Toner Exposing Surface Imperfections

Pros advise on the careful use of glaze and toner to enhance color and grain without calling attention to imperfections. August 3, 2009

I have been thinning my conversion lacquer 50% and adding dye to form a toner, and I have been very pleased with the results so far, except for one thing. All sorts of imperfections are showing up and even being magnified because the toner is not getting into these little cracks and voids... cherry mainly. I know this is due to surface tension or whatever, but what can I do about it, after the fact? I am thinking that going back with some matching glaze will do the trick, but I wanted to ask you folks first.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
Okay, glaze didn't do a thing... So there may be no fix? What do you do to combat this? Or am I doing something wrong... applying too much toner?

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Are you applying the toner over a sealed, smooth surface? Are you getting all your color from the toner or using it as the final coloring step?

From the original questioner:
This is my schedule. Spray dye, 50% gloss pre-cat wash, sand, Gemini glaze/wipe off, 50% gloss wash, 50% pre-cat lacquer with 4% dark walnut dye... Two pretty heavy coats. (All steps including lacquer used Gemini pre-cat Ultralac thinned 50%.) The cracks and joints are becoming evident towards the end of the toning process, when it is pretty thick and the wood is significantly darker.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I believe the toner is too dark. If you were only adding a shade or two of color with the toner, it would not accentuate the surface imperfections so much. The simplest solution is to get most of the color you want with the dye on bare wood. Then use the glaze to accentuate the grain and profiles, and the toner for the final color accent.

If I were doing a similar finish, these are the steps I'd use:
- Dye bare wood to 80% or more of the final color
- Seal with a washcoat of vinyl sealer
- Sand smooth
- Glaze
- Seal with an unthinned wet coat of vinyl sealer
- Sand smooth
- Toner
- Topcoat

The vinyl sealer before and after the glaze promotes good adhesion. The unthinned coat of vinyl sealer after the glaze also gives you a good base for the toner.

The picture below is an example of this finish. The door on the right has the dye and glaze while the door on the left also has the toner. The toner only adds a small portion of the final color.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From the original questioner:
Okay, then supposing I need to go very dark, is it better to apply more applications of lighter dye to achieve my color, or fewer applications of a much more concentrated solution?

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
That depends on what you're comfortable with. Do you have the time to spray multiple light coats? Can you ensure you spray the same amount on every piece in the job to ensure color consistency? Can you spray medium to dark dye colors without producing stripes? What about inside corners where the air from the spray gun tends to keep the color from getting down into the corner?

Personally, I'd recommend combining dye, stain, and toner for really dark colors on woods that are not already really dark and are prone to blotching. It's easier and produces consistent results. Take a look at the link below.

Combining dye, stain, and toner

From the original questioner:
Paul, your articles are awesome! Suppose I want to use this 3 step layering system on maple... Step two is where I get fuzzy.

1) I apply a dye via spray to achieve the majority of my color.

2) I can apply an oil base stain to the wood after the dye... and that would be plain old staining. But this will probably result in blotching, as usually happens to maple when an oil based stain is applied.

Or I could apply a washcoat before the stain, which would make the color more even, but much lighter. Stain applied after a washcoat could be called "glazing".

3) Seal the stain/glazing coat, sand, and apply a light toner, etc.

Do you ever layer different colors of dye in the initial dye stage?

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:

Some stains will blotch on maple (or any other wood) and some won't. Within any brand of stain, you can find colors that will do a much better job than others. As an example, ML Campbell's Cherry or Traditional Cherry stain will color cherry wood pretty evenly if applied right. But Chemcraft's Cherry stain will cause blotching on solid cherry but not so much on cherry plywood/veneer.

Knowing that, I can use a dye on the wood and follow it with one of the stains that doesn't blotch and get a third color (the combination of dye and stain) that's unique. That approach comes in handy when matching other finishes or making a color that no one else offers. For example, you can dye the wood a golden brown color and then use a cherry stain followed by a cool brown toner to get a walnut color that has warm reddish brown tones to it with golden highlights (from the initial dye). At a glance, the final finish looks like a walnut color but you used a cherry stain in the process because it doesn't blotch on that wood. There are lots of other combinations using other stain colors from different brands that don't cause blotching.

But, staining over a washcoat (or glazing) is also a good approach. You do lose a lot of color intensity since the stain doesn't soak into the wood. That's when you want to do samples and make sure you replace the lost color (and even change it) in the first dye step.

I do not apply dyes to the bare wood in multiple steps in most cases. There are times when it's useful on highly figured hardwoods like curly maple, but generally it's just added work. I prefer to do samples where I work out the color and strength of the dye I use in the first step. I always apply it the same way instead of trying to adjust by spray pattern or fluid flow. That way it always looks uniform.

You can make color corrections by applying one color of dye over another. But I like to find that out during the sample process and just mix the two dyes together in the proportion that produces the look I want.

I like to keep the schedule as simple as I can, though I have made errors over the years and ended up with an extra coat or two of different colored toners to get the result I needed. For example, the first time I used a stain that colored veneer evenly but caused blotching on hardwood caught me by surprise. I had already stained the European cabinets (no face frame) and started in on the doors and trim. Right in the middle of the job, I had to figure out how to use a washcoat on the solid wood and end up with the same color that was already on the cases. From then on, I always did my samples on plywood/veneer and solid wood to avoid the same surprise.

Keep all your samples and label the steps in detail. Do good size samples since little ones can look deceivingly good.

From the original questioner:
"You can make color corrections by applying one color of dye over another. But I like to find that out during the sample process and just mix the two dyes together in the proportion that produces the look I want."

That puts one to bed... thanks.

Form contributor B:
I suggest only using spray stain/rubbing stain, sealing the door, and using an oil glaze to follow it up, if needed. You should be able to achieve pretty much any color this way, as long as you chose the right dye/stain to start with on the naked wood. Also, if you use unthinned lacquer, you're only allowed to add 1 ounce of tint to it before it starts to weaken the coat. Now let's say you spray it 50/50, now you cut it down and it takes you to about 1/2 ounce tint to a quart... That is pretty weak, and the color variation is only visible after applying 2 or more coats. I suggest rethinking your coloring process to speed things up, and avoid having to tint. Tint is pretty much what you do in a last ditch effort to color match a piece for a job that didn't match. If you apply a tinted coat, and put down a coat that was too heavy, you get excess build on your edges and any slight hole in the wood, or large pore, can cause color variation where the coat started to build vertically. (Kind of resembles a vertical "sag".) Also, beware on tinter jobs when spraying large objects, such as a refrigerator panel, as on larger objects you are forced to spray a heavier coat to avoid dry spots, and that must be taken into account, as heavier coats = darker results. So 2 heavy coats on an 8x4 foot fridge panel will be darker than 2 heavy coats on a small sized 1x1 door, even if they were the exact same color to start with. Although I will say, sometimes adding that tint can create gorgeous rich color tones.