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6 Grey Wood Stain Colors on 5 Different Wood Species

Looking for the perfect grey wood stain for your project? Check out this side by side comparison of six different gray wood stain options to find your favorite!

six different gray wood stain samples

Gray is a hot color in home decor, but it's difficult to find exactly the right shade. I've compared six grey wood stain options you can easily find at the home improvement store or Amazon, and put them side by side on various wood species so you can see which one would work best for your project!

Looking for a darker color? Check out my comparison of four different black wood stains here!

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Earlier this year, I refinished my dining table with my favorite grey wood stain, General Finishes Gray Gel stain. It looks amazing on maple wood, and really pops against the bright white of the table base.

grey and white table and chair

Since I claimed that this was the "perfect" color, I wanted to put it to the test! I tried out six different gray stains on five different wood species, so you can see how they look side by side.

To see how some of these colors look on real furniture, check out these grey wood stain projects! I've sorted them by the brand and color used, so it's easier to compare and contrast.

Testing Methodology

Each sample has been photographed in the same lighting conditions against a white background without any color correction other than adjusting the white balance to be exactly the same for each photo. Each photo has the same camera settings.

All the gray wood stains were tested on birch plywood, maple, poplar, pine, and oak. Each piece was sanded with 150 grit sandpaper, and was not treated with any kind of wood conditioner before applying the stain.

I didn't include any exterior stains or "weathering" treatments in this test, but I might do a second round in the future. If you know of any grey stains that weren't included here that you would like to see, just let me know in the comments!

Grey Stain Colors

Here are the contenders!

  1. General Finishes Gray Gel Stain - Found on Amazon and at Woodcraft
  2. Varathane Weathered Gray - Found on Amazon and Home Depot
  3. Minwax Classic Gray - Found on Amazon and at Lowe's
  4. Varathane Carbon Gray - Found on Amazon and Home Depot
  5. Sherwin-Williams Rustic Gray - Found at Sherwin-Williams
  6. Minwax Water-Based Coastal Gray - No longer available
six cans of grey wood stain

I included a variety of water-based and oil-based stains, so you could see the differences. There's also one gel stain in the bunch. You can learn more about gel stain vs oil based stains here!

After One Coat

The differences between the gray wood stain options became apparent quickly after the first coat. I left each one to soak in for exactly two minutes (I used the timer on my phone and everything!) Excess stain was then wiped off, and all the samples dried for 24 hours before photographing.

1 - General Finishes Gray Gel Stain

Wood samples with one coat of General Finishes grey wood stain

The General Finishes grey wood stain is highly pigmented, so one coat of stain is all you need for most applications. It has a slightly blue tint to it, but the color is fairly consistent from one wood species to the next. The grain of the wood is still visible on all the samples with one coat.

2 - Varathane Weathered Gray Stain

One coat of Varathane Weathered Gray stain

The color of the Varathane Weathered Gray stain varied widely depending on the wood species. It barely soaked into the oak at all, but looked much darker on the maple. Pine and birch were both splotchy and inconsistent.

3 - Minwax Classic Gray Stain

Minwax Classic Gray wood stain colors (1 coat)

Minwax Classic Gray came out very light. The color on the oak was nonexistent. Pine just looked dirty. The top three were a similar very light gray with slight blue undertones.

4 - Varathane Carbon Gray Stain

Varathane Carbon Gray wood stain samples (1 coat)

This grey stain is more of a black/ebony than true gray. It gives the wood a greenish cast, which isn't the best look.

5 - Sherwin Williams Rustic Gray

Sherwin Williams Gray Wood Stain color samples (1 coat)

Otherwise known as, what stain? I could barely pick out the tint in most of these samples. I don't know if the can wasn't stirred thoroughly enough or if that's just how it looks with one coat.

6 - Minwax Coastal Gray Stain

Minwax Coastal Gray wood stain color samples (1 coat)

Much more pigmented than the other samples, although not quite as much as the General Finishes one. Slightly blue, but still a nice mid-toned gray. This one is my second favorite, especially if you're short on time and only want to apply one coat.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, it looks like Minwax no longer makes this color! The closest I could find is Slate, but it may not be an exact match. Make your own test samples!

Color Comparison By Wood Species (1 Coat)

Different wood species take stain differently. I found it really helpful to see all the colors on the same species, so it's easier to compare apples to apples. The numbers correspond to the stain colors listed above.

grey wood stain samples on various wood species - first coat

Two Coats of Gray Stain

The second coat was applied a day after the first, and allowed to dry for over 24 hours before photographing. The same camera settings and lighting conditions were used.

General Finishes Gray Gel Stain (2 coats)

Wood samples with two coats of General Finishes grey wood stain

Two coats of the General Finishes grey wood stain might be a bit too much. It almost takes on a painted appearance, with very little of the wood grain showing through. I'd stick with one coat on this one (yay for cheaper and easier finishing!)

Varathane Weathered Gray Stain (2 coats)

Two coats of Varathane Weathered Gray stain

This one turned out much nicer with a second coat. The grain and natural wood color still shows through, but the gray doesn't look like an accident. This would be perfect for that "weathered" look (as the name of the stain implies.)

Minwax Classic Gray Stain (2 coats)

Minwax Classic Gray wood stain colors (2 coats)

The coverage of this grey stain varies greatly by species. The top three have less pronounced grain lines, so the color looks fairly uniform. Pine wood still looks pretty splotchy, and oak has a zebra-like effect.

Varathane Carbon Gray Stain (2 coats)

Varathane Carbon Gray wood stain samples (2 coats)

Still more of a light black than a grey wood stain, although the color evened out and became less green-ish with a second coat.

Sherwin Williams Rustic Gray (2 coats)

Sherwin Williams Gray Wood Stain color samples (2 coats)

There's still not a lot of color to this stain, even with two coats. This might be a good one to mix with another color to give it a hint of a gray.

Minwax Coastal Gray Stain (2 coats)

Minwax Coastal Gray wood stain color samples (2 coats)

Like the General Finishes stain, this color becomes almost paint-like with two coats. The wood grain is still visible, but there's little color variation. One coat should be fine for most applications.

Grey Stain Color Comparison By Wood Species (Two Coats)

grey wood stain samples on various wood species - two coats

Creating all these color samples was actually pretty easy to do, and takes the guesswork out of staining. There's nothing worse than hating the stain you chose and either painting over it or sanding it down and starting over! If I'm working with a new stain color or wood species, I always plan to create samples like these first.

So what's the verdict? I stand by my declaration that General Finishes makes the best grey wood stain. No matter what wood you're working with, you'll get the same beautiful finish with a charcoal grey color with just one coat. Can't beat that!

My second favorite color was Minwax Coastal Gray, which unfortunately is no longer available. It looks similar to Minwax Slate gray, but I haven't done a test to compare the two.

Lastly, Varathane's Weathered Gray turned out quite nice after a second coat was applied. It's perfect for that rustic look, or for wood with a nice grain that you want to show off!

Which of these wood stains is your favorite? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!


Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Great job. I'm dealing with wanting the grain to show through on maple but still achieve a depth to my color.

Donna Reidland

Monday 6th of August 2018

That's a great idea to create samples first. I don't take on these projects too often and when I do I tend to just jump in. Not always the best way! :)


Sunday 5th of August 2018

Such a perfectly timed post- thank you!!!

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