Though I originally received a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, I am currently working as a wood worker. The company I work for designs and builds custom cabinetry, and as the finisher, I am the one who sands, stains, and finishes the cabinets. Stained wood has been gaining popularity in the last several years, and I have been able to note the differences between the many different brands, all of which are oil-based. A few of the brands that we use are Minwax, Zar, Ace Hardware, Valspar, Pratt and Lambert, and Benjamin Moore. This article will explore the benefits and disadvantages of the Zar and Minwax brands of wood stain.
I have found that Zar wood stain is thicker than most other stains. It is the consistency of maple syrup, without the stickiness. This makes it more likely to dry and form a thick layer of film at the top, and hence go bad faster, unless you want chunks of hard stain on your product. The method I use is to apply the stain with a paintbrush, let it sit for a short period of time, and wipe it off with a rag. Cans of Zar seem to last longer, since it is thicker and does not absorb into the wood as quickly as other stains. However, if one leaves Zar on the wood too long without wiping it off, it is very difficult to remove, and leaves streaks and hard globs. Many times on humid days I have found myself with a can of VM & P Naphtha trying to even out the stain. Since Zar is thicker, it is also easier to wipe, and one has more control over how evenly it is applied at the wiping stage. Since it is thicker, however, you will use more rags than other stains. Once Zar is evenly applied to your satisfaction, it takes quite a long time to absorb into the wood and dry. It tends to be more oily and greasy, and it increases the chance of getting onto other things if you are not careful to remove all of it from your hands.
Minwax wood stain is thinner than most other stains. Since it has a water-like consistency, it is messier and will tend to splash on things nearby your staining table. It also does not last as long as thicker stains, since the wood seems to absorb it more quickly. Minwax goes on well, and the effect after wiping it off is often not much different than the first application with a brush. However, if you are staining a large area, such as a 50 inch cabinet of plywood, it presents a problem. If while you are staining one side of the cabinet stain splashes on another part, it will leave spots that will soak in while you finish brushing the rest of the surface. When you finally get to the other part with spots, those spots will most likely still show underneath the layer of stain This will require either additional stain application, rubbing, or again, VM & P Naphtha. Once it is on evenly, however, it may be wiped off almost immediately or several minutes later without leaving strokes and globs, as with the Zar stain.
Zar offers 20 different shades of stain, and Minwax offers 22, per their respective websites. They are comparatively similar in price, but since Zar goes further, it would seem that it has the best price. Both offer a finished product that is very nice if done well and within the prescribed guidelines. Staining should be done in a well-ventilated area, and, if you can spare them, a pair of hospital vinyl gloves should be worn.