Our House

Testing Stain Colors For My Red Oak Hardwood Floor

Now that my niece’s room is completely finished (you can see it here if you missed it), I can focus completely on my own house and get things DONE! I’m feeling pretty motivated, which is good since one of the first projects I need to tackle is pretty big. Huge, actually. As I mentioned in this post, I’ll be tackling a big floor refinishing project very soon.

But before I rent the sander and get started, I need to decide on a stain color. I tested out four different colors of Minwax stains on some leftover red oak floor boards that I had on hand. I didn’t take the time to do any sanding or water popping/wood conditioning or anything like that, and I also didn’t add any kind of clear topcoat, so the color might not be exactly what it would be on my finished floor. But I do think this gives a very good idea of the colors.

Minwax stain colors tested on red oak hardwood flooring - Jacobean,, Dark Walnut, Special Walnut - 1

I tested Jacobean, Dark Walnut, Special Walnut, and a mixture of 1 part Dark Walnut to 1 part Special Walnut. I wanted to get a look at the colors in different lighting, so the picture above was taken last night.

This next picture was also taken last night…

Minwax stain colors tested on red oak hardwood flooring - Jacobean,, Dark Walnut, Special Walnut - 2

And then these next two pictures were taken this morning. We’ve had some really dreary weather lately, so unfortunately I still won’t be able to see the colors in the bright sunlight that fills these rooms during the middle of the day on clear days.

Minwax stain colors tested on red oak hardwood flooring - Jacobean,, Dark Walnut, Special Walnut - 3

Minwax stain colors tested on red oak hardwood flooring - Jacobean,, Dark Walnut, Special Walnut - 4

I ruled out the Jacobean almost immediately. On red oak, it just falls flat. I don’t really know what I mean by that, but it seems to have no life to it, and it appears to have a slight green undertone to it. I also ruled out the Special Walnut. It looks too light, too red, and too washed out.

So my favorites are Dark Walnut and the mixture of Special Walnut and Dark Walnut. If pressed to make a decision right this minute, I’d go with the mixture. Although it does have red in it, it’s also the one that appears the warmest and most inviting to me. And while it is kind of dark, that warmth keeps it from looking too dark, in my opinion.

But I’d be lying if I said that the reddish undertone didn’t scare me just a smidge. While it’s beautiful on a small sample, I’m trying to imagine it on all of the hardwood floors in my entire house. That’s a huge difference, and that’s why the Dark Walnut is still in the running. So my decision as come down to Dark Walnut…

Kitchens

…or a mixture of 1 part Dark Walnut to 1 part Special Walnut…

Family Room

Interestingly, in those two pictures, the Dark Walnut appears to have more red in it. But I’m not going to drag this decision out and agonize over the choices. Let’s face it, either one of those colors is 1000% better than the orange I currently have. Am I right? 😀

UPDATE:

My refinished hardwood floors are finished! Click here to see how they turned out

My newly refinished red oak hardwood floors



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60 Comments

  • Reply
    Theresa P
    January 17, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I agree with you on your favorites: Dark Walnut or the 50/50 Dark/Special. BUT, I have a question: Are you sure that the stain is going to read the same on the old wood as it will on the new wood? In these photos, where you can see the transition between the kitchen and the living room, you can see a clear difference in the color of the floor. How will that impact what you’re doing?

    • Reply
      Kristi
      January 17, 2017 at 9:19 am

      I’m not sure at all. 🙁 But I’m hoping and praying that the darker color will at least minimize the differences between the old and new. I might have to make some adjustment to the stain mixture for the old floor to get it to blend seamlessly with the new floor, if that’s even possible. I know a pro could get it done, but I’m not a pro, so I’ll just have to do my best.

      • Reply
        Theresa P
        January 17, 2017 at 9:40 am

        Well, I know you say you’re not a pro, but compared to me, you are a PRO! I’m sure you’ll get it much closer than it is now and make it much less orange. 🙂 You can do it!

      • Reply
        Shelley
        January 17, 2017 at 9:45 am

        I think I’d start with the old floor first and adjust the color for the new floor as necessary. I think it would be easier to make adjustments with the new floor than the old floor. Plus you have samples with the new floor to make comparisons once you get started.

        • Reply
          Kristi
          January 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

          Good point. That would definitely make more sense.

        • Reply
          Jessica Larsen
          January 17, 2017 at 10:30 am

          Shelley makes a good point…test out on the old floor first and make necessary adjustments. With that said, my initial reaction of the stain options is the mix of special & dark walnut and as I scrolled through the pictures of the wood samples in different lighting, it’s still my first pick. There’s more depth and variation in that one. Good luck!

