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Minwax oil stain is a regular in the stain aisle at the local big-box — and in many garages. The manufacturer must be doing something right to stick around this long, but lately I’ve been doing a number of woodworking projects with different types of finishing products and have come to the conclusion that I have better luck with almost anything else.

Minwax does come in more colors and options than you can shake a stick at, but linseed oil or Tung oil always seems to end up with better coverage and even color where the Minwax shows streaks and flaws if you don’t take great care to avoid them. Which leads me ask: is the “quick” off the shelf answer really better?

What do you think? Is Minwax the standard we should all go by, or are the old ways the best ways? Let us know is comments.

Oil Based Stain [Minwax]
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29 Responses to Hot or Not: Minwax Oil-Based Stain

  1. Hot if you use it right.

    In my experience with red oak, what I like to work with most, the darker the shade the more important surface preparation becomes. For years I had used the natural shade for all my projects. I barely prepped the wood — mainly removing any burns and sanding only with 100 grit, and everything I did came out nicely. Then I was matching my kitchen with a darker color, and I used the same preparation techniques and found I had blotchy coverage and strikingly contrasting grain.

    Now I sand from 80 to 100 to 120 to 150 on the face and 220 on the ends. I also visually inspect every piece and run my hands over every inch of the surface making sure every part is the same smoothness. It really doesn’t take that much more time because I find myself sanding much less with each grit, I used to try to do it all with the one grit and spent much more time than I really needed.

    Then at least two coats of stain 4-8 hours apart. Instead of trying to pick the color by how long the stain has penetrated I try to let the wood become saturated and choose the color either by picking the right stain, or mixing a few different shades. So I let the stain soak into the wood for about 15 minutes, but don’t let it get sticky. If it does rub it out with some mineral spirits and recoat the area.

    I like using poly to finish because of it’s durability and zero maintenance. I have nothing against oils and waxes, I just don’t like having to maintain the finish (especially tung oil, it seems like you have to reapply the stuff every few years) Getting a good finish with poly is another topic though.

  2. elmegil says:

    My luck with minwax has been 4 out of 10 times it leaves runs. It takes a LOT of work to go over your project and recheck it again and again before it dries to avoid such things, along with silly things like only painting horizontal surfaces (and you still better not get over the edge AT ALL) etc. I’d agree that my experiences with Danish Oil and such have been much easier, in the long run, than those with Minwax products, and the surface prep you mention is pretty well universal to get even coverage of any product, so that’s nothing special to Minwax.

    I’m definitely in the NOT column on this one.

  3. Kaden says:

    Very much not good. You’re much better off snagging a set of pigments from Lee Valley and brewing up your own oil/wax/solvent based finishes. The trial ‘n error aspect will be character building, but the results vastly more satisfying.

  4. David P says:

    In my experience, the particles of pigment in Minwax tend to make closed-pore woods look really muddy or blotchy. Ever tried to use it on maple? Ha! I’ve had much better luck with solvent-based stains such as ML Campbells Woodsong II. The particles are microscopic–it’s almost like using a dye. Plus it’s ready for topcoating in less than half an hour.

    ML Campbell also offers Minwax-branded colors already premixed, in addition to their own palette. I think they have the same parent company.

  5. Waylan says:

    If I recall, the last time I looked at a Minwax label (and its been awhile) is specifically stated that it should be used *only* after you have applied Minwax sealer to the surface and is *not* guaranteed to work as expected if you don’t.

    I always took that as an admission by Minwax that they belong in the NOT column.

    Again, it’s been awhile, and I don’t have a can handy to verify, so this may no longer be relevant. That said, the damage has already been done and I don’t anticipate going back.

    In my experience, various other brands do not make such statements and generally do not have the blochyness problems that Minwax does when not using their sealer. I’m told (I refuse to spend money on what should be an unnecessary product to find out) that Minwax works great if the sealer is used. Of course, that means nothing is soaking into the wood, just putting a thin coat over top. I’d imagine fixing water damage and the like becomes a real nightmare on anything finished that way.

  6. Waylan says:

    Whoops, my previous comment appears to be referring to *water based* stain rather than oil base. Sorry for the misinformation. Don’t know that I’ve ever used the oil based stuff.

    For the record, the link above has this to say:

    “Minwax® Wood Finish™ is an oil-based wood stain that provides long-lasting wood tone color. It penetrates deep into the pores to seal and protect the wood and…”

    Where as the page for their water based stain says [1]:

    “When used with Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, each coat provides rich, even color penetration and long-lasting beauty.”

    [1]: http://www.minwax.com/products/woodstain/waterbased.cfm

  7. l_bilyk says:

    Minwax is awful. It’s completely inconsistent, shows runs, and doesn’t cover uniformly.

  8. Dave R says:

    NOT, It doesn’t matter how well you mix it, you still have runs and uneven coverage. You are just paying for a name.

