how many colors
stain manufacturers offer, these companies will never be able to supply us with the infinite number of
color combonations needed to suit every job. When I ran into this problem, I always remember saying to
myself, "If I only knew what was in this stain, I could make it myself". Over the years through research
and a lot of experimentation, I have come up with an excellent home brewed pigmented oil stain which I
would like to share with you.
Most commercial pigmented oil stains contain a few basic ingredients. First I will list each of these
ingredients and give you a brief description of what purpose each serves in the make up of the stain.
Pigment (Color) The pigment is what actually gives the stain its particular color. Toady most
pigments are synthetic finely ground powders. Years ago artists and cabinet makers made their own
pigments by drying and then grinding natural materials. For example: to make a red pigment, an
artist would take red rose petals, let them dry out completely and then grind the petals to a fine red
Vehicle Something needs to be added to the pigment in order to carry it onto the workpiece and
distribute it evenly across the surface. If you were to apply a dry powder, it would be impossible to
evenly apply it. The vehicle most commonly used in an oil stain is some type of petroleum based
solvent. In many cases this is a mineral spirits.
Binder If the stain just consisted of pigment and vehicle, it will not work very well. You see
because the vehicle is a solvent it will evaporate shortly after the stain has been applied to the
surface. When that happens, the pigment will return to its powered form and just blow off the
surface. Therefore, we need to add something to the stain formula to hold the pigment in the pores
and on the surface of the wood after the vehicle has evaporated. An oil is usually used to
accomplish this task. Most commercial manufactures use linseed oil, however some use tung oil and
market their stain as a tung oil stain. Linseed oil will never evaporate, thus it will hold the powered
pigment in place. Also, because linseed oil is thicker than a solvent, it will add more body to the
Drier Last, stain manufactures add a drying agent to the formula to help it dry quicker. Usually this
is some type of metallic drier like cobalt. This is sold commercially under the name Japan drier. It
can be purchased in art supply stores, some paint stores and some mail order woodworking supply
The following formula should yield about 1 quart of oil stain. You do not need to add Japan drier to this
formula because because the Japan color and boiled linseed oil contain drier. If you want the stain to dry
a little quicker, you can add some additional Japan drier, but no more than 1/2 ounce. If you add too
much drier, the stain will not work properly.
Vehicle Quart of mineral spirits or pure gum turpentine. This will be your vehicle that will carry the
pigment onto the surface. Either of the two solvents will work well, but if you want to reduce the
odor of the stain, use mineral spirits.
Binder 7 Ounces of boiled linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil will be your binder to help keep the
pigment in the pores and on the surface of the wood and also add body to the stain. Use boiled
linseed not raw linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil has Japan drier added to it and will help the stain dry
quicker. Raw linseed oil will never dry.
Pigment Max. of 4 ounces of Japan color(s). Japan colors are very similar to the oil paints that
artists use to paint pictures (the type that are sold in tubes in art supply stores). The main difference
between artists oil paints and Japan colors is that Japan colors have driers added to it. Japan colors
are also finely ground pigments suspended in a linseed oil base. However, Japan colors are too thick
to use as a stain directly out of the can. They are available in many colors including earth tones that
will match the natural colors of many woods, and are also available in brilliant colors like reds,
greens, yellows and more. Any of these colors can be intermixed, but you should not use more than
a total of 4 ounces of Japan colors to the formula. Adding more Japan color will start to make the
stain too thick and it will be hard to apply.
Remember, the Japan color and boiled linseed oil already contain driers, therefore you do not need to add
any Japan drier. However, if the stain is not drying properly, or not quick enough, you can add some
Japan drier, but NO MORE THAN 1/2 Ounce.