      • Reply
        Patti Lee
        January 17, 2017 at 12:39 pm

        Kristi, I am lucky to have owned two homes – one at a SC beach and one in Upstate SC. I used the dark walnut on my oak floors (red oak? Not sure. – probably white), and the dark walnut on the floors in Greenville. Both looked gorgeous. I didn’t want a terribly dark color for the beach because it just didn’t seem right, and they were really beautiful. But I wanted my Greenville floors to be different. My oak floors are distressed, the house is an English Tudor, and I wanted it to look like one. My nephew (22) walked in and immediately said, this looks like a castle. Love it. Exactly the look I was going for! Hope that helps!

    • Reply
      Cathy
      January 17, 2017 at 11:00 am

      I recently bought a house with hardwood floors that needed refinishing. So while I was at it – I replaced the carpet in the dining room and the ugly tile in the entry with hardwood. Everything is now 2 1/4 inch red oak. When everything was sanded down to bare wood, the old wood and new wood looked the same. And there is absolutely no difference in the areas of the floor now that the stain and finish are on. I love how they look!
      But be prepared for a very stinky house. It took two weeks for the smell to be complexity gone!

      • Reply
        Jules
        January 17, 2017 at 1:16 pm

        We bought a house that had hardwoods everywhere but the bedroom. We sanded existing floors down bare and put new bare hardwood in the bedroom. Then stained them all the same color. They matched almost perfectly. It’s been three years now and they are slowly starting to look different. And yes, it is very stinky.

  • Reply
    Kourtney
    January 17, 2017 at 9:15 am

    I like the mixture. It has a variety of tones. I see browns and greys in it, which will go with anything and have more longevity style wise.

  • Reply
    Susan B
    January 17, 2017 at 9:19 am

    The mix is by far the best. Remember you are always going to see red in stain, unless it is black. At least I do, and it is still better than orange. I suggest testing it on the old floor since it will take differently, and do the prep work on the wood, there will be a difference. And if your old floor and new floor don’t match 100% — do not sweat it. That is part of the charm in an older house and only you will notice.

  • Reply
    Lori
    January 17, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Ohh! THis is the perfect post for me today! We are hopefully going to be closing on a house in February and will need to refinish the hardwood floors. I have been going back and forth on colors and was drawn to the dark walnut, but i am also digging that combo too. If I had to pick a color today though i would pick the dark walnut. I love how it picks up darker on the wood grains. I think that is so pretty. Cant’t wait to see which one you pick!!

  • Reply
    Connie
    January 17, 2017 at 9:21 am

    My vote is for the mixed stain. Love the warmth of it and it doesn’t seem too dark either. Have fun! We refinished our floors last year in February and had to leave the house for the night. We couldn’t sleep in it with the fumes!

  • Reply
    Alta Craig
    January 17, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I think the mix is best.

  • Reply
    Carla from Kansas
    January 17, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Have you considered trying a different brand then minwax? Rustoleum has some pretty stains.

  • Reply
    Susan White
    January 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Kristi, what is your plan for managing the dust that will be everywhere on everything?

  • Reply
    Deb
    January 17, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Agree with your favorites. I would go with the mixture too, although I would worry about consistency.

  • Reply
    Dale
    January 17, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Kristi, i vote for the mixture of stains. Not only is it a nice rich color but it is warm. It will look gorgeous combined with your cool colors. I love it!!

  • Reply
    Heather Gillett
    January 17, 2017 at 9:38 am

    I prefer your special mixture because of the red/brown tone mix. It’s warmer and slightly more traditional, but both are winners!

  • Reply
    Jan
    January 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

    I was drawn to the mixture sample immediately. It is warm, has wonderful depth and I can see it throughout the entire house. Now to see what you do!

  • Reply
    Sharon
    January 17, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Kristy…As you know, the top coat you use, will change the color of the wood…so, I would also topcoat these sample boards…Kudos to you…for all you do!

  • Reply
    Guerrina
    January 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I was drawn to the mix between the two. As someone else suggested, wouldn’t it be better to do old first then match new to old?

  • Reply
    Katy
    January 17, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Love the mixture!

  • Reply
    Laurie
    January 17, 2017 at 9:58 am

    I like the 50/50 mixture of special and dark walnut best.

  • Reply
    Melissa
    January 17, 2017 at 10:02 am

    What about mixing 1/3 to 2/3 instead of half and half? Maybe it will bring down a little of the red that worries you.

    I have dark woods and regret it! Will never do I think again. They look dirty everyday. I have to clean them constantly. So I say a medium tone vs dark is better!