  9. David says:

    For my first *real* refinishing job, I ended up using Minwax Oil based stain, and it did a great job. In my use of stain in high school shop, we never put enough effort into prepping the wood with sanding and then conditioning the wood before staining. Plus, we often didn’t have the time to stain, wait, and then rub off the excess, so the results were blotchy.

    But, I paid attention this time, and was quite pleased with the results. The shade didn’t quite match the other wood (prefab crap), but that’s more a case of bad matching on my part.


  10. Michael W. says:

    I’ve used it and had some good results. Any finish really comes down to proper prep. Sand, but don’t over sand (the stain will have a hard time penetrating). Any wood that has abundant oils, or sap, really needs a conditioner to prevent splotches (either that or good karma).

    Their Dark Walnut is awful though, actually come to think all their darker stains look muddy. Their Cherry is awful too.

    I usually pick woods though that don’t need staining if I can help it. Staining pine with a Cherry finish won’t make it look like Cherry.

    Using some of the lighter stains (Natural, Golden Oak) on White, or Red Oak has always turned out well for me.

  11. Jim C. says:

    Definitely NOT! We had maple cabinetry ruined by Minwax finishes even when it was applied by the contractor. Fortunately our Sunday School teacher does furniture finishing for a living (we did not approach him initially because I try not to do business with friends) and after many hours of work with dyes and bleaches he was able to even out the coloring. According to him it works for some few woods under special circumstances and for others like maple it is the absolute worst thing to do. There are a lot of other finishing products that aren’t as difficult to get good results with so why even try using Minwax. Ironically, he is curently refinishing two other kitchens that had Minwax applied to them.

  12. mark says:

    I find non-petroleum based tung-oil to be the best. It brings out the best, all natural color of the wood. I’m of the school that there are two choices for finishing wood: leave it natural and oil it or use milk paint. Other choices are really bad for the environment…

  13. Mike says:

    I’ve had an unbelieveable experience with Minwax Gel Stain. We installed two Mastercraft fiberglass exterior doors in our new home. The doors were stained according to the directions and three top coats of Minwax Spar Ureathane were applied per the directions. Two years later the finish started to peel off on both the exterior and interior surfaces. The local supplier refused to get involved because they had discontinued carrying the Gel Stain products from Minwax. I called the Minwax 800 line and explained my problem to Dave, a tech service person. He advised me that the Gel Stains, even when applied properly and top coated properly, were only good for nine to twelve months. After that time, they would start to peel. He suggested that I purchase a gel stain stripper from Peel-O-Way Corp. Strip the doors and then re-apply their Gel Stain.

    Well, guess who’s gel stain I’m not going to use again.

  14. MrMiz says:

    NOT – so far I’ve been unable to get and acceptable finish without wood conditioner. Even with conditioner I would call only so so…. It’s probably only because I have less education about how wood accepts stains than most, but with out conditioner I always find myself asking….. why OH why does it look like that right there, but no where else.

  15. David says:

    As an owner of a 88 year old paint company I find many of these posts facinating. We custom match around 100 different stains a year and I can tell you that each piece of wood is different. (Each comes from a different tree.) You never know what color you will achieve until you apply stain to your wood. Every piece will take it differently unless you tone the wood first with a spray toner. These are semi-opaque wood sprays that are used in the furniture business to ensure color uniformity. Maple, cherry, poplar, and many other types of wood stain very poorly no matter how you apply the stains. There are tricks that cabinet companies use to “stain” their products and many of the tricks do not involve stain at all. The post about ML Campbell stains is correct. Paints and stains very by particle size. The smaller the size, the more expensive to manufacture and the higher the quality. Minwax has about the largest pigment size I have ever seen. Sometimes I can see it with the naked eye. Minwax also uses the least amount of pigment that I have seen from just about any manufacture. All of this adds up to a cheap product that Americans love.

    The best advice is to make sample boards with your whole system complete before you start your project. Do not try to save money on wood that does not stain because it will cause you trouble down the road. Oh, and never, ever buy Minwax.

  16. bob moser says:

    Minwax, as well as Varathane and old Masters are all vertually the same and so are the results. The best I’ve used is Zar oil based stain made by UGL. I Didn’t need conditioner, no runs, no blotches, lap marks. Great uniform colors that were consistant. There is over 20 colors to chose from. Zar finishes are also very good. They dry as fast as an hour for oil base. They also now make a water based stain that is very close to the oil capabilities. It even works well on fiberglass doors. Definately the only brand I use now.

  17. Hans says:

    As an amateur refinisher, I used Minwax based solely on brand recognition. Instructions said that a second coat of stain could be applied if the first wasn’t dark enough. I applied the first coat and wiped off the excess stain, then applied a second coat a while later in the same manner. The second coat wouldn’t dry. A friend later told me that one coat only should be applied when staining, as the first coat fills the wood pores and essentially seals the wood. A second coat simply sits on top of this. Penetrates nothing. Perhaps others haven’t had this problem, and perhaps Minwax isn’t the only manufacturer to suggest multiple coats of stain for a darker finish – but this was my experience with Minwax.

