The Best Stain for Maple Wood

Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by Ernest Godia

Maple is one of the most popular woods on the market for its versatility, beauty, and durability. From living room furniture to kitchen countertops and tables, this wood creates beautiful projects, with its unique grain pattern standing out in any space. 

However, staining maple wood can be pretty challenging since it does not accept stain well. The wood’s tight grains make it blotch-prone. But the best stain for maple wood can guarantee success when working with this wood type. 

This post reviews the five best maple wood stains to help you find a suitable choice for your next maple wood project.  

But before diving into that, let’s discuss why staining maple wood is challenging.

First things first, what makes maple wood challenging to stain?

Maple wood has dense, closed grains that absorb stains unevenly. This quality makes the wood pretty challenging to stain as it easily forms blotches when treated with standard wood stains.

Maple’s tight grain structure makes it difficult for stains to penetrate the wood. So you must sand the surface properly and apply a pre-stain wood conditioner to distribute the stain more evenly. 

Best Stain for Maple Wood Reviews 

1. Minwax Antique Maple Gel Stain – Best gel stain for maple wood

Minwax’s antique maple gel stain offers excellent coverage on any maple wood surface and non-wood surfaces like veneer, metal, and fiberglass. The unique formula gives these surfaces a rich, uniform color.

The manufacturer recommends pre-treating the bare wood with Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner for the most uniform color.

Thanks to its non-drip formula, the stain is easy to apply, even on vertical surfaces. 

The thick consistency of this gel stain allows for greater control while applying it to wood and non-wood surfaces. 

This gel stain is suitable for interior use on wooden surfaces such as coffee tables, kitchen tables, drawer fronts, and more.

You can apply the stain easily with a rag or a paintbrush. Just one coat should offer the desired coverage. However, you can apply two coats if you prefer the color darker and deeper. After applying it, let it dry for at least two days before sealing it with polyurethane.

The fact that you can reuse the leftover of this paint in future projects is its most significant advantage since that means nothing goes to waste. 


  • The stain is easy to use
  • Produces even color, especially when used alongside pre-stain conditioner 
  • It is thick-bodied, hence no drips or runs
  • The product is from Minwax, a reputable brand


  • It takes longer to dry compared to standard wood stains 

2. Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain – Best premium wood stain for maple

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If you are looking for a premium wood stain for maple, try the Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain. This oil-based stain boasts a fast-drying formula that is rare on oil-based products. 

Unlike standard oil-based stains that take longer to dry, this product from Rust-Oleum dries quickly and is ready for a topcoat in just an hour. This means you can finish the entire project in under a day.

It is loaded with premium pigments that guarantee color durability and stunning results.

It is available in half-pint and quart quantities, so you can choose based on the size of your project. Thanks to its high-coverage formula, just a single quart is enough for an area of 275 square feet.

The product also saves you time with its one-coat application. The durable formula creates long-lasting results in just one coat.

For the best results, apply this wood stain when the temperatures are around 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, ensure you stir it gently to distribute the pigments before use.

The stain is suitable for interior use on surfaces such as maple furniture, doors, and floors.


  • Its special oil-based formula provides durable results in one coat
  • It is a quick-drying stain
  • The stain is available in multiple colors 
  • Its high coverage formula allows you to cover more wood with less stain
  • It is time-saving with its one-coat application 


  • This product costs more than many competing brands 

3. Minwax Espresso Penetrating Stain – Best even color for maple

The Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain is an excellent option for a rich, uniform color on maple wood. It deeply penetrates the wood grain, giving it a deep, even color. 

Since the product is available in up to 28 colors, you could swap another dark shade for the espresso option. This wide variety allows you to choose your preferred beautiful shade for your maple wood project. 

The product is formulated for one-coat application, thanks to its high-quality pigments that ensure a rich color in just one coat. 

The stain is formulated to work perfectly on unfinished or stripped maple wood furniture, cabinets, trim, doors, molding, and even hardwood floors.