  • Reply
    Melissa
    January 17, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Oops, will never do dark floors again. Darn auto correct!

  • Reply
    Shari
    January 17, 2017 at 10:26 am

    I’m not so sure about the dark stains. In all of your photos of rooms, they are mostly of very large rooms with many large windows letting in a lot of natural light. Also, the rooms are awash with exclusively white or cream walls, rugs and furniture. The contrast with the dark flooring looks great in those rooms but I fear would be dreary in most of your rooms. Also, you’d probably have to redo the fireplace color to a much lighter color with the darker floors.

  • Reply
    Paige
    January 17, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Love the warmth of the mixture color! Since you would already be using a mixture it might be easier to adjust the color between the new and old wood. Dark stain shows so much stuff, especially in the sunshine!!

  • Reply
    Sherryann
    January 17, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Not that my vote counts but the blend of special and dark looks lovely. Can’t wait to see what the end result looks like. Good luck!

  • Reply
    Tirsa
    January 17, 2017 at 10:48 am

    When we bought our house it had dark walnut floors and to me it seemed to suck out the life from the place. We don’t get a lot of sunshine streaming in.

    Both of your choices are very nice. I do prefer the warmth of the mixture, though. Have you considered doing 2 parts dark and 1 part special? That might make a difference with the redness.
    I’m sure whatever you choose will look lovely!

  • Reply
    Anita Carden
    January 17, 2017 at 10:53 am

    I prefer the mixture also. I was wondering, did you try mixing Jacobean and Special Walnut. The green undertones of the Jacobean may help tone down the red undertones of the Special Walnut.

  • Reply
    Jo
    January 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I’d be hesitant to do the mixture. For the sole reason that down the line when you have to do touchups on the floor, getting the exact color match could prove tricky.

    • Reply
      janpartist
      January 17, 2017 at 11:13 am

      That is precisely what was running through my mind. The difference is negligible.

  • Reply
    Anne
    January 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Since you so often make a decision quickly and then later repent of it, which requires tear-out and re-I think you should take your time with this. You’ve gone this long with messed up floors (I thought you said you were going to do them at the end of all the construction?) why not continue to ponder it while yo of the big structural/cabinet jobs? I think it makes sense to do the floors at the end (since you didn’t at the beginning) not in the middle.

  • Reply
    Lisa Johnson
    January 17, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I LOVE the mixture stain. I think the others come up looking like they are dusty, and after all hardwood floors are known for their gleam. To me the mixture looks perfect! Love the depth that it gives compared to the others.

  • Reply
    Kirsten Fredrick-Martin
    January 17, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Kristi, I’ve been following your blog for the past couple of years, and feel a kindred spirit!! Especially on hiring out other people, I would rather learn how to do it myself even if it takes more time. Plus, for us, living on one income, raising four teens, means it is imperative to do as much of own work as possible. Added to the fact, my being raised in the country, where we built our own home additions, barns, fences, etc., it is kind of ingrained.
    We began a remodel project in late 2014, my husband was injured at work three months later & has had two surgeries since, so from necessity (and my own enjoyment) that means I’ve torn out load bearing walls & replaced with recessed beams (this I did have help on before he was injured), framed in new walls, framed and installed nine windows, hung sheet rock on ceilings and walls (thank goodness for lifts), mud/tape joints and done smooth trowel finish, laid maple hardwood that we reclaimed, poured concrete overlay & stained to look like granite, tiled a tub/shower surround, etc. Did I mention, I have four teenagers living at home, too. (None of whom care to learn anything about any of these skills, they just want to know “Mom, when are you going to have our house back together” Lol)
    All this said, because I want to let you know you have been an inspiration to me on several occasions. Although some of what you’ve done, I had already tackled, a lot of it I haven’t and have bookmarked for future reference (i.e. the fret work you did for your doors was awesome). Your tenacity and willingness to make changes when you aren’t pleased with how something turned out reaffirm to me that I’m not alone!
    Now, after all this long spill, I do have some advice on your wood floors. I’m at almost the same stage as you (minus the sanding; stripped ours on hands and knees with SoyGel because they couldn’t take another aggressive sanding)
    Anyway, same situation. Red oak, old style 2 1/4″ strip flooring. Original living and dining room floors, about 450 s.f. are likely dating back to 1925 – 1930. New (circa 2015!), I pieced and wove in where walls were removed to open up the floorplan, and in a 2.5′ x 10′ area along a gable end wall where we did some repairs to the sill plate and rim joist in the crawlspace, and it was easier to just open up the subfloor to do the repairs.
    Two suggestions:
    First and foremost, WaterPopping.
    In areas I have both old and new wood adjacent to one another, it has made it less apparent they aren’t of the same age.
    Secondly, DuraSeal oil based stain
    (also made by Minwax, but available thru professional flooring suppliers . . .I found two dealers here in OKC, and you have several locations listed in the Dallas area)
    Like you, I had also tried the regular Minwax stains (Dark Walnut, Jacobean, and mixed with Ebony) but they just fell short of what I was looking for; a dark, rich warm tone that is more dark brown than red or black. (total agreement, the Jacobean really fell short on my floors – maybe it’s better on white oak)
    The three DuraSeal shades I’ve narrowed it to are Coffee, Antique Brown, and Spice. Now to also decide on which one makes the adjoining kitchen floor in maple look close to its neighboring oak floors! The waterpopping technique is the only way to try and stain maple a dark color, if you should ever encounter that task.
    Oh, and thank you for the information about Waterlox! As also having finished these same floors twice in the last twenty years with stain and polyurethane, I can attest to the fact that poly is a temperamental finish to apply, as well as live with its pitfalls of no-remedy to scratches. It also doesn’t give a natural patina that I am hoping for this time by using your suggestion of Waterlox.
    Hopefully, you are able to glean something from my long-winded comment.