  18. StupidCableGuy says:

    Installed my first unfinished hardwood floor (PINE), cleaned everything up, used the minwax wood conditioner first- let sit for 30 min- applied minwax provincial stain with a horse hair brush with the grain pattern and left on for 5-7 minutes, rubbed off by hand with lint free rags. I worked in a left to right pattern across the floor giving myself ample time to apply the stain and reach back after a couple rows to rub off the excess as I moved down. The floor came out beautiful, when applying stain rub off the excess never let it sit on top of the wood. What you see is what you get. If you leave the stain in puddles and lines as it dries it will leave those discoloration and marks. My first experience with minwax ever and I had great results. Now I just have to urethane to seal and it’ll be finished. Thumbs up to minwax for a first timer.

  19. Tyler Smith says:

    Well, I would like to say that I have been building and finishing furniture for over 11 years, and from all the different brands to bases you find your self using, the only things that matter are prep and technique. I can take one type of stain and get four different looks depending on how I apply it, and how many times I apply. The best way (no matter the brand) to apply an even coat of oil base is to spray with an hvlp then while it’s still wet, even it out grain direction with a 2″ painting sponge (black head with a red or wooden handle). As far as prep, you need only sand with two types of paper, start with 80 grit on an orbital, then finish with 120-150 grit depending on what you like. No need to go through all 4 grits as previously mentioned by someone, the orbital motion cuts different grit usage down.

  20. Tyler Smith says:

    Oh, yeah… Don’t buy that wood conditioner junk, you don’t need it, some swear by it, but it really does nothing that special… Like I said, prep and technique while applying.

  21. Tyler Smith says:

    If you use anything that is not a two in one stain and sealant, make sure you use some sort of clear finish, I prefer water base clear, or if you have ventilation and respirator, then lacquer based clear is great and dries faster.

  22. Mike says:

    I`ve just finished staining bannisters and posts with minwax. I used several applications to get the desired colour and after leaving it for at least a week, I`ve used varathane over top. (yes, the stain took forever to dry!) I`ve now got some milky (blush?) areas on my posts after all of that effort – how do I fix this?

  23. browndog77 says:

    It seems that quite a few of those responding here are referring to Polyshades, not oil based stain. I have used Minwax for years, and while it is not the best stain on the market, it should never produce runs or uneven coverage if applied correctly. Stains should never be allowed to dry before being thoroughly wiped after the initial application. How you can get runs escapes me, unless you are being overly sloppy and leaving the product on the surface in spill or splash patterns. On most woods the wiping should be almost immediate, eliminating any chance of runs.

  24. Alexander says:

    I have applied a second coat now I have no idea what to do, wipe it off or sand it off & start from scratch?

    • CAROL says:


  25. PB says:

    Re: “David P (November 3, 2007)
    “In my experience, the particles of pigment in Minwax tend to make closed-pore woods look really muddy or blotchy. Ever tried to use it on maple?”

    THANK YOU for that! Years ago, I got a couple unfinished tables and stained that — I’m sure — with Minwax stain. I should have tested it first on something else, because, to my surprise, there were lots PARTICLES of pigment suspended in the “stain.” Now, a “stain” to me is a DISSOLVED pigment, not a suspended one — but what do I know? Anyway, the pigment ended up in the pores, not generally across the wood, making the grain look inverted — soft parts dark, hard parts light. It looked AWFUL. I kept these tables for a couple years, then sold them at a garage sale, I hated them so much!

    I’m just about to stain another piece of furniture and pulled the old container of Minwax off the shelf. Now I know to trash it and use something else — or just leave the wood its natural color!

  26. db says:

    refinishing a project and wondering if I use an oil base stain how long must it dry before using a water base finish

  27. Rob says:

    I really, really tried to do a proper job with minwax, no no avail. Now I have a ruined project and am out $35 spent on Minwax products. I got some serious discoloration / discoloring while using Minwax polyurethane:


  28. Marion Napier says:

    These comments are interesting in that my father was a seasoned furniture refinisher and always used Minwax products with no problems. His favorite stain color was to create a 50/50 mix of Special Walnut and Cherry. I followed his lead when refinishing the oak cabinets in two of my bathrooms several years ago. I started with his Special Walnut/Cherry mixture but didn’t think it had enough “umph” to it. So, I went back over it with a Mahogany gel stain. Perfect! I then put 2 coats of polyurethane on it and have had no problems. (I still have one more bath and my kitchen to refinish–someday.) The trick is to not think of stain as a paint. You have to apply it in even strokes going with the grain, staining and wiping as you go. You also have to realize that different parts of the wood (and different kinds of wood) take to stains differently depending on the amount of sap there is in the wood and how seasoned the wood is. My husband’s woodworking magazine suggests that if you want an even stain color you have to apply a wood conditioner–no matter what brand you use.

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