Make red oak look like cherry in color?

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Forum topic by jbrukardt posted 04-12-2012 03:54 PM 13631 views 0 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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26 posts in 2236 days

04-12-2012 03:54 PM

Topic tags/keywords: red oak cherry finishing stain

So, I have a rather unique situation where I would like red oak to have the color of cherry. While I certainly wish I could have just originally bought cherry, the price difference over thousands of BF was insurmountable for me.

So the grain of red oak, with the color of cherry, via a stain.

As inspiration, i have these photos:

I realize this is a daunting task, and not really what you should be using red oak for, but i would appreciate any advice regardless

I have three main challenges it seems

A) Getting the color right (most solutions seem to be “too brown”
B) Having a stain that doesnt darken the grain exceptionally as red oak is prone to do
C) Not having the wood be too dark, since i have hundreds of square feet of it per room

I have tried all the major brands of pre-mixed stain from woodcraft, as well as box stores and major paint stores with no luck. The closest I have come so far is using SamaN water based stains, with a mixed solution similar to their “sangria” color, but with altered proportions, but its still not quite right.

Any experience or recommendations as to what might work?

30 replies so far

View waho6o9's profile


8191 posts in 2577 days

#1 posted 04-12-2012 04:01 PM

Hire a professional and pay a consultation fee of a finisher that is held in high regard in your area.

You have some beautiful work there and the need to get it right once is of high priority. I’m sure the finisher, with extensive experience, will make it look just like cherry.

Good luck.

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26 posts in 2236 days

#2 posted 04-12-2012 04:04 PM

As a hobbyist/homeowner rather than a professional, how might I go about finding said finisher? I am in the central maryland region.

This is what i’ll actually be finishing off in that color if possible (work in progress):

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3270 days

#3 posted 04-12-2012 04:08 PM

Did you price Lyptus? It is cheaper here then red oak or cherry. The look is very similar to cherry and would be easier to match.

Otherwise, if you are stuck on red oak….the color is the easy part to match…the loose grain of oak vs. the tight grain of cherry is the bigger problem. Red oak is also less forgiving in certain situations because of that loose grain.

I would certainly recommend you use a pre stain product to make sure you do not get any blotching or dark areas that would emphasize the grain. If the color becomes problematical…you can use an oil based coating like tung oil or BLO and add an oil compatible dye or coloring agent (there are analines and or several coloring agents sold by commercial paint stores). This kind of mixture is much more forgiving I believe than a commercial stain….you can also sand it a bit to reduce the color and contrasts. Make sure you have several bit of scraps around to test your color and grain attempts.

You will want to rub out any sheen on the oak as it will emphasize the grain (which will make it look less like cherry….make sure you protect with a satin or flat outer coat.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

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26 posts in 2236 days

#4 posted 04-12-2012 04:11 PM

I am ok with the oak grain as it is unfinished, the cathedraling is actually quite nice when its subtle. So i dont need the grain to match cherry 100%, as long as it doesnt get a strong dark grain.

Any recommended pre-stain? I was recommended a 50 acetone/50% water solution pre-staining to promote even stain absorption, but that may not be the same thing

I have not priced Lyptus, but I can certainly look into it, i cant complain about cheaper at all. I already have all the oak purchased (and half of it already up on the walls) for this project, but i still have several rooms to do upstairs in the house and will certainly look into Lyptus for those.

View Loren's profile


10401 posts in 3648 days

#5 posted 04-12-2012 04:14 PM

Fill, sand flush, dye, faux and finish.

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 2923 days

#6 posted 04-12-2012 04:14 PM

Have you thought about using dyes? I had excellent luck matching a mahogany table(75 yrs old) with blood red and walnut dyes(compliments of Michael1 suggestions) on poplar.

-- Life is good.

View willie's profile


533 posts in 2454 days

#7 posted 04-12-2012 04:17 PM

A painting contractor may be able to help you match the color you want. You could also try to mix stains to get the right color. Just make sure when you mix it that you make enough to do the whole job with one batch so you won’t have to try to match another batch.

-- Every day above ground is a good day!!!

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26 posts in 2236 days

#8 posted 04-12-2012 04:17 PM

Dyes are certainly on the table, im thinking the SamaN products ( may be dye based, and come in “core” colors like the blood red you mentioned.

Im mixing their raspberry and cherry core colors to create the sangria finish thats the closest so far.

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26 posts in 2236 days

#9 posted 04-12-2012 04:19 PM

Im thinking that I just have a terrible eye for color, and need some help from an aforementioned “finisher” who knows their product really well in terms of color reproduction on varying woods

View a1Jim's profile


117095 posts in 3577 days

#10 posted 04-12-2012 04:21 PM

I think General finishes dyestain will do what you want in A,B,C. GF has some great colors and with dye you can thin it to lessen the color or do repeated coats that unlike stain keeps getting darker with each application, it’s even reversible by wiping it with household bleach. Oddly enough you start by using a yellow to get a cherry color and then use either one or a mixture of reds.I like cinnamon,vintage cherry and merlot.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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26 posts in 2236 days

#11 posted 04-12-2012 04:24 PM

I tried two general finishes solutions: The Cranberry Red wood stain, and the empire red dye stain

They were certainly different from everything else, in that for once, they were too red rather than too brown, which was promising. They also had a bit of a milk stain look to them, in that they “covered” the wood, rather than coloring it if that makes any sense.

However, I didnt try mixing those yet. Any recommended ratios or mixes that might achieve the color im looking for on red oak? I certainly wouldnt have thought of starting with a yellow on my own

View bruc101's profile


1200 posts in 3542 days

#12 posted 04-12-2012 04:29 PM

I’ve seen this done with oak before. I’ve not done it and the best I can remember the home owner said it was done with a Minwax Red Oak Stain.
I have no clue as to how it was done but it was eye catching and beautiful.
Oak is not on of my favorites to work because my hands are allergic to the dust but that did catch my eye the minute I walked in her door.

-- Bruce Free Plans

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26 posts in 2236 days

#13 posted 04-12-2012 04:31 PM

Wow, im super impressed with the response here, and id like to thank everyone answering for all your advice. I hope my responses come off as open to trying things and not just dismissive. As a headsup, this is my first time color matching anything at all, and also my first woodworking project, so its a huge learning experience for me. If you’d believe it, ive been trying to match this on my own for about 5 months before coming here to post.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5662 posts in 2813 days

#14 posted 04-12-2012 04:33 PM

I am a strong proponent of Rodda finishes. Their main benifit is that they minimize the grain effect of red oak. This is because Rodda is a thick-bodied stain, and applies very nicely. I usually thin it with two ounces mineral spirits per quart of stain. My favorite color is #19 Fruitwood, however I’m sure they will have the red tone you are after.
I recommend multiple sample boards – all sanded to the same grit as your project, topcoated and dry, to compare in your homes natural and electric light. That way you will know exactly what you are getting.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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26 posts in 2236 days

#15 posted 04-12-2012 04:37 PM

Havent heard of rodda, interesting. Trying to find their color listing now.

And yep, thats what im doing for sampling. at minimum 12 inch by 7 inch boards, all sanded to 150, and top coated with three coats of my finish after staining for comparison. I have a stack of them halfway to my waist by now :D

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