Blotching on maple

Staining maple without blotching

Iím having a problem getting some hard maple to stain up without blotching. Iím using Minwax oil base stain # 218 for the color that the customer has chosen. I have tried applying the stain after sanding to 320. I have tried applying after using sanding sealer. I have even tried water base stain with conditioner. I wouldnít buy my doors. This is the first time I have had to put a color on maple, and I have only done them with clear finish in the past.

Forum Responses
Try a sample piece and sand with 180 grit paper. Then wash-coat with 1 part sealer and 3 parts thinner just spray a regular wet coat, donít load it up, sand lightly with 220 stearated paper, then apply the wipe stain. You may need to allow the stain to dry some before wiping.

I usually use shellac for sealing but I couldn't find any and the order I had placed was delayed due to "global events".

I tried sealing with linseed oil. That worked ok, but didn't give the smooth, even results I was looking for.

I finally found some Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac.... it worked great. For my application I used the "Amber" shellac. They also have a clear, which is a bleached shellac.

The Zinsser worked just great. The Bartlett Gel stain and the secondary stain went on just fine. There was no blotching or unevenness.

I usually mix up my own shellac, but I found the Zinsser to work fine in this application. I'm assuming itís dewaxed but neither the can nor Zinsser's web site says one way or the other.

The "Bulls Eye" is NOT dewaxed. It can be dewaxed by first putting it in a freezer to coagulate the wax and then filtering it through a coffee filter. I find toning to be the best solution to staining maple. Spray on light coats of toner until you get to the desired color and then topcoat.

To make a toner you can dump some of the Minwax stain into your lacquer. If you dump too much then you might have some incompatibility problems. But you ought to be able to dump in enough stain to make a toner.

I have even dumped Minwax stain into Duravar (a catalyzed lacquer made by M. L. Campbell) but I would never condone that mixing to someone else.

But for regular lacquer that is going to be sprayed, I think that you can get away with the Minwax/lacquer mix. I do not make a practice of doing this. For me, Minwax is a last resort. Minwax stains are not formulated for production use (they dry way too slow and the linseed oil base of their stains vs. the alkyd base of commercial stains makes the Minwax stains an "iffy" stain to use in a catalyzed finish system).

I wouldn't want to try the Minwax in lacquer deal. Just get some UTC colors and make your own stain/toner. For maple (of course this depends on the color) I usually spray on a thin water stain (Lockwood aniline dye, NO WIPING). Spray on evenly like you are shading and let dry, then apply your wash-coat (experiment here, try 1:1 2:1 3:1 10:1 etc until you get the look you are after.) Next I will apply either a pigmented wiping stain or Gilsonite over the wash coat. You should be getting close to your color now, a little lighter than you want, maybe 1 shade light. Now apply a full coat of sealer and sand well, shade with an NGR stain (mixed with a little sealer and lacquer thinner) to match your sample and apply another full coat of sealer. You're now ready for the first topcoat, pre-cat lacquer, CV or whatever. I get a nice even color even when maple is stained a dark cherry color using this method.

I was never keen to dumping any stain into my coatings to make a shade or toner. I always like to use colorants like Huls 844,866 etc. and dye concentrates that have not been cut in a solvent.

Bob Niemeyer, forum technical advisor

How about a different idea? Instead of wash-coating, I have a water-base wood stabilizer that I use for color control. Wood-Loc has many uses, but one is to control liquid penetration on any cellulose material. This is a fool proof method that works every time. Brush, wipe, or spray then wipe. No sanding required.

This method is mentioned in the Sherwin-Williams Chemical Coatings catalog, but you must use their Sher-Wood line of stains.

Next, since the original questioner already has a stain that his picky customer has approved, I offered my quick and easy remedy to be used thus once, and to be used with a nitrocellulose lacquer finish schedule.

While the idea may be a little funny sounding - and I already said that this is not a practice that I would want to use except as a last resort - it can be done and it can be done successfully. The idea is to be careful in the amounts of Minwax that you dump into your lacquer.

The issue with Minwax as a chosen stain is that many of their colors are combinations of dye and pigment all in the same liquid vehicle. To suggest to someone who may not have a lot of colorants on hand and may not have the needed color mixing experience to nail a suitable toner that will come close to matching the Minwax is not always practical. Sure it is great to learn the right way to go about this.

