Making Your Own Oil Stain
by Sal Marino
Sometimes it's 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 manufactures offer, these companies will never be able to
supply us with the infinite number of color combinations 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 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.
1. 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 powder.
2. Vehicle. Something needs to be added to the pigment in order to carry
it onto the work piece and distribute it evenly across the surface. If
you were to use just the 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.
3. 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 stain.
4. 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 on the internet from
The following formula should yield about 1 quart of oil stain. You do
not need to add Japan drier to this formula 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.
1.Vehicle. Quart of mineral spirits
or 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.
2.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 in addition to adding body to the stain. Use boiled linseed not raw
linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil has drier added to it and will
help the stain dry quicker. Raw linseed oil will never dry.
3.Pigment - A maximum 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 to the formula.
Adding more japan color will start to make the stain too thick and it
will be difficult 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.