Maple Finishing Techniques

More fine points about sealing, staining, and toning Maple cabinets. July 3, 2008

Can someone give me direction on making and using glue size. I am trying to stain up maple with a light colored stain. Is it just white school glue (Elmerís) and water mixed at 50/50, and then apply with brush or spray? Do I sand any off or apply stain right over it? Any and all help is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
Why donít you get Zinsserís Seal Coat and reduce that down and apply that to the maple. Itís a lot quicker and easier, at least for me.

From contributor C:
You may want to try the old standard hide glue formula. It's been used successfully for longer than any other method.

The use of hide glue sizes in the finishing of quality furniture surfaces is not commonly known by the public at large. In this process a dilute warm hide glue solution at approximately one pound of glue per gallon of water is applied to the wood surface and let dry. The compression grain is raised and the glue fills the porous exposed wood structure. On sanding, a glass-like surface is obtained, which is stable against moisture changes and which takes a lasting final stain or finish.

From the original questioner:

To contributor C: so what process would you recommend for staining maple? I have tried zinnser seal coat straight from the can and reduced, pre-stain, and a pre-cat reduced. I still come up with some visible blotching. The stain is a light oil based stain from Diamond Vogel, which was spec'd, the color is a bright green. I think the chosen color adds to the problem. Is glue size a good choice? Are there any other remedies that may help?

From contributor C:
With difficult stain jobs I usually donít stain the wood. I seal a few times with non cab acrylic sanding before the last coat applied and then a coat of top coat and glaze my colors on and out with a good quality glazing brush. At most I may take the stain and thin it down 90 95% to directly apply to the maple first just to pop a little grain in the wood.

In Fl. most of the high end so called old world finishes are done in this way, but you have to be a good glazer to get proper results. That said, if I wanted to apply the dye/stain/green to the wood with the least amount of blotching I would use the old hide glue method and if the green were an oil stain I would rematch it in a water dye color and apply, though you can apply the oil stain over the glue size. The color will be lighter than if applied to the bare wood and will need further color work to get the same effect as to the wood color would have, meaning glazing/toning after the first stain is sealed in.

In my thinking this fad of totally uniform wood color isnít quite right. Personally I love to bring out all the character of the wood as possible, My clients love the look of maple I give them when making color samples done with dyes. No sizing, no perfect uniformity. Just like it was done for centuries till the masses were marketed this concept by non finishing designers and architects.

From contributor Y:
I agree with Contributor C. If you don't want any blotching (which can also be called nice graining or fancy figure) to show then staining is not really the way to get there. You should really consider opaque painting as in this manner you may remove nearly all traces of the original woodgraining (especially on maple with its smooth surface). Otherwise a transparent glaze (tinted clear coat) would be the proper process.

From contributor C:
I use the clear/color/dye method applications only if I need to strengthen the color I have after sealing it in. I find too many times you can build (even with very light coats) too much around the profile areas. This can be overcome, but with brush glazing you can get everything evened out better though it's more labor intensive than gun toning. Most people donít brush glaze anymore, but once you get proficient at it, it really does not take that long to accomplish. And the results are superior in every way to gun toning. That's why the high end companies still do it.

From the original questioner:
To contributor Y: you don't do anything but add color to your clear coat then top coat? So if I put a sealer on the raw wood then tint my clear coat, problem solved. Does any of the color absorb this way?

From contributor R:
Not to take anything away from a glue size, but if you have a large job like a kitchen or wall panels or say a built-in library, this finishing step can get quite involved. On the other hand, you can simply spray on a coat/coats of your clear sanding sealer, sand it smooth with a sanding grit youíre comfortable with and then apply a spray ready coating (semi-satin-flat) that you have incorporated a color into.

The color can be a dye or a UTC, powder or liquid. Itís up to you. Be sure to test your color on a scrap piece of wood in case you mess up. The key is to apply your colored in layers. In other words, donít try to achieve your final color in one shot. Make a few complete passes until you reach your target color.

From contributor C:
Keep in mind if you use the color in clear toner or even the glazing method over sealer coats that when the finish get's damaged - the area(s) will show as the natural wood color since no color is on or in the wood itself, this is the one drawback with these types of color application's - just a note. Also keep in mind that you can only put a little of the oil color your using into a clear and as Contributor R says it will take multiple passes to get the color you would normally get by direct staining methods or glue size methods. That is if you donít just reformulate the color to be stronger to begin with.

"Does any of the color absorb this way?" No. But why would you care? Any absorption just reveals the blotchiness. Use a durable coating and you needn't worry much about damage, but if damage does occur the advantages of stain over tinted clear coats is negligible.

Contributor R is correct in that any transparent color will build to darker tones as more is applied and thus it is way easier to control your color if you get it from two to four coats of application than if you try to get your color in one application. Don't try to completely wet out any of the tint coats either. It's far more important to keep the color strength accurate.

I understand what Contributor C is saying about brush glazing but that is a deluxe method which absolutely requires a very high level of skill.

From the original questioner:
Thanks guys, I am not a professional in the finishing department that's for sure. I am actually color blind so it's next to impossible to become an expert at this. When it comes to the finishing part of a project I rely on others to tell me how it looks by the use of many samples. If I need to match to other pieces from a homeowner or designer I bug the hell out of others. A finishing class would be nice but I don't think it would help me much if I canít tell the difference between brown and green.

From contributor C:
What made you choose a color intensive business like wood finishing for a career? I commend your determination.

From the original questioner:

I prefer to just build the pieces but when I started this business I sent pieces out to so called professional finishers in the area. When they came back I wasn't happy with the finished product and realized I could make it look that bad by myself. Those professionals are not around anymore and I still am, so I must be doing something right. But, if it wasn't for others helping me out I wouldn't finish a thing.

From contributor S:
If I was doing this in my shop and it had to be top notch I would take a little bit from everyone who has contributed. My finish schedule would look like this:

1. Seal with Daly's Benite, let dry overnight.
2) Stain with a reduced stain (too get some color on wood. My problem with toning only is I can never get it dark enough with just toning without putting on too many coats on. While I agree with Contributor C about hand/brush glazing it is too labor intensive to do but one application of this).
3) Seal with clear coat.
4) Scuff sand.
5) Light topcoat with toned topcoat.
6) Light scuff sand.
7) Brush glaze.
8) Clear topcoat.

Innovative Cabinetry
From contributor I:
To the original questioner: what part of the country are you in? I think that there are companies that could help you out with what you are looking for.

From contributor S:
I sure don't like to mix oil based stains and water based topcoats but it can be done and we've done it successfully several times. If it is a medium to dark tone, a coat of Sealcoat is a good insurance plan after a day of stain dry time. If you have to go water-based over solvent base stain, then I wouldn't do it without at least a two day dry time (and the pieces need to have heat (65+) and air movement around them at that).

From contributor Y:
It is likely that your color coat will be okay but I would not do it that way. I'd use a clear bonding primer rather than a sanding sealer. Because sanding sealers have flour silica or similar substances in them which make them easier to sand but also weaker bonders.

They also dry fast (good) and are not particularly strong films (bad). Because they are normally intended to be embedded in the wood surface they are mostly designed to be easy to sand and do not generally include high bonding and film strength qualities. So I would use something like XIM 400 clear or a good polyurethane varnish in place of the sealer that you used.

Unlike Contributor S I have no fear of using water based products over oil based (or vice-versa either). In fact I do it very often and cannot remember any particular problems ever resulting from this practice. The one caveat is that within each base system you may be able to recoat over a less than fully dried layer whereas when alternating base systems you really need to be careful not to coat over partially dried layers.