Paint finish vs stain finish: Which is best?

The two most popular finish options when working with timber furniture is obviously stain and paint. But which material is the best to use?

What are the benefits of a stained finish?

Stain is the more popular finish option in recent years, as it amplifies the beauty of natural materials. In a world moving away from synthetics, the grain of timber is an important feature to showcase. Another key benefit is that a stain seeps into the wood and stains the timber itself without covering it up.

A stained top has the benefit of being able to take wear and tear a lot better than a painted finish. Instead of making dings and scratches stand out, the natural grain and contours of timber hide evidence of heavy use. While you can sand back stained tops to remove the varnish and dings, it’s difficult to sand back chairs.

Stains are available in a tremendous range of colours. While Harrows have 11 of our own stains that we market, the options are virtually limitless, with bold vibrant colours available on request. The expansive colour range and the fact that the beauty of the grain is still showcased means stains can bring a warm freshness to any fitout.

One thing to note is that when enhancing a natural material like timber, it is impossible to get one surface looking exactly like another, even if they are stained in the same shade. The colour and porosity of the timber will have an impact – especially if it’s a light stain – and the item may be slightly different to what’s shown on the chart.

Should I go for a paint finish?

A paint finish sits smoothly on top of timber and covers it completely in a solid block of colour. Because it is opaque, the finish will be consistent and won’t be affected by variations in the timber below. The physical contours of the timber grain are still visible and create a little depth to the colour.

One of the biggest advantages to paint finishes is that there is no limit to colour options. There is a huge range of shades in the market, and any can be applied to a timber surface. If you want to match furniture to your décor or existing furniture, finding a consistent shade is almost guaranteed, with experts being able to match a paint colour with 98% accuracy. Because the paint sits on top of the surface, it can be prone to chipping and scratching, but can easily be sanded back and touched up, and it’s simple enough to forego a professional.

So, what is better – a stain or paint finish?

In terms of durability, both are finished with a coat of clear lacquer, either single or two pack. However as outlined above, paint finishes may show chips and wear more prominently than a stain finish. In contrast, a paint finish is more consistent as the colour and porosity of the timber won’t affect the colour of the finished paint surface.

For most items like chairs and stools, the cost of a paint finish versus a stain finish will be comparable and both are completed in-house by Harrows. Some colours may have a higher cost price from the supplier so it’s always best to check if you are wanting something outside of the standard options. There may also be scenarios where a paint finish is more expensive if a hard wearing or specialised paint is required.

Ultimatley, this is an argument that neither can win, as both have their benefits and it is entirely up to the user’s preference and design. In today’s world there is a huge range of different colours and styles for both stain and paint, so make sure you explore all options thoroughly to make sure you are getting the look you want. At Harrows we work to make sure the end result is what you are after, so get in touch with our team and we can work out how to make it happen.

Talk to our experienced team about how we can help enhance your social spaces.
Get in touch

Read next

Stay in the know
Complete the form below to receive the occasional email including product updates, industry news, project features, competitions and more.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Design Resources.

Access our extensive library of resources to support your next project including 3D/BIM files, high-res imagery and catalogues.
My Favourites