The Best Brush for Staining Wood - Backyard Boss
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The Best Brush for Staining Wood

A good stain can give your wood furnishings an unexplainable luxury that everyone wants, be it an outdoor deck or a simple candle holder. However, wood stains are tricky and one of the trickiest parts is choosing the right applicator for the job.

A brush can make or break a stain project and sadly, quality brushes are hard to find—but not impossible! If you’re looking for the best brush for staining wood, you’ve come to the right place.

Backyard Boss Top 5 Brushes for Staining Wood in 2021

Minwax Manway Polycrylic Brush - The Best Brush for Staining WoodMinwax Manway Polycrylic Brush
  • Size: 2 Inches
  • Material: Polyester, Wood and Stainless Steel
  • Handle Type: Wood
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Pro Grade - Paint Brushes - The Best Brush for Staining WoodPro Grade - Paint Brushes
  • Size: 1 - 2.5 Inches
  • Material: Stainless Steel and Wood
  • Handle Type: Smooth Hardwood
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Wooster Stain Brush - The Best Brush for Staining WoodWooster Stain Brush
  • Size: 4 Inches
  • Material: White China
  • Handle Type: Threaded Hardwood
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Purdy Ox-Hair Series - The Best Brush for Staining WoodPurdy Ox-Hair Series
  • Size: 2.5 Inches
  • Material: White China and Wood
  • Handle Type: Flat Rattail
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Bates Paint Brushes - The Best Brush for Staining WoodBates Paint Brushes
  • Size: 3 Inches
  • Material: Wood
  • Handle Type: Treated Wood
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Why You Can Trust Us

We’re no strangers to wood projects. They seem simple enough but are a lot more complicated than anyone expects, especially when you’re not using the right materials. Having gone through the struggle ourselves, we want to help you avoid any stress by introducing you to the best tools for your wood stain project.

Using personal experience and extensive research, we’ve made sure to include only top-quality brushes that have been tried and tested over the years. To help you know exactly what you’re getting into, we made sure to list down the pros and cons of everything we found. We’ve also included bonus information that we would have found extremely helpful for our first few staining projects, all to help you make well-informed decisions on how to best approach your wood stain project.

Best for Water-Based Stains

Minwax Manway Polycyclic Brush
    This brush has polyester and nylon bristles, helping it pick up more product and lay down a very smooth and even stain.



Why We Like It: The natural wood handle fits comfortably in your hands with a brush that immediately blends your strokes. It’s perfect for water-based solutions and is both low-maintenance and long-lasting. As long as you clean it properly and store it in its cardboard cover, this brush will last you a long time. This brush helps effortlessly lay down smooth coats of water-based stains and finishes and can be used for all kinds of projects.

Who Should Buy It: This is a great investment for people tackling statement wood pieces that don’t require much detail work. It’s also great for those looking for a brush that they can simply use and clean without much stress in between.

Best Stain Paint Brush

Pro Grade - Paint Brushes
    These paint brushes come in a set of five, all in different brush tips, shapes, and sizes but with the same reliable bristle material.



Why We Like It: These brushes are great for staining all kinds of wood projects, with a comfortable wood handle grip and brush tips that offer great control over how much stain is used. They use an SRT filament blend that’s known to lessen streaks and hold more paint than normal synthetic brushes. They can be used for interior and exterior projects of all sizes and are designed with thin tips to control stain distribution.

Who Should Buy It: This would be great for anyone who plans on many wood staining projects and needs different kinds of brush tips to choose from.

Best for Oil-Based Paint

Wooster Stain Brush
    This natural bristle brush is designed for the smooth application of oil-based stains, finishes, sealers, and varnishes.



Why We Like It: This brush is great for big staining projects, covering large surfaces quicker without sacrificing the smoothness of a stain. It has a wide brush tip with white China bristles, great for leaving a smooth finish on big projects. Using this helps the stain get deep into the grain, regardless of wood texture. This is designed for staining decks easily, meaning you can also switch out the handle with an extension pole, if you choose to buy one.

Who Should Buy It: People who need to stain their decks or other big wood items would benefit the most from this kind of brush. Those looking for a brush that’s durable, long-lasting, and made for oil-based solvents will want to get one for themselves.

Best for Furniture

Purdy Ox-Hair Series
    This soft natural bristle brush is specially designed for marine wood, furniture, and detailed wood art.



Why We Like It: It has a wide angular brush tip that helps easily cover a lot of space and get into crevices and corners. Each brush is handmade to perfection, with the maker’s signature on its handle. The packaging also doubles as a brush protector, helping it last longer in your hands. The natural ox hair and white China blend bristles also give it a smooth and glasslike finish, great for oil-based stains!

