Advanced Skill Level Tips and Tricks

Create Grey Stain look without Stripping

Stripping is a lot of hard, gross, goopy work and lets face it no one likes to do it. So, I recently created this beautiful grey stain look without stripping down to the raw wood.

Lets talk about when to strip furniture for just a minute. When the existing finish is failing it is absolutely necessary to strip before proceeding. I go into more detail on how to strip furniture on my post about 3 options to strip furniture. Flaking, soft, or very dirty finishing this technique will not work.

My client wanted a medium soft grey stain on her dinning room set and I cringed at having to strip the entire set down to raw wood. Toning wood is very common as I typically say you can always go darker but not always lighter. I tested out an old cabinet down and with some color manipulating I was able to achieve the perfect grey!

The Process

Standard oak is a honey color which has orange tones in it. So I very carefully selected the colors based off of the orange tones. Cue in the color wheel, I need blue a blueish grey to help me cut out the orange tones. It won’t look to bluish promise.

Here is my sample door

Here is my nice honey oak cabinet door. Now of course if you know me you know what I am going to say you need to do first………. proper prep work.

  1. Cleaning: Denatured alcohol and water with my favorite mirlon scuff pad. Wipe it all clean and then start sanding. Used a 220 grit sandpaper. I don’t want too rough of scratches but I do need to scratch the finish up enough so I have something for my new products to adhere to.

Uneeda sandpaper and sponge sanders are my go to brand. (not and ad I just really like their sandpaper)

2. Glazing: First started with my white glaze Winter White by General Finishes. Apply a generous amount on and used a large deck brush till it was almost dry and my brush drags. You may also want to keep your Extender on hand just incase.

The reason I started with a hand glazing is because the grain will push out sprayed on toner colors so you almost have to start by brushing on the color.

Glazed winter white and one coat of my toner.

3. Next up: Toning, I took my clear finish and added 20% of the greystone stain to my finish and sprayed on one coat. If you do not have a spray gun you can sponge brush this on. Just be sure to have some extender on hand for longer brushing periods.

TONERS: I know toners can be a tad confusing but it is a mixture of clear finish and stain. Usually about 20% stain (strained) and 80% clear finish. This makes the finish colored but yet still transparent. This way you gradually build to a color or add a touch of another color to achieve the perfect color for you piece.

NOTE: Most finish manufactures suggest only 20% of a stain added to your finish (so be sure to check with your finish manufacture), too much stain you could get a finish failure like fish eyes.

4. Glazing: Then I mixed the winter white and greystone with my chip brush and brushed it on the door. Finished off with my deck brush until the brush drags.

Finishing Up (you are almost done)

5. Toning and Top coat: Sprayed on one more coat of toner and scuffed. Then one clear coat and she is all completed! (For easy dust removal use these dusting rags) You can still see all of the grain and it doesn’t look like honey orange anymore!! Your done the perfect grey stain!

Side note: Every project is different from color to wood type which may require different steps. So I highly suggest you test the back of a door, or inside of a table leg before doing your entire project. I have tweeked this formula a few times some with less steps and different color outcomes. Follow my instagram if you want to see more of my creations.

Some of my other projects:

This is another project I did using this formula however this is mahogany wood so I was a little worried that it would not turn out but it looks great!

Products used


I have been asked how the table is doing. It has been 6 months and it looks fantastic! Check it out for yourself:

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Tara Lou

Mama, wife, furniture connoisseur, small business owner, nature-lover, homebody, hunter.

47 thoughts on “Create Grey Stain look without Stripping

  1. Hello Tara. Thank you so much for sharing your technique. It looks great.
    Would you mind in quickly 1, 2, 3 steps how you did. I got lost right after you added the white paint when you said next up toning… Also you mentioned spray paint which I haven’t seen on the products you used. I really want to try your technique so I really appreciate your response.
    Thanks again!
    Renata Graf

    1. Renata, I updated the blog for more information on products used. I sprayed using HVLP spray system however you can still create this with brushing on as well.

  2. So 1st coat is white glaze. 2nd coat is the toner. 3rd is white glaze/greystone mixed (is this a 50/50 ratio?). 4th coat is another layer of toner. 5th coat is just a top coat. How long is the drying time between coats? Do you sand between coats?

    1. Elisa, yes it was a 50/50 ratio. By the time I was done with the last piece I was able to go back and start at the beginning. So maybe 30 mins. I didn’t do this all in one day though. I left over night after half of it. I don’t sand between the glaze coats but I do between the toned coats. Very light scuff with a mirlon pad. Test in a small area. I just redid an oak desk similar but didn’t need as many steps I only did two glaze coats and a top coat.

  3. I’m gonna try this on a small project first.Then maybe the kitchen cabinets. Would love to see additional photos is you have them, Thank You!

    1. Be sure to follow my Instagram to see more photos at Taraloubadger Also I think that’s a great idea to test a small piece before doing your kitchen. Maybe even doing the back side of a door to start. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  4. I have golden oak cabinets and am considering this technique. Is the toner and the gray stain the same thing/product? I cannot find the updated blog to see what products you used. It looks beautiful and it’s the color I’m looking for. Thank you.

    1. Check out step 3. Toner is a mixture of your stain and clear topcoat. It’s a transparent custom mixture.

  5. I have golden oak cabinets and am considering this technique. Is the toner and the gray stain the same thing? I see you posted that you used a toner but not sure if that is actually the stain too. Thanks.

