Matching Stain Jobs on Black Walnut

Along with stain characteristics, wood grain is an important factor in matching a finish. April 29, 2012

I was reviewing the Knowledge Base article titled "A Detailed Discussion on Staining Kiln-Dried Walnut. " and it is of particular interest to me due to an issue I'm having with staining black walnut. I install pre-finished hardwood floors and a customer has lengths of kiln-dried of black walnut he wants to use as a threshold between his ceramic tile and the hardwood he wants installed. Of course I need to stain the black walnut lengths to match the hardwood.

The hardwood is walnut and looks pretty much like what Contributor D has posted in the Knowledge Base article. Very distinctive dark to light shades of the grains with an amber hue. This is why this article caught my attention. I don't do staining by trade but I want to do a good job matching. So this message is mostly targeted to Contributor D on his dye color (and brand if possible) and what was used as a sealer and oil topcoats (I assume WB wasn't used in this case based on the preference he mentioned).

Staining Black Walnut

Click here for higher quality, full size image

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From the original questioner:
I would like to add that I've tried various colors of the basic Minwax stains on practice pieces but they all just seem to come out the same color throughout the walnut pieces Ė very dark, with minimal grain distinction.

From contributor B:
It's possible a light dye could've been used first but I don't think so. To my eye this doesn't look like it's stained at all. Either a solvent based finish thatís ambered over time or a coat of shellac then clear coated.

From contributor B:
Well I responded before I read the KB article. If you want it even you'll have to use a stain/dye that's at least close to the darkest tones of your clientís walnut. I use General Finishes dyes/stains and WB finish with great results.

From the original questioner:
I too was wondering about using shellac as seal coat and then top coating. I've left my last spare piece of walnut with a local furniture refinisher. He's going to play with it to see what he can come up with. I'll have to wait a few days to see the outcome of that. In the meantime Iím going to buy another length to do more experimenting. I was thinking of first trying an ambered shellac, but I think that may be waxed and may pose a problem if top coating after. I hear that's not good. ďUse a dye least close to the darkest tones' you say.Ē I'm not sure I fully understand. Do you mean match the lightest tone in the wood?

From contributor B:
If you're trying to get even color you'll have to match (or close to) the darkest color of your walnut.

From the original questioner:
Just so it's clear for everyone else, I have no problem getting one even color. My problem is getting a match on the wood grain which is many different shades - very much like, if not exactly like, the picture posted.

From contributor B:
Well you'll have to find some wood which matches. Those look like crotch veneers.

From contributor E:
Based on the picture you posted that is not just plain old walnut. You need to find a source of the proper material first. The picture shows a lot of burl which stains a lot darker than the adjacent sap wood. As Contributor B said you first need to match the wood, defiantly crotch cut, but I doubt that itís veneer on a floor, could be, but either way, no way to match something like that without starting with the same material.

From the original questioner:
I gathered from Contributor B's response I was probably showing a picture of wood that's different than what I'm dealing with. Thanks for confirming. I assumed it was the same wood based on the nature of the KB thread I initially referenced, where the initiator was dealing with greyish/brown black walnut. The black walnut I have does show some various tones in the grain, so I assumed I could get them to stand out like the picture. The hardwood I'm installing is very much like the picture - perhaps a bit darker. Any tips on how I can get an amber/orange hue to black walnut? I'm thinking of Contributor B's initial response of using shellac. I'm not crazy about that as the walnut is going on a floor and needs to be resilient to being walked on.

From contributor H:
I'd start with several coats of shellac. Don't worry about it being walked on - just follow the shellac with things that can take the wear.

From contributor B:
I wouldn't worry too much about trying to match that color, that dye is very light and would basically fade out in the not too distant future. Any solvent base poly floor finish would match that color after some time. I recently refinished my own maple floors using GF's WB enduro-var and it has a nice amber right out of the can (five coats sprayed).

As far as shellac, you could use it just don't go heavy with it. Top it with a coat of dewaxed shellac, then follow with your regular finish. Personally
for as much traffic/damage a floor is going to take it's not worth the effort. After all the scuffing and dulling of the floor you won't be able appreciate the depth of color (which needs at least a semi-gloss finish to highlight it).

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Would you expect the same color when staining side by side pieces of end grain and flat grain? The end grain is more absorptive, so the stain will look deeper in color. That is what you have here, as the wood cells near the center of a limb or the tree will behave like end grain and will be more absorptive. It is also likely that this wood near the center has more cellulose (which is cotton) and less lignin (the stiffener in wood), so this center wood (sometimes called juvenile core wood) will also be more absorptive because of the high cellulose. So, this difference is inherent on the wood, and therefore, as mentioned, a clear sealer can be used so that stain penetration is uniform.