  • The formula is suitable for various wood surfaces 
  • It spreads evenly to offer a uniform color
  • It is easy to apply even for beginners
  • The rich, dark pigments highlight the grain and create lasting results in just one coat. 


  • Some customers find the packaging unappealing 

4. General Finishes Water-Based Stain – Best water-based stain for maple

This water-based wood stain is one of the best products from General Finishes. The manufacturer is reputable for the high quality of its wood stains and finishes, and this is no exception. 

The stain is low in volatile organic compounds and odor thanks to its water-based formula. Therefore, you can apply it on indoor surfaces without health concerns. The low-VOC formula allows you to use the stain without wearing a respirator mask.

You can apply this stain easily with a clean rag, brush, or spray bottle for professional-looking results. 

This is an indoor product, so use it on indoor projects only. You should be happy to know its formula provides the workability of an oil-based stain. 

The high-quality pigments in this water-based stain from General Finishes make it durable and guarantee longevity. 

The product is non-combustible, so it is safe to use around your home. Consider intermixing it with other water-based wood stains and paints frm General Finishes to create custom colors for your maple wood projects. 


  • It is non-combustible, making it safe to use
  • It is low-VOC, so it won’t cause health risks even when used without a protective mask.
  • It is easy to use, even for beginners 
  • Easy to clean with water and soap.
  • It offers adequate coverage.
  • It is durable 


  • Some users find the stain’s color too dark

5. Minwax Polyshades Wood Stain – Best two-in-one stain for maple 

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If you are looking for the best wood stain and polyurethane combo, the  Minwax Polyshades Stain is your best bet. This stain not only adds an attractive, even stain color to your maple wood but also enhances its texture with a topcoat.

It also protects the wood from streaks and speckles, thus making it more durable.  

The best part is that you can apply it over other polyurethane finishes. Therefore, you don’t have to sand down or strip a previous finish to use this product on your finished maple wood. This quality can go a long way in saving you some much-needed time. 

This is an oil-based product, so be sure to use mineral spirits to clean it up. You can purchase it in an aerosol can, and it comes in gloss or satin finishes, allowing you to choose your preferred sheen. 

The application process for Minwax Polyshades Stain & Polyurethane is a little different than standard stains, but it’s still relatively straightforward. The important thing is to work fast because it dries quickly. 


  • You can apply it over other polyurethane finishes. 
  • It combines the beautiful color of wood stain with the protection of polyurethane in one easy step.
  • It provides durable protection.
  • It enhances the wood grain with an even and rich color
  • It is time-saving to apply


  • It requires following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to get the best results.

How to Stain Maple Wood

Now that you know the best stain for maple wood, here is how to use your selected product to complete your stain job.

Tools and Materials

Below are the materials needed to stain wood:

  • Pre-stain wood conditioner
  • Your chosen best stain for maple wood
  • Sander and sandpaper
  • Vacuum or a tack cloth 
  • Paintbrush
  • Rag

Steps for staining maple wood

Below are the steps to follow when staining maple wood:

Step 1: Setting Up the Workspace

Prioritizing safety and gathering the necessary tools and equipment is essential before beginning the staining process. Here are some of the things to keep in mind:

  • Work in a well-ventilated space to reduce exposure to harmful fumes and sanding dust.
  • Wear safety goggles, gloves, and a dust mask to protect your skin, eyes, and lungs.
  • Lay down a drop cloth or plastic sheeting to keep your work area clean and free of spills and drips.

Step 2: Surface Preparation

The wood surface must be clean and smooth to take the stain well. Prep the maple wood for staining by following the steps below:

  • Sand the surface. Start with 120-grit sandpaper and work your way up to 180 or 220-grit. To reduce scratches, sand in the direction of the wood grain.
  • Using a vacuum or tack cloth, clean the surface of any dust or debris. This ensures the wood surface is free of any dust particles or debris that might be trapped under the finish, making it rough and unsightly.
  • Use wood filler to cover any dents or holes, then sand the area again to smooth it.

