Working with NGR Stain

Advice on how to achieve a desired effect with successive applications of NGR stain. July 14, 2010

When using a NGR stain do you try to pick a color that is close to, but not as dark, as your final color?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor K:
Rule number one of staining: do finished samples first! With NGR's and other dye stains, it is always possible to thin them to a lighter shade or to add other dye colors. If a dye stain is applied fully wet, it will give you an idea of what the color will be once a finish is applied. Typically, once a dye dries on the wood, the color will have a different look that it will after a finish is applied. If for some reason, you decide that the color is too dark after you have applied the dye, you can wash it out by wiping it with the appropriate thinner, but that can produce an uneven effect and can be time-consuming. Itís better to develop the color that you want by using sample boards, then applying the dye to the piece.

Keep in mind that once a dye is flooded on and allowed to soak into the wood and dry, applying the dye again will not darken the color. That is not true if you are adding the NGR to your finish. As you apply each coat, the color will get darker. Also it takes more finesse to apply the color evenly.

From the original questioner:
What I am asking is who do you determine what color to use for your dye stain? That could vary from person to person correct?

From contributor K:
I guess I'm not quite sure what it is you are trying to get at. Maybe you can give a little more background info on what you want to achieve. Are you doing the staining/finishing yourself, or are you looking to have someone else do it for you?

From contributor F:
Iím not an expert on the color wheel by any means, but here is what I have found. The base color can set the tone for the finished piece. If you apply a wiping stain to a light colored wood such as maple, then apply that same wiping stain to a wood like cherry. Obviously the final color will be different due to the actual color of the wood or the "base" color. Now if you were to take an NGR that will turn that maple base color to something that matches the cherry, when you apply the wiping stain to the maple, the color on the maple and the cherry without dye will be very similar in color.

So that is one way that you can use NGRs - alter the base color of the wood to set the tone for the stain. For example, I know a lot of people start out staining walnut with a yellow NGR to help warm up the base color.

You can also just take an NGR that kind of matches your stain color, and use it to darken the wood initially, then go over with the wiping stain. Not only does this create a very rich and deep looking color, but it also helps to eliminate blotching on woods such as maple, cherry, birch, etc.

So how do you know what color NGR to use - samples and experience. Spray up a bunch of pieces with various colors of NGR's, seal with a washcoat, then start putting different color stains on them to see how they affect the final color. You should have samples with just the wiping stain to compare to a base reference so you know how the NGR has affected the final color. As contributor K points out, make sure you put a clear over top of your samples as this will drastically change the color of the dye/stain.

From the original questioner:
I am staining a maple set of cabinets like contributor F said. They need to be sort of a medium dark brown. What I came up with is a spice maple NGR stainsprayed on then come back with my brown stain. I noticed that you say put a wash coat between NGR and the stain. I was reading on another one of the forums to put awash coat after the stain and then if you need to darken your color a little mix a little stain or NGR in with your finish and use as a toner. When you mix a wash coat what is your mix ratio. Back to my original question I guess you answered that one.

From contributor F:
When I use an NGR I will adjust my pressure so it is atomizing very fine. I hold my gun about twice as far than when I am spraying clears and make at least four passes with each pass going perpendicular to the first (box coating). It is sort of "fogged" on and the color is built slowly. I like to build the color in at least four passes so there is more even coverage.

After the NGR has dried, I will apply a 5% washcoat on top of the NGR. To make a 5% washcoat, you first need to find out the solids by volume of your clear coat, and then thin it till you get to 5% solids. Spray a normal wet coat with the washcoat.

After the washcoat has dried, rub a fine ScotchBrite pad over the surface to just help smooth out any grain raising, etc. Just a quick swipe with the ScotchBrite is all that is needed. The washcoat is used to help prevent the NGR from lifting when you apply your wiping stain and also controls blotching of the wiping stain.

Next apply your wiping stain as you normally would. Spray or wipe on, then wipe off. When the stain is dry spray a clear coat. Sand this with a 320 grit sponge and then spray another coat of clear and you are done. If the color needs to be altered, I will add a toner coat between the two coats of clear.

From contributor K:
There are many methods that can be used in the finishing process. Putting a dye stain on the piece and then adding a finish is one. Using a pigmented stain is another. Putting the dye on and then adding a pigmented oil stain, followed by finish coats is still one more method. The end effects are totally different. Typically, I would not use a wash coat between the two types of stains. I have never been a fan of using a wash coat for color control; it is difficult to consistently get the right degree of wash. Too thick of a wash coat and the oil stain does not adhere well, leaving you with erratic results. Too thin of a coat, inconsistently applied, can also cause erratic results.

Knowledge of the properties of stains and finishes is all-important. For instance, oil-based stains are not designed to be used over a finish coat. And that can pertain to a wash coat applied too heavily. The finish may have filled the pores of the wood, so the less there is the less area for the pigment to reside in. Since there is very little bit" of the stain into the finish, it mostly gets wiped off. Having said the above, have I ever used an oil-based stain over a finish coat? Yes, but it has to be applied extremely light and it has to fully cure over a few days before I can apply a finish. That's just one technique and it is not for everyone.

I say all the above to point out that there are hundreds of possible ways to apply color and finish to wood. I know that you are looking for specific answers, but the last place to experiment is on the customers' pieces. You have to find the processes that consistently work for you. We on the forum may tell you what to do, but until you see the results, using your own eyes and taking into account your own particular spraying capabilities, it won't mean much.

The key is to learn what colors of dyes and/or stains (or their combinations) plus the techniques will produce the desired (hoped for) end result. The other key is to be able to produce that result again and again. There are many books on the market about finishing. Woodcraft keeps them in their stores. If you can, go look them over. The best books show color photos of the processes. Buy two or more different books.

Off of your topic, but contributor F's statement about warming up walnut is true. When filling walnut I use an orange-colored filler. Most of us might think that putting orange in would be garish, but it produces a stunning result and there is no evidence of a strong orange color visible.

It is a money-loser to try to experiment with a new technique or process on a customer's piece. One of the important aspects of a successful shop is reproducibility. To the degree that you can, set up a series of sample cabinets using the woods that you typically use, or at least doors that your customers can review and choose from. Really it will simplify so much. Now the customer has something concrete to choose from. That is better than describing sort of a medium dark brown to a customer, because it will be a given that the color he sees in his mind's eye will be different than what you are picturing. The customer saying, "door #3" takes out the guesswork. The truth of the matter is that you can make the finest cabinets in the world as far as the construction quality goes. If the color and finishing isn't done correctly in the customerís opinion then you will not prosper.

From contributor F:
Contributor K is right on. Talk to a hundred finishers about how to color the wood and you will get a hundred slightly different answers. As far as books are concerned, I think Ron Bryze has the best book. Most books are aimed at the home hobbyist, however Ronís book is for the professional and tells you how to use industrial products.