Dyeing Ipe

Ipe is a very challenging wood to color or coat, but here are some tips on how to approach it. August 8, 2008

I am dyeing stair treads with transtint dark walnut to cut the reds in the Ipe. I used water instead of alcohol. I used Zinsser seal coat thinking that it would not affect the dye. I was wrong. It liquefied the dye and made streaky mess. Ipe is one of those woods where you can't use polyurethane, so I was planning on top coating with waterbased. I have a matching floor to do yet.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Ipe is one of the densest woods grown on earth, hence it's almost impossible to stain since the stain has nowhere to go. Oil stains, waterbased stains or dyes - it really doesn't matter. Stains won't last long on this wood. In order for a stain to work, it has to be able to penetrate. Ipe is too hard to stain.

From contributor B:
You'll need a chemical mordant and dye or strong alkaline such as potassium hydroxide to accomplish the color operation. Since you included the statement about the matching floor, you can also try sodium hydroxide first because of coat, and if not, you can go to the pot. CAUTION - follow all precautions and handling outlined in MSDS that comes with the product hydroxide as it is caustic. After applying the potassium hydroxide, neutralize with 5% acetic acid/white vinegar, let dry and wash with clear water. Let dry and apply whatever coating you decide over it. There will be no running or bleeding of this material as is common with other man made dyes. There have been other recent discussions here on finishing Ipe. Personally, I would have never picked Ipe as a floor or stair wood.

From contributor C:
As a rule of thumb, I always tell customers:
1. I never put anything other than a thin oil finish on Ipe. If poly won't stick to it, I seriously doubt any waterbased product will stick in a lasting way.

2. I never alter the color of Ipe. Stains only work a tad. Ipe is what you get - a natural product.
3. I never glue Ipe. Some glues hold for a while, but none hold permanently.
4. I never charge cheap prices working with Ipe. I love Ipe. It's fantastic stuff. It also makes me sneeze and sometimes is hard to work with and nearly impossible to finish to a furniture grade look and also have a durable, lasting finish.

From contributor D:
I have dyed Ipe more than a few times. Water dye with a fair amount of denatured alcohol will color it well. The dye has to be an extremely strong concentration, typically four times more concentrated than you would normally use on domestics. A film finish is the only option for this since the wood will not absorb enough penetrating oil to truly be sealed. I like cat varnish for Ipe since the acid catalyst works without the drying issues that you have with oil varnish or polyurethane. We have matched dark cordovan mahogany cabinets by dying an Ipe floor. Keystone or Sherwood dye will work well.

Here is a dyed Ipe picture for you:

Click here for full size image