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Since European beech is very close-grained and dense, you can get a wonderfully smooth and flawless finish on the wood with very little trouble. Prepping the wood goes quickly, too, as abrasive sandpaper cuts this wood fast – unlike hard maple, which shares a similar density and light color.

However, European beech is a tricky one to stain or dye to achieve a nice, even color. That is, unless you know some tehniques – a few of them are demonstrated in this video above. Otherwise, here are some visuals and recipes for finishing beech, and each of these are shown in the video. As usual, what you find here are just a few items off the big, broad menu of wood finishing. But this should help you get started.

Clear Finish Choices

european beech with 3 clear finishes compared

Gel Polyurethane. This is one of the easiest protective finishes to apply, and it’s one of the most durable finishes readily available to consumers. It’s a fine choice for protecting a project built with beech; you’ll probably like how painlessly you can get a good, flat topcoat. Because it’s a thick, creamy gel that you wipe on and wipe off, you can use a foam brush or a lint-free rag to apply a coat. Then as you wipe it off with a clean cloth, you’re leveling as you go, which helps you get a great looking coat with little effort. Allow the coat to dry (usually about 6 hours), then apply another in the same fashion. Sanding is not required between coats, unless you feel like your first coat could use it. Such as if you can feel small nibs in your first coat.

Spray lacquer is another choice that has advantages over polyurethane — and some disadvantages. Because it dries faster than polyurethane, you can apply several good coats in one day and move on to rubbing it out and polishing sooner than you can with a polyurethane. Lacquer is, arguably, easier to fix months or years down the road as the finish gets dinged and scratched. Some lacquers are also available as a “water white” formula that doesn’t yellow with age as polyurethane does. If you want to keep that pale, tan color of beech, this might be the finish choice for you. However, spray lacquer is kind of picky about the weather – if humidity is 50% or higher the finish can come out milky, if the temperature is below 50ºF the finish takes longer to dry and won’t flatten as well.

Tung oil and other oils are popular for embellishing all kinds of wood. Tung oil in particular provides some extra contrast to beech. Oil, though, is not a durable topcoat. If you like the look of tung oil but need good surface protection, you can have both. Simply allow the oil to cure, then apply a your topcoat of choice – such as the gel polyurethane or spray lacquer, above.


Tips for Staining & Dyeing

The same cherry colored oil stain is applied to each board - yet there are three drastic results. At left, you can see how blotchy the wood is. A basic penetrating oil stain was applied to the bare wood, sanded to 220 grit. To fix it, try a gel stain (middle). Gel stains give you more predictable coverage. If the color of the gel is too strong, try applying a washcoat of dewaxed shellac or a sealer first (right)

The same cherry colored oil stain is applied to each board – yet there are three drastic results. At left, you can see how blotchy the wood is. A basic penetrating oil stain was applied to the bare wood, sanded to 220 grit. To fix it, try a gel stain (middle). Gel stains give you more predictable coverage. If the color of the gel is too strong, try applying a washcoat of dewaxed shellac or a sealer first (right)

Regular oil stains are problematic when applied right to the bare wood, even if sanded properly. Beech simply will not accept stain very evenly, also known as blotching. Fortunately, there are a few ways to color beech without living with a blotchy and unsightly color. Some choices are:

1. Use a gel stain on the bare wood, especially if you want a significant color change. Gel stains are different from other oil or water based stains: they’re thick, creamy and formulated to be used on fiberglass. Yet they happen to do brilliant work on woods that usually blotch with other stains. Application is simple. Use a brush or rag to coat the surface of the wood, then wipe it off. You’ll need to pay attention as you wipe it off, though, being sure not to rub off too much in one or more areas. But don’t worry, it’s not hard – if you happen to wipe off too much stain in one area, simply add a touch of stain to that section and blend it in while the stain is wet.

2. Use a washcoat, then a gel stain to do a more mild color change. A washcoat is just a thin coat of sealer applied to the wood before the stain. When applied to bare wood, gel stain will lay a coat of pigment over the surface of the wood. But on a washcoat you can use the same gel stain and get a mellow color change that doesn’t obscure the wood grain as much.



What about aniline dye? In most woods, dyes usually are a good alternative when an oil stain causes the wood to blotch. But in beech, even dyes have trouble coloring the wood evenly. However, they are good for creating some graceful and nuanced colors, and for ebonizing or making the wood black.

Beech takes a solid jet black dye, making it an inexpensive way to achieve a perfectly black color.

