Distressing and Staining Alder

Thoughts about how to make alder wood cabinets look beat-up and funky. May 17, 2005

I'm doing some alder cabinets for the first time. The owner would like to have them distressed with heavy color in the recessed panels and on the edges. I'm not sure how the alder stains. If anyone has done this technique before, I would appreciate some advice.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor S:
Alder, in my opinion, stains similar to soft maple. There are several different techniques to get the look you want. You can glaze and leave the hang-up heavier in areas and on edges or you can tone the areas you want darker. I would dye the entire job then use a different color dye to tone the areas you want darker and then lightly stain over that to give it a lot of depth. Then finish.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I'll give it a try on a sample board. You said dye two colors and then stain. Do you mean pigment stain after the dye stain? And should I use vinyl sealer with acrylic lacquer topcoat?

From contributor R:
Be careful with the staining. Alder blotches really bad - worse than cherry or pine.

From contributor S:
Yes, I would find a good background color for my first dye and then the color I wanted for my distressing. Then put a wiping stain right over the top. Then put your vinyl sealer and then put your topcoat.

From contributor J:
Alder can stain blotchy, but if done right it can have perfect clarity. I always put down a natural stain, let it dry (2 hrs in heat) and then the color stain. The natural stain will condition the wood. I have used both Sherwin Williams stain and Mohawk stains - both work well.

From the original questioner:
The main color she wants kind of like clear on the alder and then an umber distress. So I think I'll do one with clear and walnut wiping stain, and the other with a dye stain - maybe colonial, and then the walnut distress, followed by vinyl sealer. What do you think I should use as top - pre-cat lacquer or CV or acrylic lacquer? I've used CV before, but I've never used acrylic lac or vinyl sealer or dye stain. How does the dye stain act - similar to the pigment stain oil?

From contributor D:
You mentioned using a "natural stain"? Can you elaborate on this product? Or are you referring to a stain that has no pigment in it?

From the original questioner:
You know, based on the sample, the blotchiness seems to fit right in with the look she wants. This distressed stuff looks kind of easy. Just do work like I've been doing my maple. LOL. I should be just fine... Minwax has a natural stain that is clear. I'm thinking seal the wood, then use a medium stain for distress and then seal again than catlac.

From contributor J:
A natural stain is stain without pigment - clear. Take two pieces of alder, apply natural stain to one, let it dry and then the pigment stain, then apply pigment stain directly to the other sample, and the difference will be huge. I have been amazed by the clarity that you can achieve in darkly stained alder by first applying a natural stain, then the pigmented stain once the natural has dried (about 2 hours). It won't work if you apply the pigmented stain over the natural while it is still wet.