Building Up Color on Maple

A builder gets advice on how to apply tinted stains and sealers to maple using many thin coats, to avoid the dreaded blotching effect. February 14, 2006

I am a custom home builder and have a client who wants a reddish-orange stain on maple. We have been doing samples and tried using just stain and it was very blotchy. We then did a seal coat of lacquer and stain but the stain would not hold and was not dark enough. We then tried Transtint dye in alcohol and it was blotchy also. We decided to tone the lacquer with the dye and spray a coat and then topcoat with 2 more lacquer coats. This got the color and depth he is looking for, but my painter is having problems applying it evenly. The slightest overspray shows darker. We are using an airless sprayer with a fine tip.

I am in a real bind here and need some professional help. We are using Sherwin Williams Sherwood Pre-cat lacquer and the wood is hard maple custom cabinets. I have an HVLP conversion gun. Would that help any? I am not opposed to getting a true HVLP gun if that will solve the problem. I just need some professional help. My painter is an experienced painter and cabinet finisher as long as the process is not something really out of the ordinary. Maple is not used a lot around here so he really does not know its characteristics, and he is relying on me to find the solution. Naturally, we are behind schedule now and really need to come up with a good solution. I would like to be able to get any recommended products locally at one of the paint stores if possible to reduce delays.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
It sounds like your toner may be mixed too strong. Cut it in half and try two coats of color instead of one. Thinner coats tend to look better in the end. I used to try and color everything with just one coat, and it never works out well.

From contributor B:
I like to bring the color up in stages. Seal with slightly tinted sealer (spit coat), apply coat of stain and wipe, seal with tinted sealer and then adjust with final coat tinted. This allows the grain in the wood to be highlighted rather than obscured. It also allows you to use less color in the sealers and finish, which will, in turn, lessen the likelihood of mishaps when applying sprayed colorants. Are the cabinets installed or are they in pieces? If the cabinets are installed, the likelihood of overspray or double or even triple coating is a real possibility. If the cabinetry is uninstalled it makes the job a little easier. I prefer to use a true HVLP setup for this type of work because of the lessened overspray and less bounce-back when trying to spray around mouldings and into corners.

From contributor C:
I'm doing a job just like yours. You need to thin the stain way down so it takes 3 or 4 passes with the gun to get it dark enough. It is a lot easier to put more on than to take it off. You should hardly see the first pass or two.

From contributor D:
I actually spent most of the day staining Maple a dark red Mahogany color and have the red fingers to prove it. I have used many different products on Maple and the majority of them do blotch. One sure way I can get a consistent perfect finish on maple is spraying Mohawk Ultra Penetrating Stains (Dye). You can spray it straight out of the bottle and get any color you need. There are no lap lines and no blotching. You can also mix the dye into the sealer to tone with.

From contributor E:
It's not the products that blotch. It's the wood and the application of the products that blotch.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Applying the color in layers, building to the final color, as well as how they're applied are the keys to success for me. If often use a 3-step approach as described at this link. Related web link: Building the Color

From contributor G:
Itís not the product but the wood thatís blotchy. Following the recipe found on finishwiz - make a toner using the same stain that you were going to wipe on. Try two samples. On one, spray toner, then wipe stain. This usually produces a slightly lighter color but should reduce blotching. On the second test wipe stain then spray toner. This produces a darker finish and also reduces blotching. Check customer preference and finish as required.

From contributor H:
If you add either a little sealer or clear coat into your colorant, be it a dye or pigmented stain, UCT, or concentrates, and spray it on, it wonít blotch. This will keep the colorant on the surface, and without penetration, there is no blotching. That's why tinting toners are the first step in factory finishes.

From contributor D:
I agree with the responses that it's not the product but the wood that blotches. But there are some products that are going to blotch no matter what on Maple, Alder, Cypress, Cherry, and other softer woods. I also know the products I mentioned sprayed on will not blotch. The original questioner asked for help and so I gave him a process that will work every time. To the original questioner: If you are using the Sherwin Williams Dye concentrates you do need to cut them to have a chance at them not blotching.

From contributor I:
With all due respect to you and your painter, youíre in way over your head. Why donít you grab the Yellow Pages for your area and look under *Furniture Finishers*. This trade is a bit different from painting and if you act quickly enough, a finisher just might be able to fix the mistakes already made and prevent any from being made in the days to come.

From the original questioner:
We ended up applying 3 thinned coats of the lacquer/transtint dye concoction and it worked beautifully. We also ended up using the HVLP conversion gun instead of my finisher's airless. That helped a lot. We ended up with a nice, consistent color with absolutely no blotching.

From contributor J:
Try this - pretreat the maple w/ tannic acid, allow to air dry overnight. You can purchase tannic acid in powder form and play around with the concentration by diluting with water to your liking. You can also extract tannic acid by steeping dark tea ~ 10 tea bags per qt of boiling water. After air drying overnight, apply an oxidizer such as dichromate of potash (potassium dichromate). Allow that to air dry overnight. Color will intensify after the wood is sealed with an oil, such as tung oil. The technique described is mordant color setting which was a traditional approach to coloring textiles and wood before the introduction of modern day stains and dyes. You can purchase the dichromate of potash from a number of internet sources. This technique will yield reddish-orange to warm brown tones less the blotchiness associated with aniline dyes or pigmented stains.

From contributor K:
A simple technique for a small custom shop is to sand with Makita vibrating sander (1/4 sheet) with 80 grit on maple. This eliminates swirls and blotching areas in the wood, and opens the pores for stain to penetrate. It's best to vacuum before staining. The better sanding can be done after coats of sealer.