Darkening Maple with Dye Stain

A tricky stain-matching problem involving maple veneer and dye stain. October 14, 2006

I am currently trying to match a dark brown maple sample supplied by a designer that was obtained from a large manufacturer in Canada. It looks as though most of the color was achieved with a dye stain. I am able to get some beautiful samples, but when I try to get as dark as theirs I begin to obscure the grain and also get some separation of the dye. I spray several light coats (6-8 passes allowing time to dry between) of the dye to prevent the pooling or separating of the dye, but I think after a certain level of saturation it is unavoidable no matter how light my passes are and how long I wait between passes. I am also using a light toner coat after the dye is sealed to even it out. I am looking for suggestions on how to make this the nicest possible sample. I am using ILVA dyes in Denatured alcohol (about 4oz dye to 12 oz alcohol). I have sanded the curly maple veneer up to 320 (which seems to help the dye go on more evenly). Is there a better vehicle for these dyes than the alcohol? Does anyone have any advice on making maple dark without obscuring the grain? Glazing is not an option because the client does not want to see the checking that is prevalent in curly maple and this will only highlight it. Any help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Why not get as close as you can with your dye stain and then follow it with an oil based stain that brings you close, and throw some finish on it? If you’re not satisfied after the oil stain, then do a bit of toning and then finish it. If you continue to try and achieve the final color through a dye stain alone, you will end up with a painted finish that totally obscures the grain.

From contributor B:
I would try a sample sanding only to 120 or 150.

From the original questioner:
My early original samples were only sanded to 150. I have found that the samples that I hit with the 320 take the dye stain more evenly. As far as a wiping stain goes, as I said in my post, it is highlighting the checking left from machining (even with a washcoat and reducing the stain by 50%). I personally prefer the look of a wiping stain on top of the dye with a washcoat between. I think it provides a much deeper, rich look. However, the client does not want to stray from the uniform sample. I am mainly looking for some tips on getting my dye stain as dark as possible without obscuring the grain. Perhaps people have had more success with other solvents (I am using denatured alcohol) and can limit my time spent experimenting. Once again, thanks for all your help and suggestions.

From contributor C:
The "checking left from machining" are planer marks which should properly be sanded out. You have sanded to too fine a grit - either did not start with a coarse enough grit or did not stick with it long enough. This is the main source of your problems with getting your finish to look right. Take a sample piece and sand it thoroughly with 100 grit, 120 grit, 150 grit, and 180 grit. Now apply your stain and you will see a big difference! Those "check marks" will very much obscure the grain patterns and make the finish look muddy.

From contributor D:
Alcohol is one of the best solvents for drying. I use acetone though because it is the fastest drying solvent and I get good penetration. I don't know what color you are trying to achieve, but you might try using a reddish stain like van dyke brown and use black as a toner to deepen the color. I use Mohawk penetrating stains mostly because they have wide variety of colors. My second choice is Sherwin-Williams dye stain concentrates because their colors are deep and you can add as much acetone as you like.

From contributor A:
Just a thought - try another dye manufacturer. I am using the Behlen's Solar Lux, and between what they have on the shelf and what I can mix myself I can come up with just about any color. Today I dyed a large ballroom door that was a light pink with the SL American Walnut, and it really matches the existing walnut panels. I color corrected with just a bit of amber after matching the colors on the hinge side of the door, and with the finish in it, the door appearance and grain reveal is so uniform it looks like real walnut. I cut it with the slow lacquer thinner to about 25% dye, and put on about 4 medium coats. It was a great piece of wood, so the grain looks stunning.

From contributor E:
Here are some suggestions or alternatives for you. I am not sure what you mean by "checking". Usually machine checking is seen on the back (loose) side of veneers. It is the reason you see barber-poling on book matched work. It is hard to get rid of. Usually the loose side is the side that gets the adhesive. Better veneers usually don't show checking.

I'm not familiar with ILVA dyes but suggest that if you want dark, don't cut it any more than you have to. Dyes get darker when the dye concentration is higher. Drying between coats has little value since the alcohol in your fresh coat re-dissolves the dyes from your earlier coats which is probably the source of the separation you're seeing. I like to get good even coloration with 2 or at the most, 3 applications of dye. Also remember you can re-dissolve and redistribute the dye with a wash of just alcohol.

Switch to a water base dye. They raise the grain but are more lightfast than alcohol base, are available in some very dark browns, and in black if you need to make it darker. Again, if you want dark don't cut it too much. Try ARTI, Lockwood or even Transfast.
Switch to an NGR dye concentrate. These can be very colorfast (Solarlux), and are also available in very dark browns and black. You can cut them with alcohol, lacquer thinner or acetone depending on your need. Beside Solarlux check out Transtint and Mohawk's UltraPenetrating Stain.

Finally, your toner coat can be used to even things out but it can also be used to darken things a bit if you mix it a little stronger and/or apply it a little heavier. Sources: Highland Hardware, Homestead Finishing, Touchup Depot, Woodcraft.

From contributor F:
Depending on your final color tone, your best chance for success is block sanding in white wood no more than 150. Spray the piece with a pore opener (a mixture of 8 parts alcohol to 1 part water). Let this dry for a few minutes and apply your dye stain. The pore opener will darken your color. Then apply a wiping stain. This will give you a nice uniform color w/o a muddy or painted look.

From contributor G:
To get a deeper black, you might try a light application of a black pigment stain on the wood first. Then after it is fully dry, come back over it with your black dye. Or, dye stain your piece like you have been, and then make a black toner with a compatible black dye in your chosen clearcoat. Spray your translucent black toner over the dye to darken it without obscuring the grain. With the toner you can sneak up on the color depth you want by adding additional thin coats.

I use "Candy Concentrates" by Xotic Colours all the time in polyurethane clears to make toners. They're primarily for auto use, but they work great for shading and the custom work I do. They have a real nice deep black and you can see the wood grain through them nicely.