I bought an old barn beam. It doesn’t have a lot of wood character but as a piece I love it and they are hard to come by around here. I wanted it for my mantle.

I don’t want to ruin it but I know very little about the properties of wood and stain and my attempts to educate myself have been not very successful. The folks at Home Depot have been nice, but I seem to get different suggestions every time I ask.

What I want: cool medium brown

Problem: the beam is too warm/orangey

Tried an espresso and a Jacobean stain (in an inconspicuous area) that basically went on like black paint. Even after conditioning. The wood is old and dry and Home Depot suggested I condition first.

I don’t feel a need to sand it, I like it’s rough look but do I need to sand it for this to look proper.I will try to add pictures of what I’d like to have (color wise) and what I actually have.

Any thought or help would be greatly appreciated.

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • Where's the test patch? Can you post a pic or two of that?
    – gnicko
    Oct 27, 2020 at 20:16
  • "The folks at Home Depot have been nice, but I seem to get different suggestions every time I ask." Yes! Extremely important to bear in mind for the future that the employees at HD (or any big-box for that matter) are by no means experts. They're not even experts on what they sell, much less on how to best use it. Believe me, I've seen and heard some completely boneheaded recommendations over the years!
    – Graphus
    Oct 28, 2020 at 10:25
  • Obviously you want this darkened and turned more into a sort of walnut or chocolate colour given the stains you've tried. "Tried (in an inconspicuous area) an espresso and a Jacobean stain that basically went on like black paint. Even after conditioning." There's a chance you used the "conditioner" wrong (conditioning isn't a thing, that's why I always use quotes when saying it) and that is even if you followed the instructions to the letter. The problem is not you, it's that most on-pack instructions for this type of product are just wrong! [contd]
    – Graphus
    Oct 28, 2020 at 10:29
  • So anyway, this is going to require further experimentation on your part so I'll hold off on adding an Answer myself. The first thing I would suggest you try it a new test patch, apply the "conditioner" heavily and then let it completely dry before applying stain. The second is, I'm guessing, also going to be needed. Thin the stain. Any time a stain is too dark it's because too much of it is going on to or into the wood, and the simplest fix for this is just dilute it some. What to dilute it with depends on the stain type. Waterbased stains, use water. Oil-based stains use MS [contd]
    – Graphus
    Oct 28, 2020 at 10:33
  • ...which is mineral spirits. You can also use what's sold there as paint thinner or naphtha (VM & P Naphtha to give it its full name) which are basically the same stuff, but both tend to have a stronger odour. You can use the low-odour version if you prefer, which is also safer (but in the amounts you're using the difference shouldn't be much of an issue). Now there's a big BUT here unfortunately — this beam being so old, and the surface being decayed slightly, may be impossible to stain uniformly. Even with both these steps taken some areas may stain very very darker than the rest.
    – Graphus
    Oct 28, 2020 at 10:39

1 Answer 1


It's hard to recommend without seeing what you've tried and without knowing how willing/able you are to experiment with it. You could try several finishes/methods on the part of the beam that would be against the wall/chimney and settle on one that gets you the closest to what you want.

Some things you might try:

Use a pre-stain conditioner. This will kind of fill the especially porous areas of the beam and prevent the stain from soaking in unevenly. Perhaps a second coat of pre-stain conditioner would do the trick? You could try thinned shellac too maybe. That's essentially what the commercial pre-stain conditioner is, but you might get better results thinning it on your own, etc.

Espresso and Jacobean are pretty dark colors. You might try multiple coats of lighter colors and keep applying until you get the shade you want. There's also no reason why you have to use multiple coats of the same color either. You might try a more "greenish brown" first and top it with a "reddish brown" to get your color. Or, vice-versa depending on what your desired end result is.

There are "gel stains" which are more like paint in some ways than stains. They're designed to kind of sit on top of the wood more than soak into it as much as standard stains do. I've never really liked gel stains, but a lot of people do.

There are also wood dyes that soak in and color wood differently than stains. You might look at a dye instead. This site has some good pictures to compare the two.

You could apply an oil to the wood. That wouldn't necessarily change the color as much as a stain, but it might give the wood what could be considered a "wet" look and deepen the color enough for you. There are also colored oils (Danish Oil, etc.) that impart subtle coloring effect. Maybe enough to cancel out the orange hue you mention.

Colored waxes might give you a bit of color and warmth that you wouldn't get with stain and a combination of dye, stain and wax is do-able, and sometimes used on furniture pieces.

Some of these options are perhaps a little "over the top" for this project, but hopefully it will allow you to expand your research to some new options for getting the exact finish you're looking for.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.