Step 3: Applying the Pre-Stain Conditioner

A pre-stain conditioner will help avoid blotchiness and uneven color after staining maple wood.

To apply the conditioner, follow the steps below:

  • Start by stirring the conditioner to ensure a uniform consistency.
  • Following the wood grain direction, apply a thin, even coat of the conditioner using a paintbrush.
  • Let the conditioner dry. The drying time varies based on the brand, so check your brand’s recommendation.
  • To eliminate any raised grain, gently sand the wood surface with 220-grit sandpaper. Next, use a tack cloth or vacuum to remove the wood dust.
  • After conditioning, leave the wood for a few hours until it dries. The dry time for the specific pre-stain wood conditioner should be on the label. Ensure you follow it.

Step 4: Apply the Wood Stain 

This is the step that requires you to be most careful. Due to the maple wood’s tight grain structure, it might absorb the stain unevenly, resulting in blotchiness.

Below are the steps on how to apply wood stain on maple wood correctly:

  • Thoroughly stir the stain to guarantee uniform consistency and color distribution.
  • Using a foam brush or paintbrush, apply the wood stain on the maple following its wood grain direction. Apply the wood stain evenly, avoiding any pooling.
  • Let the stain soak into the wood for 5 to 15 minutes. The time varies based on the brand. Also, it is essential to remember that the more the stain settles on the wood, the darker the color will be.
  • Working in the direction of the wood grain, gently wipe away any extra stain on the wood surface with a clean cloth.
  • Leave the stain to dry according to the brand’s recommendation. This may take several hours or even days.
  • If you want a darker finish, add more coats of stain.
  • Apply a sealing topcoat, such as polyurethane or varnish, after the last coat of stain has dried to seal and protect the wood surface.

Why Use Pre-stain Conditioner When Staining Maple 

Maple has a tight grain structure and closed pores, so it absorbs stains unevenly, giving it a less-than-pleasant appearance.

A pre-stain conditioner helps even out the pores, allowing for more uniform absorption of the wood stain. This is why the conditioner is sometimes referred to as a blotch control. 

  • It seals the wood surface to encourage uniform stain absorption
  • It lowers the contrast between the low-absorbent latewood and the high-absorbent earlywood
  • It allows for better control over the final color and finish.

Best Stain for Maple Wood: FAQs

Does maple wood take stain well?

Maple is a notoriously difficult wood to stain. The wood tends to absorb stains unevenly due to its tight and closed grain structure.

Does maple need stain?

Maple is naturally beautiful without wood stains. However, it can fade over time and lose its vibrant touch if not protected. Staining can help preserve your maple wood’s rich color and enhance its beautiful grain.

Can maple be stained dark?

You can stain your maple wood dark by using dark-colored wood stains or multiple coats of a moderate-colored stain. However, this may require some patience. Start by sanding and cleaning the wood surface, then apply a pre-stain wood conditioner before staining the wood. 

Here is when to apply a second coat of wood stain.

Does sunlight darken maple wood?

Yes. Light-colored woods like maple will naturally darken due to oxygen and UV light exposure. Thankfully, you can prevent this deterioration by applying a suitable wood stain to the wood.

How can you tell if wood is maple?

You can recognize maple wood by its light creamy color when fresh and dark yellow color when it ages. The wood also has a unique grain pattern that you can use to identify it.

Best Stain for Maple Wood: Final Take

Maple wood is naturally beautiful and highly prized for its durability and versatility. While it is naturally beautiful, exposure to the elements can cause discoloration to maple wood furniture and other items made of maps. 

Investing in the best stain for maple wood is an excellent way to preserve the color and make your maple wood furniture, doors, cabinets, and more last longer. 

This guide reviews the five best stains for maple wood. It also discusses how to stain maple wood correctly. We hope this information helps make your next maple wood staining project successful.

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