Black Wood Stain vs Paint: 3 Things to Consider

When it comes to making wood furniture darker, you can either stain or paint it. 

Although at first glance black wood-stained furniture and black-painted furniture might look similar, each look has subtle characteristics that may look more or less appealing to you. 

Not only that but there are major differences between stain and paint in terms of cost and application that may sway your decision one way or another for your next project. 

In this post, we discuss black wood stain vs paint for furniture so you can determine which option is best for your next project. 

Black Wood Stain Vs Paint: Key Differences To Consider 


Appearance is probably the most important factor when choosing between black wood stain or paint. That is to say, a black wood stain finish will look significantly different from a black paint finish.

Since paint is opaque, it will completely cover the wood and you won’t see any of the wood grain underneath. This is great if you’re not interested in preserving the “essence” of the underlying wood. However, if you want to darken your wood furniture but want to accentuate the details in the wood and retain its natural look, then you’re better off using black wood stain.

Unlike paint, wood stains are usually transparent or semi-transparent. The beauty of stains is they don’t completely cover the wood, but rather, they enhance its natural beauty and grain. However, note that the darker the black wood stain is, the harder it will be to see the detail of the wood grain from afar. 

If you’re looking for a particular shade of black, it may only be available in paint form. There are more shades of black paint than wood stains.

With black paint, you can also choose between a matte or glossy look. On the other hand, you can generally only achieve a matte look with a black wood stain. If you want to achieve a glossy finish with staining, you need to use an appropriate top coat. A coat of varnish or lacquer can give stained wood a high gloss finish. 

Related: Can You Stain Manufactured Wood Furniture?


Another significant difference between black wood stain and paint is the way you apply each.

To apply black wood stain on your wood furniture, follow the following steps to prep your furniture: 

  • Clean the surface with a bit of warm water and dish soap to remove any built-up grease, grime, and dirt
  • Lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper (220+ grit). Sanding is important to remove any existing finish. Roughening up the surface also helps the stain absorb into the wood better.
  • Wipe off any wood dust from sanding with a damp rag and let the furniture dry completely before moving on to the next step

When applying the black wood stain, brush the stain on in the direction of the grain if possible.

You only need to apply one coat of black wood stain. However, if desired, you can apply additional coats to make the stain even darker. Just make sure to let the first coat of wood stain sufficiently dry first.

Once you have finished staining, apply a top coat. A top coat will protect the wood (and the stain), and you can also choose between a matte, satin, or glossy finish for most stains.

To prep your furniture before painting, follow the same steps as you would before staining. Clean your furniture, sand it down, and then wipe off the wood dust.

Additionally, it’s important to apply primer before painting your furniture. Primer helps the paint adhere to the furniture more strongly and it makes for a more durable paint job as well. 

After your primer dries, lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper (220+ grit) before painting. This will eliminate any pesky brush marks that can make the finish uneven. Then, apply the black paint evenly on the surface. Refer to the product label to learn how long to wait between coats, but generally, you shouldn’t need to wait more than an hour.

After sufficient time has passed, apply the second coat of black paint. Two coats is important to ensure the fullest color and durability of your paint job.

While a top coat isn’t completely necessary, it provides added durability and protection to your paint. Consider using a polyurethane or polyacrylic finish on your paint. 


Staining is generally less expensive than painting. Not only is black wood stain generally cheaper than black paint, but staining typically requires fewer materials.

For staining, you only really need a can of wood stain, a top coat, and painting supplies such as a brush, sandpaper, and cloth.

For painting, you need practically all the same materials (minus the stain of course), plus the primer as well. 

When You Should Use Black Wood Stain Vs Paint 

So which is the better choice – wood stain or paint? As mentioned, it’s most important to consider how you want the end product to appear. If you want to retain or enhance the natural look of your wood furniture, then a black wood stain would be the better choice. On the other hand, if you’re looking to achieve an opaque, uniform, black finish, then you’re better off with black paint. 

If appearance isn’t a major factor for you and you just want to color your furniture black, consider the amount of time it will take to apply black wood stain vs paint. Consider the cost as well.

Staining is generally cheaper than painting, and it takes less prep work too. Keep in mind that before painting, applying primer is important, but this adds time and cost to your project. Additionally, with staining, only one coat is required, but it’s always best to apply two coats of paint. Applying the second coat of paint naturally makes your project a bit more time-consuming. 



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