Wood Colours – When Is Medium Oak Not Medium Oak?


When looking to colour real wood flooring, wood veneers, furniture, decking or for that matter, any sort of interior or exterior wood, getting the right colour is always an important factor. From rich teak to medium oak, stripped pine to mahogany, there are an amazing array of wood stains, wood waxes, coloured varnishes and wood oils for any project.

Majestic oak and shadow. Photo credit to: Wellness Wildflower

Choosing the right colour

One of the difficulties with wood specific colours is that every manufacturer of wood finishing products and indeed most people’s interpretation of what particular wood colours should be called differs. A classic example of this is demonstrated by going to Google Search when typing in ‘medium oak wood’. Google will display literally thousands of images that companies and individuals have tagged on their websites as ‘medium oak wood’, and it becomes immediately obvious that a lot of these websites have a very different idea of what a ‘medium oak’ colour should be. The same can be said for pretty much any type or colour of wood when searching in Google Images.

A common approach we take at Wood Finishes Direct when customers call to discuss the staining of wood is to ask them to ignore the colour names and to focus more on the actual colour swatch. It’s often the case that although they come to us initially looking for a medium oak wood stain, they may very well feel that our medium oak stain is too light, too dark, too warm or not warm enough but then see another colour which exactly matches their expectation such as our Dark Pine or Teak wood stain.

Oak Wood Stain Colours

Staining different wood species

Another major consideration with wood finishing products is that the coloured product, be it a wax, oil, stain or varnish, is designed to be translucent, i.e. it allows the wood grain to show through the colour. As the natural colour of the wood will always have a major influence on the colour of the applied wood finish. There will always be a different result if the same product is used on a piece of Pine, Oak, Larch, Beech or any other type of wood. The same is true even if sticking with the same type of wood. Taking Pine as an example,  with hundreds of Pine species, all will give a different final tone to the colour in one way or another. This can be an issue with old floors where the majority of the boards are original but some have been replaced over the years. The replaced boards will react differently with the applied finish and will probably give a different look to the original boards when coloured, even if they are the same species. The difference in colour can usually be made less obvious but may take some experimentation and testing to get it right.

What’s the solution?

So what is the best approach when looking to colour wood with a coloured or pigmented wood finishing product? In short, trust your eyes and go with the colour that looks right rather than by the name of a colour. Always keep in mind that the colour of the product on your floor or furniture will likely differ to the example colour swatch on the tin. Another thing to take into account is that when viewing wood finishing and indeed paint colours online, everyone’s monitor is set to a different contrast and colour setting similar to when you see the same TV programme on many TV’s when you walk into a TV shop.

With so many factors to take into account when choosing a colour for a wood finishing project, our advice is to always do a test area first on the actual wood to be stained and finished. If you find that the colour is either too light or too dark on the test patch, there are probably things that can be done to fine-tune the final colour. For example, a water-based stain can be diluted with water to lighten the shade. This is by far better than completing a major project to then be faced with the prospect of having to sand it all off and start again.

Need more help with Oak?

Need help with your oak project?

For more information about working with oak, contact our team of resident experts who are always on hand to help with project advice and product recommendations. Alternatively, see our FAQ page which covers many of our most commonly asked questions.

We love to see before, during and after photos of any wood finishing project. If you would like to share your project pictures with us and our followers, you can either send us some photos or share on our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram pages.

Other great blogs that disucss Oak

  • Oak Floor Maintenance: Top Tips for Finishing Oak
  • What Everyone Should Know About Finishing Oak

    1. Hi there, I have Iroko flooring and want to stain my oak doors to match the iroko, whats the nearest match to Iroko colour ascent find an iroko wood stain

      • Good Afternoon Stephen,

        Colour matching one wood type to another in a room is question we get asked about quite a lot. You could start by looking at a tinted oil to apply to your doors, this adds colour and protection to the wood and can bring it closer to the floor colour.

        You will not get an exact match there are too many variables with woods for that however if you take a look at the colour swatches, rather than the names of those colours, you could get close. The reason I advice this is often a ‘Light Oak’, for example in one range can look very different in appearance to the ‘Light Oak’ in another range.

        For some people the walnut looks like mahogany and the mahogany like a cherry. The variations from brand to brand are endless, the only way to tell for sure what the result will be is to try it on your wood. The wood type, age and condition will all impact on the result and this is why we so strongly recommend test areas here at Wood Finishes Direct.

        So if you take a look at the Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Tints or Blanchon Hard Wax Oil Tints there may be a colour with in this range that could be close. You are also able to intermix with in the same range to create a new colour, very, very thorough stiorring is required and the sample tins are the best way to experiment with this option.

        if you need any further guidance please do not hesitate to get in touch via our contact us page.

        Kind Regards Samantha.

    2. Hi we have douglas fir facings and skirting boards which were varnished years ago. The wood is quite a red colour but would like to change the tone to match a mix oak tones. Ideally not making it too dark which varnish colour has the best undertone to neutralise the red tones?

