Opening the Grain on Polished Molding

A discussion of how to prepare wood grain to better accept an oil-based stain. March 29, 2006

What is the best procedure to raise the grain on polished wood pieces, to allow the stain to penetrate and give depth of color by only wiping the stain on? I have used straight water and it works ok but sometimes makes the wood stain ugly. Someone mentioned this in a recent post that I cannot find - it was a mixture of water and some solvent?? Will straight water change the MC?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
If you want the wood to stain darker, sand it with sandpaper that is rougher – do not polish it out; maybe120 grit or 150 grit, depending on the type of wood. The other solvent you mentioned to mix with water is methanol, or denatured alcohol. That doesn't make the wood take a darker stain. In fact, sometimes it is the opposite - but it does raise the fibers.

From the original questioner:
I am actually using a molding sander. I have tried many combinations of grits and speed. Being too aggressive leaves scratches, and being not aggressive enough leaves it polished. My best combination is 180 on the front wheel to sand out chatter and 220 on the back wheel to sand out the front wheel scratches. Still, our stain doesn’t take to the depth of color I need.

From contributor A:
In that case the water mixture might just open up the grain to accept more stain. The methanol makes the application of the mixture dry faster. A water stain may be the way to go here. Have you tried that? What type stain are you using now? Are these pieces face frames and doors that you want to stain darker? I understand what you are saying about the polished result. I get outsourced doors that are polished like you said, and the face frames are not, and therefore take stain differently.

From the original questioner:
We get most of our doors prefinished from Conestoga and we use their stains. We struggle with our doors also sometimes. I tried a 50/50 mix and it seemed to do well on our molding. Is that about the right ratio?

From contributor B:
When you mention raising the grain, I assume you refer to the procedure where you sand the surface ready for stain (180g), then raise the grain by wiping the wood surface with a damp sponge, let it dry(raise the grain) then lightly sand off the fuzz using 220g. That should give a nice smooth surface for staining. You shouldn't use solvent or alcohol when raining the grain.

Depending upon the wood you use you may get varying results all the way from great to blotchy (pine, birch, maple), and extremely hard woods like maple don't take dark stains like soft woods. Therefore, in some cases you must use other procedures such as pre-stain conditioning. If you want penetration and depth I suggest you consider using waterbased dyes for the color.

From contributor C:
Use water and denatured alcohol mixed 50/50. Mist it on and let dry before staining.

From contributor D:
Conestoga does not sand raw wood beyond 180 grit. If you sand to 220 the stain will not take the same as your prefinished doors and if you are using CV as a top coat you might have adhesion problems. If you don’t already have Conestoga’s finishing instructions you should really get them. Their whole process is very simple.

From contributor E:
You said you're wiping it on - perhaps they're spraying, and/or using glazes toners etc. Do you have finishing instructions and schedule from them?

From the original questioner:
I have visited Conestoga’s factory and have known their process for about 10 years now. I am trying to achieve the color in our sanding/staining dept. and not in our finishing department, like we must do sometimes. When you use molding machines or other machines for sanding or denibbing most of the applications will be with 180 and 220 or less in my experience. I wish there was a way to use the molding sander with 180 -120 without leaving scratches.

From contributor F:
If you absolutely must stick with the factory's oil stain, I suggest a compromise. Before applying the oil stain, use a very dilute alcohol stain. It can be sprayed or wiped. This will both pop the grain and give it a little color - or a lot, if you need it. This will not interfere with the absorption of the oil stain once the alcohol has dried, which happens quite fast. Many finish professionals will demand that dyes are only for spraying, but I have finished thousands of square feet of wood with wiped on dye stains.

Conversely, if you have already stained with an oil stain, you can tone it with alcohol soluble dyes, wiped on. Read "Adventures in Wood Finishing" by George Frank. The colors imparted by dye stains are far superior to pigmented stains as they color the fiber rather than sit like mud on the surface. I use pigments too, when necessary.