Using the Minwax will work and then once this project is done perhaps the original questioner will want to investigate proper colorants and mixing schemes.

Now, here is a real maverick approach that I used once -- and I do not condone it despite its success -- you can dump Minwax into some lacquer thinner and add this to your Duravar (M. L. Campbell's catalyzed lacquer) to make a toner. This was a last resort for me and I had no other choice. The surface was a desktop that is getting lots of use and wear, and the coating is performing quite nicely two years down the road.

In closing, yes dumping in the Minwax can be done. No results are guaranteed and there is always a wild card of unpredictability present when you venture off the tech sheets. I did include this caveat when I made my suggestions so it's not like I was advising school kids to walk in wet cement.

From the original questioner
I would like to say that using the Minwax stain is not absolute. The customer handed me a sample of maple with that particular color on it and asked if I could match that color. That was my first try and that is how I came about to asking the question. If I showed them my sample door that had a different type of stain on it and the color was close, Iím 99% sure that it would not be a problem, for them or myself.

I am impressed with level of knowledge that is out there and the willingness to help those that donít have it. My experience has grown, but with allot of choices to make. I would like to try to stay with the WB scenario for the safety issues if I can, although the conventional OB seems to be hard to beat. I think that as long as the end product comes out the way I would like it to, that will be the main thing. As craftsmen we are our own worst critics and must live with our choices. I am in the process of trying some different samples of finish and stain that I have received and will let everybody know how it turned out.

I was facing the same problem a while back, and another problem associated with staining maple. Maple is dense and because it is, pigmented stains donít penetrate. I went to a dye. Clearwater Color Co. makes a waterbased Gel dye that stained the maple great and blotching was no problem at all. I followed the dye with a vinyl sealer and pre-cat lacquer. Because it is water based, pre wet and sand the wood to minimize grain-raising and apply the dye with a Scotchbrite pad to minimize this problem.

Donít mix Minwax with lacquer. Minwax contains wax, and itís used to seal the wood when stained. I personally hate Minwax and use it never. I like stains with a lot of pigment that dry in 20 to 30 minutes. Itís very simple to stain maple, just two steps. First figure out what color you want spray thin coats with, either Star or Mohawk NGR stain. When you get the color you like, apply a Star or Mohawk oil stain for depth. The dye will block the grain in the maple and keep the stain from penetrating too deep and cause blotching. I use Mohawk and Star because I have never seen stains and NGRs bring out so much depth as Mohawk and Star. Then you seal it and finish it. Wash-coating works but can be hard on doors or faces where you run over certain areas with your fluid in a cross. Too much and you donít get penetration, too little and the grain soaks it up and you have blotching.

As far as shellac goes, I would never touch the stuff. The store bought shellac will never come close to giving you a good durable finish like conversion or lacquer. With all the things you can do to lacquers, why even use shellac? I can match any kind of shellac with dye and lacquer. On top of that, I can finish it before the first coat of shellac even dries. It takes too much time, and time equals money. Donít let these die hard shellac users tell you that fresh shellac is just as durable as a pre-cat lacquer, not to mention all the steps you have to do to before you even apply it on your surface. Iíll stick popping open a 5 gallon bucket and spraying. I hope I didnít upset anyone who likes doing things the old way, in my business there is no time for old ways. I donít think the old ways look as good as what you can do now with wood.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Maple, because of its pore structure, is one of the most difficult woods to finish. I would finish sand to 320 grit, then wet with clean distilled water, then allow to dry. By doing this you have already allowed the pores to aborb the water. Lightly sand, then apply a water-based aniline dye, rather than an oil-based stain. You will find the results much more gratifying. The dye will color the maple evenly, allowing the grain to be the most visible.

Comment from contributor B:
I just finished a maple job for a new hotel in the area. The stain was a dark cherry and had the usual blotchy appearance that maple gets. The most time efficient and color accurate method we could come up with was to cut the stain 50/50 with VM&P Naptha and spray it on with a cup gun. The sealer coat needed to be a bit heavier than normal to prevent sanding burn through of the stain on all the millwork. The process was tedious but with a sample on hand to spot check color consistency, the customer was more satisfied with the results than I was.

Comment from contributor D:
When it comes to maple, I have found that wiping the wood with a clear base (stain without pigment) then wiping with stain works well. What the base does is it fills the deeper grain, which causes the uneven color, then when you wipe your color on it is even.