Finishing maple like aged cherry

Getting a dark, aged effect on maple. February 13, 2001

I need to get a dark color on maple, almost an aged cherry look. I want to use dyes, but am afraid I'll have to spray too many times in order to get the color I want (I'm working with a timeframe). When I stain the wood first, I get really bad dark spots or blotching. When I try to hide the blotching, the door becomes too dark and I have to spray it a number of times with dyes. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
We are in a similar situation. We are using a water-based stain, but first sealing the maple with a wash coat of approximately 15-to-1 lacquer thinner-to-sealer. The first batch of casework looks good.

Wet the wood down with water and let it dry. Then apply your stain coat. This will make it darker. You are essentially creating a large water spot. Try it on some test pieces first.

Are you using a brush or a rag to apply the dye? This can cause splotching. I mix up the dye so that in 2 - 3 sprayed coats, I get the desired color. I spray VERY little dye on the wood, so it's not necessary to wipe the dye off. As suggested earlier, you should raise the grain first by wetting. Be careful about overlapping when you spray, because more dye equals darker color.

Try getting most of your color from spraying the dye stain. (I don't believe wetting the wood is necessary, even though it would work). Then go with a wiping stain on top. The wiping stain may pop some grain, give you color stability (since not all dye stains are light fast), and will help blend areas that were sprayed unevenly. Since most shops I've seen sand maple with 180 or 220 grit, the gel stains will probably not give you the dark color you want. They will help with the blotches, though.

The idea is to get the basic background color with the dyes. You don't want dyes to run or mottle, so when you spray them, you must not flood the piece. Use your stain to pick up grain and add a little more color. Wetting with water is not required. NGR's will not raise the grain and, sprayed properly, will not be blotchy.

Bob Niemeyer, forum technical advisor

Use alcohol dyes and spray a very light coat. You can spray on coat after coat until you get the right depth of color. The blotching only happens if the wood gets wet.

I disagree with using NGR stain. It simply is not light fast and will fade with time. Use a good quality, water-base dye stain. Pre-wetting is a good idea before sanding, especially on solid wood, to help minimize grain raising. I usually try to get about 1/2 of the color with the stain and then seal. After sanding the sealer, use an oil-base wiping stain (I use Gilsonite because of its transparency). Seal again and sand. Get your final color with a shading lacquer, using your NGR stain. Topcoat as desired.

The light-fastness concerns when using alcohol-based dye powders are largely a thing of the past, due to the new metallized salt dyes produced by Ciba-Geigy and used by most of the modern NGR dye stain manufacturers, including Mohawk (ULTRA), Homestead Finishing (Transfast and Transtint) and ML Campbell (Woodsong). These new dyes are actually more light fast than the basic water dye powders produced by WD Lockwood. The old style alcohol dyes are still available, but with the right alcohol dye, ligh fastness is no longer a concern.

I have good luck using Moser's water soluble aniline dye. I did do grain-raising and removal, but had excellent results just wiping various maple pieces with either their golden amber or honey amber. They also have a cherry amber that might serve your needs. I've never had any problems with blotching and it's easy to vary the darkness of the stains.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Analine dyes work well on maple. I sand the piece to 220, and then wet down the wood to raise the grain. Sand, repeat, and sand again when completely dry. Apply the right amount of dye (water based stain) with a poly brush, and wipe off excess. When dry, lightly sand with 600 grit sandpaper. The next step is to use a pigment dyed Danish oil, or a pre-mixed oil stain. This adds richness and depth. Apply with a rag, and rub into the wood. Wipe off excess and let dry for a couple of days. As for color, do many sample boards before you go to the actual piece.