Beech takes a solid jet black dye, making it an inexpensive way to achieve a perfectly black color.

To ebonize beech, or make it black, here’s one way to do it:

  1. Prep the wood as normal by sanding to about 220 grit
  2. Use a premixed jet black aniline dye. Solar-Lux makes one that is alcohol based, also called non grain raising
  3. On large areas, it’s best to spray. If you don’t have spray equipment, use a cloth pad or lint-free rag folded into a pad.
  4. Apply the dye. After one coat, you will probably still see streaks and lap marks. If so, apply another coat. In short order, your workpiece will be black
  5. Apply a sealer, let it dry. Avoid dewaxed shellac because the denatured alcohol in the shellac can lift the black dye. Your sealer needs to be compatible with your top coat of choice in the next step
  6. Apply your protective top coat finish, then rub out and wax your finish to give it the sheen and flatness you want




beech with brown glaze

Doing a three-step coloring process, you can achieve some nice colors. This sample has a reddish orange aniline dye, then a sealer, then it’s been glazed with a dark brown gel stain. The result is largely a dark brown, but hints of red and orange come through as well.

Dyes can also be used with a glazing technique to make more interesting colors. The board at right isn’t just a dark brown – there are hints of reddish orange in the lighter area.

  1. Prep the wood as normal by sanding to about 220 grit
  2. Apply a light reddish orange aniline dye. Golden Fruitwood is used on the sample at right
  3. Seal the dye with a sealer. Be sure the sealer is compatible with your preferred topcoat in the last step. For example, lacquer sanding sealer goes with lacquer. Let it dry.
  4. Apply a glazing stain or a gel stain. The sample at right used Old Masters Dark Walnut gel stain. Wipe it on, then wipe it off. Pay attention to your workpiece as you wipe off the stain. If you wipe off too much stain in one area, apply a little more stain and blend it in. Let the stain dry
  5. You should be satisfied with your color at this stage.
  6. Apply your protective top coat finish, then rub out and wax your finish to give it the sheen and flatness you want


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We’re a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees.
Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.

Discussion, Questions & Answers

  • Eric

    I really found this helpful- thanks.

  • Marie Dussault

    I wish I would of found this site before. I installed anew stair rail and newel post on a renovation project. I have also installed new red birch flooring. The stair rail and newel post are made of beech ( recommendation of where I bought the railing. I applied a liquid stain to the railing and it’s a mess- the newl post is ok, a bit darker than I wanted. Very blotched. How do I now correct this without making it too dark ? Do I need to sand it down? I live in the northeast and beech is not a wood we are familiar with.

  • Michael

    Beautiful work. I’m assuming the dark brown piece above where you used Golden Fruitwood was using BEECH wood, yes? Also, how does the gel stain absorb into the wood if you’ve applied a sanding sealer coat? I want to try this soon, but just don’t get that part? Thank you.

    • Yes, it’s all beech.
      Here’s what’s going on with the gel stain on a sealer. One light coat of sealer isn’t enough to totally block The stain from giving The wood some color. Since this wood is so prone to blotching, one coat of sealer really provides a good way to control the color. As a downside, the stain doesn’t color the wood as much as it would on bare material. So it really just tones the wood more than it changes it.
      Try it and see for yourself.

  • ZERO

    I am considering using the premixed jet black aniline dye on an IKEA Gerton. It is a pretty large piece so I am wondering how to best apply the dye to it. I am thinking of buying a low cost HVLP Paint Sprayer for the job but I wonder how people get an even coat on the sides. Perhaps the best thing to do is tape the sides off and paint the top and bottom and then use a brush on the sides? Does anyone have any recommendations on a good sealer and top coat I know I want a mat finish over a gloss.

  • ALS

    We are having a dining table made from European Beech and are running into some staining issues. We’d love a grayish tone and have actually found the color we like by mixing two oil based stains, however, were running into a couple issues. One being the stain is coming out very uneven. The other is that the grain itself doesn’t seem to be taking in any stain at all.
    Two questions. 1) Would sanding the table more help at all with better/more even stain penetration? 2) If we can’t find a color in gel based stain, would applying a wood conditioner first (such as Benite) help achieve a more even finish even if still using an oil based stain?
    Thank so much for any advice or assistance!

