Making Your Own Oil Stain
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 manufactures 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.
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 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
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 some mail order woodworking supply houses.
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
1.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.
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 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
3.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.
Japan colors and Japan drier can be purchased from Constantine's
1-800-223-8087. Boiled linseed oil, mineral spirits or gum turpentine should be
available locally from paint and hardware stores in you area.