Finishing maple and birch

Maple and birch are notorious for not taking stains evenly. Here are tips for achieving color uniformity in these popular, durable woods.1998.

by Rick Hill

We have been making custom, hard-to-make furniture for other manufacturers for a few years now. Until recently, we only did unfinished items. Most of our customers now want us to do the finishing.

We have been experiencing difficulty finishing maple and birch. We get some blotchiness and have trouble getting darker stains to "take." Someone suggested we seal the wood first, but we found that this didn't help much.

Maple and birch can be very tough to finish well for the very reasons you are mentioning.

Maple can have soft areas like cherry, and these areas will take stain at different depths, resulting in that blotchy look. It also doesn't have a deep grain, so the stains cannot soak into the wood. So enough telling you what you already know.

Your problem is probably the dark stain laying on top of the grain and not giving you enough color, so you reapply the stain to get the color you are looking for, correct? Be very careful re-applying pigment stain because it builds up and eventually the sealer and topcoat will only have pigment to stick to, not wood.

Instead of using a pigment stain, try using a dye stain. It will penetrate into the grain and can be shaded over the lighter areas if needed. Dye stains come in several premixed colors and in primary colors. They will tone the wood an even base color that you can then apply a pigment stain over if needed. Check back articles on WOODWEB for more info on dye stains.

Rick Hill is an independent representative and consultant for industrial wood finishes. He has been involved in the woodworking industry for 12 years, and has been known to actually hold, shoot, and clean a spray gun.

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