Many of the softwoods used for a lot of do-it-yourself work are rather plain in appearance. So you may well decide that this natural, light look is the one you want and simply apply clear varnish to seal the wood and protect it against dirt, staining and moisture. Simple pine furniture, for example, may be exactly right for its setting, with more striking colours provided by other elements in the decorative scheme of the room, like furnishings and the paint or paper on the walls.
But it is quite possible that you may want more colour in the wood itself. The range of stains and coloured varnishes available means you have a wide choice. If you want the original, relatively inexpensive softwood to look like another more expensive wood, you can stain or varnish it so it resembles teak, oak or mahogany.
Stains are also available in colours other than those resembling natural woods – yellow, purple, green and bright red, for instance. These will brighten up the wood, while still allowing the grain to show through. Don’t forget, either, that it’s not just the latest project you’ve completed which can be treated with wood colouring. Existing furniture, even pieces bought for a song at jumble sales, can be stripped of old paint and stained and varnished to look as good as new, if not better.