Reply by live4ever

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Posted on Birch stained to antique mahogony

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983 posts in 3004 days

#1 posted 01-23-2012 07:17 PM

Many of the lighter woods (maple, birch, pine, etc.) are prone to blotching when stained, especially with dyes in thin solvent (water or oil).

It’s a common desire to stain these woods dark because lots of commercial furniture, like the table in question, is made with a cheaper wood but stained a dark color. Commercial furniture manufacturers have access to finishing equipment that we don’t have in hobbyist or small shops, such as the ability to “bake on” numerous layers of finish easily.

Can it be done? Of course, but it will take some trial and error. The first step is to use a gel stain, which will penetrate more evenly compared to dye that is dissolved in a thinner solvent. Alternatively, you can start with a prestain conditioner, such as Charles Neil’s product. Note that conditioners have the benefit of evening out the stain with the drawback that less stain penetrates overall, so you might not be able to get as dark as you want. If the staining process does not get the color you want after 2-3 applications, you must then tint your top coat of choice with dye to further darken or modify the overall color. Note that this has the downside of potentially obscuring the grain of the wood if you add too much toning to your topcoats. Of course, in commercial furniture, most of the grain is obscured and nobody seems to care. Clarity in a finish is a personal decision. Some folks want a more even, dark finish and don’t mind obscuring the grain. Achieving clarity is, of course, more difficult.

At a minumum, you’ll be looking at applying a gel stain, sealer, followed by your choice of varnish/lacquer/poly as a topcoat. As I mentioned, the topcoats may need to be tinted with dye if the stain didn’t get the wood as dark as you wanted. This works much, much better if you are spray finishing.

If you’re new to the finishing process and want the best-looking outcome with the least frustration, my recommendation FWIW would be to build out of a wood that tolerates dark stain without blotching, such as mahogany or walnut. Yes, the wood cost will be double compared to birch, but you might save yourself some major finishing headaches.

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