It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been playing with staining and finally have something to show for it. I spent about a week experimenting – and I think I ended up with more test boards that actual boards that needed stain – lol!
After all my tests, I found this woodwhisperer’s video:
Which was EXACTLY what I needed to see. I think I could’ve cut out a lot of testing if I’d seen that first!
I played with a lot of dye/wood conditioner/stain combos. As you know, I’m trying to make maple dark, and maple is one of those woods that will blotch all to hell. I tried like 3 different wood conditioners, but they all SUCKED compared to shellac. Shellac is like a miracle solution for blotching. But shellac didn’t let any color in. That’s about when I found the wood whisperer video where he used a combo of shellac with a General Finishes gel stain in Java. That stain is so rich and so dark, it will color anything, I bet. It is awesome. It is a bit chocolately, though, and I wanted just a hint of red, so I dyed the wood first with Transtint in Brown Mahogany, and that gives the finish its red and the layering adds some depth to the color.
So here’s my finishing plan, which I’m writing down so that I will remember it for the next wave of staining:
Sand to 180
raise the grain with water, let dry, sand to 180 again
dye with transtint brown mahogany in water (I don’t know the exact dilution, it’s about 30-40 drops in about half a deli container’s worth of water – I think the container might be about a quart) I basically just flood the surface with a paintbrush, then wipe off the excess with paper towels. Let dry, any grain that came up this time can be taken care of with a 3M 00 scrubby.
Wipe everything down with mineral spirits to clean it off and let dry.
Wipe on a layer of 50:50 Zinssner Seal Coat shellac:denatured alcohol. You have to be fast and get it on as evenly as you can and quickly wipe up excess. Let dry about 15 minutes.
General Finishes Java gel stain – use a foam brush to slap it on, then wipe off. I’ve noticed that if the temp is 70 or more, then it will get tacky fairly quickly and be harder to wipe off, so don’t cover too much at once before wiping. You have to be firm with the wiping, and get most of it back off. One coat is plenty dark, it’s incredible.
General Finishes Gel Topcoat – put on the same way as the stain. At least 3 coats.
I love, love, LOVE the General Finishes. It even smells nice. I’ve never had a stain and topcoat be so goofproof. I’m so pleased with the finish – it is so smooth and pristine, I can’t believe I accomplished it without using some sort of sprayer. The only downside to this system is that you have to wait overnight between coats, and it makes the process take a long time. The maple still blotches a little bit where the grain is the most dramatic, but nowhere near as bad as a regular stain/wood conditioner. It’s just enough to give the wood some character without looking sloppy.
Shellac is made by a bug! Called the Lac bug. I had no idea! It was cool to see some biology (my field) in woodworking.
Transtint dye in alcohol vs. water. I was experimenting putting the dye in alcohol. It goes on fine, but as it dries, it produces this weird color pattern in the wood that makes it look like fish scales. I wouldn’t recommend putting the dye in alcohol because of this. Water works much better.
The reason I raised the grain first instead of just letting the dye step raise the grain is because sanding the grain back down takes off too much dye if I don’t do it beforehand.
If I was doing some more experimenting, I would try the same schedule, but maybe sand to 240 and use full-strength Seal Coat. I’m a bit curious about how that would look. But I am happy with what I have so far.
Here’s a picture of my final finish, I still haven’t actually put the face frame together yet, but you can get an idea of what it all will look like:
It’s a little blurry since you could see the color better without the flash. Though it still looks redder in this picture than it does it real life.