unconventional dyes

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Blog entry by coolhand posted 01-13-2011 07:08 AM 4244 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So, I have been carving some spoons out of maple for some christmas gifts and I started finding some really incredible figure in the maple I was using. So I decided to try out a trick that guitar makers use to pop the grain—the two stage dye job!

The idea is to dye the wood with a dark base color, sand it back so that the dark color only stays in the figured grain, then dye again with the lighter color. Add a glossy top coat and you have the deepest looking figure around.

So since I was making spoons I wanted to try it just for fun with dyes made from food safe product… well, actually they are food products.

I wanted a deep amber/yellow look to the spoons so I looked in the cupboards for something dark brown to use as the base, and something brighter yellow to finish with. I found some fake coffee stuff called Caffix, and some yellow food coloring. (I probably would have used another food coloring for the base, but I couldn’t find any so I went with the caffix).

I first wet the entire piece with a rag so that the “dye” would go on evenly. Then, I used a rag to wipe on a really concentrated mix of this caffix stuff (probably three tablespoons of crystals to 1/8 cup of hot water).

It actually gave a nice antique maple look on it’s own

After setting this aside to dry, I sanded it back with 120 grit to do most of the work, then 220 and 320 as I got closer to removing all of the dye from the spoon except for in the figure.

Then I re-wet the piece, and lightly sanded with 320 to knock down the fibers, allowed to dry, then wet the piece again. Next I repeated the dye process with the yellow food coloring (mixed with hot water). After dying with the food coloring the piece looked surprisingly good even without a top coat (these dye jobs can look deceptively bad until they have a top coat, but this one looked cool)

here is a pic of the test piece right after the yellow dye was added

Here is a pic of one of the spoons after a coat of mineral oil (Not really a top coat, but added enough sheen to look really good even after the oil had been wiped off)

In person it created that really deep 3D effect you see on nice guitars. You won’t see that in the pics, but compare with an undyed spoon I made with the same design.

It turned out really cool, but I am sure it will wear out quickly with use and washing. But since this was just for fun I wasn’t worried about trying to preserve the finish on a piece that will be abused.

I am going to be trying other dyes on projects as the chance arises, just for fun… not making any statements or anything, I’m just a curious guy. One thing to keep in mind though is that some of these products can create a film (the caffix did) that you will need to look out for.

Anyway, I hope you got a kick out of this.

2 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4240 days

#1 posted 01-13-2011 02:41 PM

I find this intriguing!
I hope I see more experiments.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View rance's profile


4260 posts in 3240 days

#2 posted 01-13-2011 03:07 PM

Nice finish you are getting there. “Sanding back…” sounds similar to Trifern's method. Nice idea with the (instant?)coffee and food dye too. Other alternatives include tea bags and used coffee grounds.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

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