“Popping” curly maple is something I’ve wanted to try for some time, so I decided to test it on drawer fronts for a slant cabinet I built last year. My buddies at O-P Hardwood were out of curly maple so I ended up using curly maple veneer.
The aniline dye I chose was W.D. Lockwood Early American Maple Yellow from Tools for Working Wood. There are great instructions for the preparation and use of this dye on the web site. The main two things I’d emphasize are: (1) use hot, distilled water to mix the dye powder; and, (2) be sure to make test strips on the same material upon which you’ll actually be using the dye.
First, I mixed the dye as instructed in a quart jar, labeling it “1:0” for full strength. The second mix was to fill a pint jar half full with the “1:0” mix and add distilled water for the other half, labeling it “1:1” for half strength. The last mix was to fill another pint jar half full with the “1:1” mix and add distilled water for the other half, labeling it “1:3” for one-quarter strength.
The next photograph is the unfinished veneer panel before dying. I prepared a second, identical panel so that I could leave it un-dyed as a control to see the actual difference the dye would make:
After dampening the veneer and gluing it to a substrate, there were what appeared to be mold spots in the veneer when it dried (which you can see if you look close at the above photograph and left of center). Therefore, I treated the surfaces of both the control and test strips with hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide bleached the wood and removed the mold discoloration. Below, you can see the difference in the color of the hydrogen peroxide treated control sample (top) and the color of a strip of untreated veneer (bottom):
Next, I tested three different dye strength samples on hard maple. The test strength is marked on each of the samples. These samples use veneer in the top and bottom panels and a plain hard maple strip in the middle. All of these samples are shown after being finished (I used Minwax Fast Drying Satin Polyurethane):
Finally, the next photograph presents the comparison between a finished, treated (hydrogen peroxide), unstained control panel (top), an unfinished, untreated (no hydrogen peroxide) strip of veneer (middle), and the finished, treated (hydrogen peroxide) strip as tested with the aniline dye mixes indicated on the sample (bottom):
The curly maple pops on both the un-dyed, treated and finished (top) control strip and the dyed, treated and finished test strip (bottom). However, to my eye there was a difference with the aniline dye providing greater contrast and a more pleasing “pop” to the grain than found in the un-dyed strip. I used one application (identified as “1×1:3”) of 25% dye for my drawer fronts.
The big take away from my experiment was that test strips with the actual wood and technique being used in the final product are absolutely mandatory if you want to know what your final product is going to look like. Also, the use of hydrogen peroxide bleaches the wood so that when it is finished, the hard maple remains light and not yellowed as it otherwise turns out.
As a side note, in the mid 1980s I recall talking with an well seasoned, finish carpenter who used a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and rubbed it into the wood with steel wool (OOOO) to bleach walnut paneling before he stained it to a consistent and uniform color. His contention was that the process resulted in a more stable color that didn’t fade or change color with age. In looking at that paneling after some 30-years, it appears his contention has merit.
Hopefully, these observations will be of some assistance to anyone considering the use of aniline dye. I used water because it was recommended for hand application, but you can also use denatured alcohol that is recommended for spray application.
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