      • Good Afternoon Amy,

        Thank you for getting in touch with your enquiry. There are not many coloured varnishes on the market, because a better result is nearly always achieved by using a stain to give colour and then a clear varnish to seal and protect. There are a few exceptions to this, white for example, because a clear product over white will nearly always yellow.

        We do have a really good product from Sikkens that you could take a look at Sikkens Cetol TSI Satin Plus which can be applied over existing finishes if a test area proves positive and has 5 colour options in the range or alternatively the Ronseal Diamond Hard Interior Coloured Varnish Satin which has slight more colour options with 12 available.

        Red is a strong colour to have to bring down in tone and you can often end up with a more pink or orange appearance if you are not careful. And if can be difficult to know what the right solution is for this, it could just be a case of test areas to see what the results are.

        And if this does not work, the next option is to strip back to bare wood, and this willopen up your options for any colour you want.

        If you do need any further guidance please feel free to get in touch via our contact us page and we will be happy to help.

        Kind regards Samantha.

      • Good Morning Sharon,

        It is possible that a darker colour or a colour with a colder base to it could tone down the orange appearance that you have. You will also find that if you give a full and thorough sand the wood will return to its lighter more original condition.

        It also depends on what the current finish is and what you are planning to apply over it if you are not taking back to bare wood. For more advice and information you can get in touch via our contact us page and send a photos and I will be happy to help advice further.

        Kind regards Samantha.

    3. Hi Sam,

      We are in the midst of our self build and we are having 2 wooden beams in our kitchen. They are not for support just a feature we wanted to add.

      I think they are redwood but i more so like a walnutty tone.

      Have you any recommendations?


      • Good Morning Tricia,

        My apologies for the delay in getting back to you, a popular product for beams is a wax, they need little to protect, just a product that will nourish and add colour if required and for this you could have a look at the Fiddes Supreme Wax Polish this will give a very subtle and natural finish.

        For a stronger colour result, if the beams are smooth wood, you could have a look at a tinted Oil perhaps Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Tints

        Or for even stronger colour still a stain such as the Sikkens Cetol TSI Satin plus

        If you take a look at each one and see which will suit your needs and feel free to get back to me if you have nay questions. Always try a test area first.

        Kind regards Samantha.

      • Good Afternoon Jill,

        Making a darker wood lighter, can be difficult. Would you be able to send some photographs of the stairs to me directly and I will be happy to take a look and see if there is anything I am able to recommend.

        One product you could have a look at to start with is the Fiddes Oxalic Acid Crystals. This can be used to lighten wood, however it should be done with care, test areas should be carried out on spare wood or and inconspicuous area as it will alter the wood permanently and it is important to ensure that this is the correct product for your project.

        You are able to get in touch via our contact us page.

        Kind regards Samantha.

      • Good Afternoon Sandra,

        Could you get back to me via our contact us page with details of the type and condition of the wood? Is it bare wood or sanded to remove a previous product ? And any other details that may be relevant, and I can narrow down some options for you to consider.

        Kind regards Samantha.

    4. I have a old dutch dark oak unit. I sanded it down to the bare wood, revealing chipboard
      in places were i had to sand deep. I wanted to stain and varnish medium oak so filled the chipboard problem with Ronseal medium oak filler. I sanded this down to a perfect finish, then applied ronseal medium oak stain varnish over the entire surface. In truth it now looks bad, were the filler was put stands out from a distance. Is there a paint I could use to camouflage this area

      • Hello Stuart,

        It can often be the case that when applying a finish over filler that there can be some colour difference. Some fillers will take the product better than others and blend but some will highlight the colour difference. The best way for you to cover it now would be to apply a opaque varnish or paint over the top. We used to supply Manns Classic Wood Paint but have since stopped doing it. With this, you may be able to apply a paint over the top but adhesion could be a problem with some types of paint. We always recommend a test area with what ever you try before starting the main project. I am sorry I could not be of more help.

        Kind regards Sam.

    5. I have just used medium oak Danish oil to do a pine stair rails and bannisters. I don’t like the finish as there are too many blemishes in the wood and residue from glue etc making the finish blotch and untidy.

      I would now like to stain the top of the rail with a walnut colour and paint the bannister posts white.

      Is it ok to use undercoat and silk emulsion on the posts and what wood stain would you recommend for the rails and top. Thanks in advance. Gary

      • Hello Gary,

        Thank you for the inquiry, dark rails and white post are a great look and I would recommend, once you have removed the Danish oil, using Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Tints in Walnut for the rail and then Osmo Country Colour in White for the posts.

        Both are Oil based products that won’t peel or flake over time and will protect and colour in one as well as being easier to maintain. Simply ensure that the wood is clean and grease free and than apply a fresh coat of the Oil, when you feel it needs it, without having to remove any of the previous product. I hope that helps and please let me know if you have any more questions – Sam.


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