    1. Hi Tina, Toner is a custom mix of stain and stop coat. You take your top coat and mix about 20% stain.

  6. What are your thoughts on doing this on a cherry stained finish of kitchen cabinets? Too dark to do?? Thanks 🙂

    1. I have done it on dark walnut before. But it’s always best to test first. You can buy these products from General Finishes in pints so you have minimal expense to try it out.

  7. Hi Tara Lou-fabulous work! especially interested in using this grey toning technique on a maple gate leg table top. Do you think it will work? Piece is stripped down to bare wood. would love to minimize the yellow overtones if possible. looking forward to your reply thanks

    1. Yes! You already have the hard part done with the stripping. Try looking at General Finishes stains they make some good grey colors. You can also do some wood bleaching to remove that yellow from the maple. Feel free to email me pictures and I can help guide you.

  8. Great job! I am doing a dark stained solid pine door, and I want a raw or bleached wood look, more brown than gray. So should I just change the stain in the toner to weathered oak or something similar?

  9. Hi Tara, I’ve been looking for a tutorial for this effect for weeks! Can you tell me what the purpose is of the white coat? What happens if you don’t use it?

    1. Hi Rebecca, I use the white coat to lighten the wood up. It will all depend on what your original wood looks like. I would suggest testing all of this on the back of a door / drawer first. You may not need all of the steps I use to get a similar result.

  10. Hi Tara Lou, I would love to use this technique for redoing my honey oak cabinet in the bathroom. However, the frame is some sort of veneer with slight grain, and I don’t think this stain will work on it. How would I match the color on the veneer? Just use regular paint in the same tone?

  11. Hi Tarah I just stumbled upon your post on Pinterest and I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. I love the outcome of what you did. I’m wondering if you would take the same approach on an orangey honey colored wood floor that has already been top coated with Poly a few years ago.. Looking for any advice on how to approach this. Thanks so much, Shelly

    1. Shelley, thanks for reaching out that’s a great question. Personally I would not recommend it. Wood floors get a lot more use than cabinets and furniture. I would suggest a full refinish to change the color of the floors.

  12. Hi Tara, Beautiful! I have furniture in the golden oak finish but would like a slightly more beige-y driftwood gray finish. Do you think the Empire gray color would still cut the orange but be lighter? Thanks!

    1. Tara, please disregard my question above! I just figured out that Greystone is a stain, not milk paint. Any suggestions for just a tad lighter finish? Thank you.

      1. Sandy, try a mix between the greystone, white wash and walnut or antique oak. I have had success with those color to make a raw wood or driftwood look.

  13. Any reason you recommend this technique with the glaze and water based stain instead of the General Finishes Gel Stains? I can’t get the right gray color using their gel stains – look very blue/purple, even when mixed with white and java colors.

    1. Jaclyn, I am using the water-base stains, however if you are trying to get a grey that doesn’t look too blue / purple instead try mixing walnut or black with white wash (all General Finishes).

  14. You are beyond talented. Thank you for sharing. Much love.
    Keep sharing your talent/skill with the world

  15. Hi Tara, I have knotted alder interior doors that have reddish/orange undertones. I would love to refinish them in this way. Do you have an tips for alder wood?

    1. The best thing you can do is trial and error. You are going to want a combination of blue and green. General finishes grey stains have a lot of blue in them and the walnut has green in it. Hope that helps!

  16. Hi Tara,

    I love this look and I’m practicing on the backs of some of my cabinet doors before I proceed further. I’m realizing water based stains can be a bit tricky. I don’t have a sprayer so I’m using a sponge brush to apply. Do you have quick tips as I continue to practice?

  17. Great work! I also have some date honey oak cabinets I would like to use this technique on. Problem is, it is a bookcase unit and I think the sides and back of the bookcase are laminate. Any suggestions?

    1. Diana, is it laminate or veneer. It will work on veneer. You can send me a photo to and I can tell you if it’s laminate or veneer. Veneer is real wood and laminate is more of a plastic so it wouldn’t work on laminate.

  18. Hi, thanks! I’ve decided to paint. I think the back is veneer but all the shelves are laminate. Thanks though!

  19. Hi Tara, I finally finished the project on my dining room furniture and it came out beautifully!! Thank you so much for the step by step process and for answering my questions. I’ve gotten so many compliments!! I’m just sorry I didn’t do it sooner!

  20. Hi! This is amazing! Have you tried
    this method to create a blonde wood look? I’m assuming a different color could be used for the toner, but if you’ve experimented with it I’d love the details. Thanks!

      1. Thanks so much! I’m totally going to try that on my kitchen table. I’ve been putting it off because I haven’t had time to strip it.

  21. I have existing builder grade cabinets that are stained a cherry color. Would like to have a finish like you have with the gray stain look above. Can that be achieved with the process you did above or could you recommend another way. Thank you

    1. Without seeing the doors I can’t quite tell you however I have done this on several different types of furniture. The best you can do is a test on the back of a door to see what kind of results you will get. Play with adding greens and blues into your glazes keep in mind that the grey stains from GF already have a lot of blue in them. Many Blessing ~ Tara Lou

  22. You mentioned a process with fewer steps on insta. I went there and followed you but didn’t see anything stand out. Would love more info on that. Have golden hickory cabinets. Thanks! Beautiful transformation!

    1. Kim it’s all on how your test sample turns out and the colors you use. You can definitely try this process on the back of a door to see what steps you will need to take to get your desired results.

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