In Search of White Dye

There are no white "dyes" as such, but there may be other ways to achieve the desired effect. May 23, 2007

I need to achieve a uniform white finish on rift oak. I hope to avoid bleaching because we've had trouble with our conversion varnish adhering to surfaces that have been bleached. White pigments tend to fill the open pores of the oak. I'm trying to achieve a uniform color - both the large pores and the wood between them being the same color. Also, the finish will be very open, with as little fill in the pores as possible. A dye would seem to be a perfect solution (no pun intended), but I have not been able to find a white dye. Sherwin Williams does not have anything, nor does US cellulose, who makes a lot of the water base dyes we work with. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor S:
I believe titanium is the only metal that will oxidize to white. Which would make it very expensive to produce. I have never seen a white dye, but if you find one let us know.

From contributor G:
Lead, zinc, silver and calcium also oxidize to white in varying degrees and there may be a few others, too. The problem is that, being oxides, they don't dissolve in anything useful and therefore can't make a true dye. There are white microlith spray stain colorants available that are the next best thing to dye. I believe Arti, Chemcraft and ICI, among others, make these. If you do a Knowledge Base search for "white dye," you'll find a lot of information.

From contributor L:
As mentioned, Arti/Becker does make a white dye, however I believe your problem could be solved using titanium white pigment, but you will have to develop your color using a spray stain base and applying via gun.

From contributor T:
Pigments absorb/reflect some or all of the colors in light. A pigment that absorbs no color appears white. Dyes act more as light filters than absorbers. They pass light, filtering out some of the color. If a dye filters out no colors from white light passing through it, it would be a white dye. What does that? Glass and water white finishes are two. If you bleach all of the dye out of a piece of cloth (or wood), what do you end up with? White. There may be some dye like things out there that appear white, but there is no such thing as white dye. So if it's white you want, you'll need to use either a white pigment or a 2 part bleach which will remove most of the natural color in wood.

From contributor H:
We've always used Sherwin-Williams white vinyl sealer as a "white dye." It works great with the other SW dye concentrates. You can thin this stuff with acetone about 3 to 1 or even more, depending on how opaque you want your finish. If you're after a totally white finish, just grab some white pigmented conversion varnish.

From the original questioner:
Contributor H, this sounds like a great idea. I will try it. Thanks.