  • Reply
    Andrea
    January 17, 2017 at 11:47 am

    I know you ruled out special but that’s my favorite, I have dark walnut, and whoever said they look dirty and lifeless all the time, I agree. It’s through the entire bottom floor of my home, and I wish I would have gone lighter, it’s alot of dark floor and I feel dark walnut doesn’t play as nice with other wood tones, so some of my furniture doesn’t sit well directly against the floor, I have to make sure certain pieces are on area rugs, either because it’s too matchy or clashes.

  • Reply
    Jill
    January 17, 2017 at 11:48 am

    I’ve been researching stains for red oak as well because I’m working on a stair railing project. I really liked the Weathered Oak/Dark Walnut mix that I had seen. I think the weathered oak cut out a lot of the redness. Just another option to consider.

  • Reply
    Awk
    January 17, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Have you tried provincial? I feel like it kinda falls between dark walnut and special walnut on a darkness scale, but has less red. It is a really balanced medium brown tone. I have it on white oak floors and everyone who walks into my house immediately comments on them.

  • Reply
    Kristi C
    January 17, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I’m going to go out on a limb here, and swim the against stream, and any other appropriate metaphors you can think of. You are never one to like something just because it’s popular/trendy right now. The 5 shades of brown feels that way to me. Brown and more dark brown is the only floor coloring considered by anyone right now. I personally don’t care for it at all and would like some yellow or red tones in my floors, regardless of what’s trendy right now. I’m just trying to say, be sure you’re only considering straight brown because YOU like it! 🙂

  • Reply
    Sue
    January 17, 2017 at 11:51 am

    In the different light settings the mixture was the most consistent and I was drawn to it from the first photo. Not sure how you feel after a day or so of looking at them but that is my gut reaction. They are your floors and you are about to put a LOT of work into them to make them all look spectacular so please take the time you need to decide on what you really want. Why waste the time to have to redo them yet again?

  • Reply
    Phyllis E
    January 17, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Hi Kristi,
    I like the mix (at least on my monitor, LOL!) Have you considered English Chestnut? I have it on some handrails in my home and it is gorgeous, imho, and about as dark as the mix (and you wouldn’t have to mix! It has some warmth to it, without being orangey or red. It kind of gives it the feel of a wonderful, rich patina.
    I tried to send you a comment on your “Rethinking my hardwood floors” post, but it didn’t go through. I tried three times and it never went through. Perhaps it was because I had a link in it? I was trying to send you a link to a fantastic hardwood floor blog written by a hardwood floor contractor who tests the different hardwood floor topcoats, including the hardwax oils that someone had mentioned (Rubio Monocoat.) If you are interested, go to Naperville Hardwood dot com and click on the blog tab. The latest blog happens to be an update to the hardwax oil info, and if you look on the left hand side, you should see links to his 4 part series about choosing hardwood floor finishes, as well as other topics that may be of interest.
    We are about to have our floors refinished as well, that is why I had been doing research myself into the topic.
    Oh, and btw, several contractors who came out to give us estimates advised us against the water based polys over dark stains because they tend to develop whitish spots where the topcoat is a bit thicker, as it is over the spaces between the boards. So you might want to double check about that. Hope this helps.
    Your niece’s room is gorgeous, btw! What a sweet Aunt and Grandma to do that for her.