  • AJ

    Thanks for an excellent article and video. I was wondering if you might have some advice on finishing a beech wood butcher block table. The wood is pre-treated with oil, but I’d like to finish it to a weathered grey. General Finishes makes a grey gel stain, but I noticed your gel stained piece came out very uniform, and I’d prefer to enhance the wood grain on my table. Should I try a dye first even though it’s pre-treated with oil? Or maybe a non-gel stain? Or a white gel stain then sealer then black gel stain? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • If you’re going to using it as a butcher block, cutting and prepping food directly on it, I wouldn’t recommend doing anything to it. I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely wrong, but a stain and/or coloring is only that much more problematic to maintain on a live cutting board, and a block oil finish is ubiquitous for this purpose for a reason. Just making sure I give you the best advice possible.

      But if you are using this as a table top, let’s continue!

      The oil might be a problem, as it’ll just get in the way of letting anything else adhere. Sadly, I would sand it down bare to get rid of the oil. From there, some choices. Gel does go on pretty evenly, but I still would try it.. Apply that gel right to the bare wood (sand to ~180, in my opinion, not too fine as to let the stain have something to grab on to) and I bet you’ll get basically the look you want. Do you have any beech cut offs? If so, try it first on a cut off and see if you like it.

      If not, you could try the dye-sealer-stain process.

      For a weathered gray look, I like to use a dye, sealer, then a white or gray gel stain. You can get a lot of cool looks depending on the dye color. I’d try three tests, each only changing the dye color: a super light brown, a dark brown, and a diluted black.Glaze each one with the same white or gray gel and see if you like it. Admittedly, I haven’t tried it on beech, so it pays to run a few experiments.

      • AJ

        Thanks so much for the quick reply! I want to use the butcher block table as a computer desk, so it won’t really contact food at all. Have you seen Rust-Oleum’s Ultimate Wood Stain in Driftwood color? It’s a neat color, but as you said, I’m worried about the stain absorbing when there is already some oil on the wood. The table is actually an IKEA Gerton ( http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50106773/ ), so I don’t have any spare pieces for testing. I was also thinking about sealing the table with epoxy after coloring it. I tend to be a bit rough on furniture, so I was thinking the epoxy would be durable as well as really sharp looking with a glass-like finish. Any thoughts on using epoxy as a coating?

        • Well…. I can’t say I *like* the look of the epoxy coatings. But they do perform a dang good job of protecting wood. If that’s what you need, then go for it!

        • Sam

          Hi AJ …. I am thinking of doing this exact same thing and was wondering how your results turned out. Any thoughts / pictures to share?

  • Amanda

    I am currently working on restoring my very old interior trim. I am pretty sure its a red alder wood thats just had a light stain color and some varnish. However i really dislike the “orange tint that it carries. I removed all varnish and sanded a bit, and tryed to stain with a water base stain in Espesso. I love the dark color that the espresso has but then the red tint from the alder pops out more. Not the look im going for. I want just a dark brown without hints of red or orange. Do u have a method that i could try?

  • Tarun Modi

    Smooth and flawless wood finish is ever needed! Perfect wood staining technique keeps the things rolling over without any harms occurring to them! Pretty good samples given herein. Wooden surfaces varying in patterns have variable effects and need different dyeing methods and type of dyes to apply.

  • insomniac

    In the Dye/Glazing technique; what sealer did you use before applying the Old Master gel stain?

  • Pappy

    Nice job. What do you recommend for a beech workbench top? Something durable that won’t affect any projects I’m working on.

    • Well, there are a few fistful of opinions on this one. A workbench is going to get pounded, dented, scratched and gouged anyway so there’s an argument for not putting a finish on the top of a workbench at all. The downside to this is that it’s harder to clean up glue should any drip on to your bench from time to time. So, I’d suggest something like Watco Danish oil or boiled linseed oil if you do indeed want a finish.

      • deanna

        I have new beech cabinets. I am trying to achieve a blonde/yellowish main color with brown glaze in the grooves. Using pretty cat lacquer for sealer and topcoat. I am awaiting an order of old masters maple gel stain to try to get the blonde color. Clear doesn’t give it quite enough color I want. My other beech cabinets stained nicely with red mahogany gel and dark mahogany in the baths. Now just attempting to get the light color in the kitchen. Lots of red in the wood so I don’t want to get orange. Any help appreciated. Can send pics. Thank you. Deanna

        • I think you’re on the right path! To give you another variable, pre cat lacquer can be tinted as well.

    • Jimmy

      I use Cabot Australian Timber Oil on my workbenches. It nourishes the wood, but dries down so you don’t get any transfer. For a typically indoor bench, reapply every 3-5 years. Outdoor decks… now that’s a different story!