Evenly Staining Birch

Another helpful thread about achieving non-blotchy finishes on birch, with several practical approaches described. January 14, 2008

I'm building cabinets and using white birch. I don't have a lot of experience with birch but did make something a couple years ago with it and remember it didn't finish very nice. How do some of you handle the job of putting a nice finish on it? Do you use a sealer? Most of my finishes are one coat stain and three coats pre-cat (Sherwin Williams). Am I missing something?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
You can do it a couple of ways. Use a clear stain base first, let it dry fully and then stain. This will reduce or eliminate blotching. Use a sealer that has been reduced so it has 3-5% solids. Spray this on lightly and then sand lightly, stain. Put a barrier coat of sealer on the wood, full strength. Then use a shading lacquer to color the wood. This is by far the most difficult way to achieve your desired results, but if done properly, it will result in a very even color. It is prone to stripping because of overlapping spray patterns.

From contributor G:
What kind of color are you going to be making? If it is light enough, you can use a spray stain and avoid a lot of pre-conditioning or sealing and wiping. You can save a pile of time by doing this. If it is a darker color, you can still use spray stain as toner and then a wipe stain, or use a different technique and use just spray. Lots of roads lead to Rome.

From contributor M:
I like both suggestions from contributors L and G. Both work great. Using the clear stain base works good. I like spraying my stains. Like contributor G said, you can save time by not conditioning and using the stain as a toner. Whatever works for you.

From contributor P:
On a few built-in birch library cases I have done, I was after a nice walnut finish. I used a weak mixture of brown aniline walnut dye with a hint of red mahogany. I mix it weak and apply it up to 7 or 8 coats until I get a deep, dark, rich colour. I am sure to let the wood dry well between coats. Finish with a more satin finish and it looks fabulous. If you have the time, there is nothing like layers and patience to turn a tough stain job into something gorgeous, in my opinion. I am usually disappointed when I go for too much at once. Time is the issue.

From contributor A:
Although using a spray only no-wipe stain is less likely to lead to blotching, if you're not experienced using spray no-wipe stains, you'll probably get some color banding due to uneven application of stain. Probably the most foolproof solution is to apply a wash coat of either a sealer reduced to approximately 5% solids, or a 1 lb. cut of shellac. Sand evenly and lightly after dry, and most wipe-on wipe-off stains will go on evenly. Be aware that with this approach, your stain will not be as intense. If you want to darken the effect or slightly change the color, make and apply a coat or two of toner by dissolving some dye or stain in your topcoat. (Make sure it's compatible in the finish you're using.) Experiment on cutoffs before doing this on your actual project.

From contributor P:
Any reason you would not use aniline prior to sealing with shellac and then leveling the colour after you seal it? I do it on small refinishing jobs and it works well.

From contributor A:
Contributor P, if what you're doing works with your materials, there's no problem at all. On larger projects with hardwood, end grain, and ply, I think it's easiest to obtain a relatively uniform stain color throughout using a wash coat of reduced sealer or 1 lb. shellac. Using this approach, it's still possible that use of a toner will be required. I don't think there's necessarily one best answer for many wood finishing problems, unless it's experience.