  • Reply
    Linda
    January 17, 2017 at 11:59 am

    I agree with the special mix. I like it best from my computer anyway; ) Plus, on my monitor, the jacobean and dark walnut look the same. I don’t care for too dark floors. They show everything, especially with animals in the house.

  • Reply
    Madeline
    January 17, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I love the special mixture. It think it has a nice combination tone. Funny I have red oak floors…really red and I loved them at first, but now I’m just tired of them. I wonder if I can do the same…strip it and restain. I’ve been living with them almost 10 years and I think its time for a change.

  • Reply
    Susan
    January 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    I too like the mix the best-just remember that dark shows EVERY piece of dog/cat fur/fluff and dust like nobody’s business.
    (Personally in my next place with hardwoods I’m doing that whitewashed/Norwegian-ish stain color )

    BUT-can I ask why you are doing FLOORS at this stage?
    Hubby and I have done a few houses and we leave the flooring until last just for the ease of cleaning up-if you splatter a bit of paint on the old flooring? No worries, since it will be redone anyway soon.

  • Reply
    Katie
    January 17, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    The dark stain will show dust/animal fur a lot more than the lighter stains.

  • Reply
    Robyn
    January 17, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Don’t forget to put the samples next to your newly painted blue cabinets. The pix you are using as comparison are all with white kitchens and walls.

  • Reply
    Sheila
    January 17, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    I think your mix of the special walnut and dark walnut looks best. It has the right balance and looks great with your colors in the room.

  • Reply
    Karen H
    January 17, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Hi, Kristi. I love the Dark Walnut and Special Walnut blend. It’s exactly what I would choose if i were doing my floors. However, I still like the Dark Walnut. I know whichever one you choose will look gorgeous!

  • Reply
    Jana
    January 17, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Don’t forget to apply the sealer you plan to use over the stain. Just stain alone will look flat and lifeless. I prefer good old varnish bec it’s easy to repair unlike poly. But it is more of a pain to apply.

  • Reply
    Mia
    January 17, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Looking at the your last photo of the samples, the 50/50 mix looks most complimentary with the blue walls and drapery. We have dark wood floors and also say “don’t do it,”–go medium or lighter.

  • Reply
    Roxanna
    January 17, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    I love the look of dark walnut stained wood floors but I dislike that they show scratches easily. Dust/pet hair also shows more on darker floors. I think you should try out providence stain, it is a good medium.

  • Reply
    Mitzi
    January 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm

    I’m very interested in this project, as I am hoping to work on a similar project at my sons house. So keep the posts, videos, etc. coming! I’m sure I could watch videos on youtube, but much prefer following you

  • Reply
    Southern Susie
    January 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    I’m also on the “dark floors and pets don’t mix” team. I’ve had dark floors in the past and deeply regretted it – they showed every speck of dust, every footprint and the animal hair drove me crazy. I also had my mother, who was in a wheelchair, living with us, and her wheelchair brought in lots of extra dirt(!) As soon as I could, I went with a medium color and I’ve never regretted that decision, even though it cost me a pretty penny to redo the floors. Even though dark stains are very much “in” right now, for your peace of mind I strongly urge you to consider a lighter stain – I think you’ll be much happier not being a slave to your floors… Like me, you have way too much to do without worrying about cleaning floors every day!

  • Reply
    Lois V. Black
    January 17, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    i like mixture of 1 part Dark Walnut to 1 part Special Walnut…

  • Reply
    DeMi
    January 17, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Kristi, it looks like a couple of people so far have suggested a different brand. It just seems like I remember you hating minwax stains, as do I. They just all seem dull and lifeless to me. I’ve had much more success with Zar stains or Rustoleum.

  • Reply
    Candy
    January 17, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    We just recently had our hardwoods refinished. I was afraid at first that the special walnut would not be dark enough, but once the floors were finished and the top coats went on, I fell in love. They are warm and inviting without a red or orange appearance. They are not too dark and the wood grain really pops.

  • Reply
    Sarah Suponski
    January 17, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Another vote for the mixture!

  • Reply
    Lisa
    January 17, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Try mixing Jacobean and Special Walnut. I think the touch of green and touch of red will cancel each other out!

  • Reply
    Jan
    January 18, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Kristi. If you’re using Minwax, I like the half ‘n’ half mixture. Equally important is the sheen level of your finish coat. I strongly suggest a matte finish with the dark stain. It’s elegant, and more natural looking than a high sheen. Says “I’m a site-finished floor, not a pre-finished floor”. You also won’t see every little smudge.

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