Who Should Buy It: Anyone looking to stain finer wood pieces would find much use with this brush, especially with detailed woodwork.

Best for a Smooth Finish

Bates Paint Brushes
    This brush set features four lightweight brushes that speed up long jobs. It uses thick synthetic filament bristles that hold more stain but are still easy to clean.



Why We Like It: This incredibly versatile brush set makes it easy to quickly complete your projects, without sacrificing the quality of the final product. It’s also designed with comfortable wood handles, great for maneuvering detailed areas. It’s most compatible with water-based stains and paint but can still be used with diluted oil-based solvents. This is also good for fine lines and effortlessly leaves a smooth, professional finish.

Who Should Buy It: This is a great set for people who plan on using both water and oil-based stains and finishes for their wood stain projects without sacrificing the end result.

Types of Brushes for Staining Wood

Woman wearing glove holding a brush as she's staining a beam.

Everyone has their own way of staining wood, from the materials they utilize to the methods they apply. If you don’t have a wood stain technique yet, start by finding the right tools for you! Stains can change, but the right brush is here to stay. To choose one, it’s important to know what you’re dealing with and how brushes interact with different wood stains.

Brushes can be classified in several ways but the most basic thing to know is whether the bristles are natural or synthetic.

Natural Bristle Brushes

Natural bristle brushes are better for oil-based wood stains and finishes. These bristles split and help keep the application smooth and even. However, natural bristles will swell and get damaged when used with anything water-based. Natural bristle brushes are also known to shed during the first couple of uses and should only be cleaned with mineral spirits or turpentine.

Synthetic Bristle Brushes

On the other hand, synthetic bristles are better equipped for water-based stains and finishes. Brushes with nylon bristles leave a smooth high-coverage stain while polyester bristles are better for details. You can find the best of both worlds with nylon/polyester blend brushes. While they only need warm soapy water for cleaning, they’re more difficult to maintain when using fast-drying solvents.

Other than the type of bristle, there are also brush sizes, shapes, and tips to consider but those all depend on personal preference and the kind of project. Luckily, these details are more flexible and aren’t an exact science.

How to Prevent Brush Marks or Strokes When Staining Wood

While staining wood sounds simple, it’s easy to mess up! Without the right technique, your projects can dry with visible brush marks or irregular stains. To prevent any mishaps, the key is to go quickly yet carefullyBefore applying a stain, make sure you’ve properly prepared your wood and have mixed your wood stain with a stick to properly incorporate its pigments.

Person sanding brown plank
Image credits: Ian Schneider via Unsplash

Work in sections when brushing, going both with the grain and against it to ensure that it seeps into every part of the wood. Also, avoid dipping more than three-fourths of your brush to prevent overloading it—it’s easy to darken the stain but difficult to lighten it. 

After each layer, wipe it with a rag in the direction of the grain to remove excess stain and further blend any strokes. Doing all of this ensures you have a smooth finish and prevents leaving any weird brush strokes and irregular stains!

Why Use a Brush Instead of a Rag to Stain Wood?

Another option for applying stain is to use a cloth rag instead of a brush. Each applicator has its strengths and benefits and while others may prefer a cloth, a brush might be better for your purpose. A rag is a more easily disposable item that helps cover an area quickly and smoothly but isn’t too great with detailed projects.

On the other hand, brushes are great for detail work and crevices, being able to dig into tight spots better and offer more control on how the stain is applied. If speed is high on your priority list, a rag should work. However, if your project has many details and uses fine-grain wood, brushes would be better.

How We Picked

No one can deny that a bad brush leaves a bad stain. Sadly, with a market so saturated, it’s difficult to find good brushes. With this in mind, we knew how important it was to find great brushes for your wood stain projects.

So how did we do it? We relied on careful and thorough research, looking through the consumer reviews of each item and seeing what worked and what didn’t. We also made sure to choose brushes made of only the highest quality materials and bristles for durability and ease of use. Other factors we considered were its versatility, unique qualities, and how each brush would be cleaned and stored.

Luckily, we found five amazing brushes that are sure to make staining your wood projects so much easier.

Pick the Best Brush for Your Wood Staining Project

Our favorite brush for staining wood is the Minwax Manway polycrylic brush. The Minwax brush helps you paint a smooth and even stain quickly and without a fuss. It’s also reusable, long-lasting, low-maintenance, and can be used with most DIY stain projects.

That said, if your wood projects are large, detailed, or will use an oil-based solution, a different brush would be more appropriate. Fortunately, it won’t be difficult to find the right brush for you since we’ve already found the best ones for you!