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View Coleby's profile

Staining Maple

by Coleby
posted 10-07-2010 03:30 AM

18 replies so far

View SST's profile


790 posts in 4434 days

#1 posted 10-07-2010 04:03 AM

It almost sounds like you’ve discovered the difficulties be staining it already, but assuming that’s not so, I’d practice with some stains on scrap pieces the check for the results you want. Also, you might want to consider giving it a coat of Zinsser’s sanding sealer & lightly sanding or steel wooling it before staining to help prevent blotchiness. But always practice first on scrap. You might want to try a couple of colors of gel stain to see if you like the way it applies. -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4001 days

#2 posted 10-07-2010 04:15 AM

Maple is hard & dense, so the relatively large pigment particles can’t penetrate the wood very well. They even highlight the sanding scratches.

Try some dyes instead, like TransTint, a concentrated dye that you mix with water.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3367 posts in 3348 days

#3 posted 10-07-2010 04:22 AM

Why would you use maple if you want a dark finished product? I don’t understand. If you want figure, that’s OK. But you’ll have to use a sealer if you want some sort of “uniform” finish on maple. And, like 8iowa says, dye’s a better bet…but only if you want “pop”.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3090 days

#4 posted 10-07-2010 05:04 PM

Both your woods are notorious for blotching.

Minwax makes a product for this: Minwax Pre-Stain wood conditioner.

paste from the MW site:

Application tool: cloth or brush
Dry time: 15 minutes
Stain Application: after 15 minutes, but no more than 2 hours
Cleanup: mineral spirits or paint thinner, following manufacturer’s safety instructions
Coverage: 125 sq. ft. per quart
Coats: normally 1, but additional coats may be applied on highly absorbent woods
Recommended uses: any soft or porous woods – common examples include pine, fir and spruce (soft) or maple, alder and aspen (porous)

end paste.

I have used it but not with astonishing success. It was an improvement over not using it.

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View Max's profile


56000 posts in 4513 days

#5 posted 10-07-2010 05:57 PM

I have had success using a dye as mentioned above and then put a spit coat of shellac over that, then when dry a light sanding with 0000 steel wool or a buffing pad (gray). Then apply a coat of Gel stain to get the color and tone you want. Hope this helps.

-- Max "Desperado", Salt Lake City, UT

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 3384 days

#6 posted 10-07-2010 06:41 PM

Two parts to this post.

First; Preventing this in the future.
The technique I use for getting dark stains in Maple is based on instructions graciously posted by M. Spagnuolo on his site ( and the technicial musings at woodweb. It isn’t perfect, but I’m getting closer to a piano finish given time.

1. Moisten maple with damp cloth, you’re only looking to raise the grain not force enough water in to warp the wood
2. Sand to 120, 180, 220, with perferred method, you’re looking to prep an even and smooth surface, knocking down all the raised grain
3. Coat with dewaxed 1lb (Zinsser Sanding Sealer cut 50% with Denatured Alcohol) thinly
4. Mix Analine (TransTint like 8iowa suggests above) dye with water, apply by rag with a light hand. You have some protection from oversaturation from the shellac sanding sealer, but even with dye you can cause slight blotching with maple/birch ply. You won’t get the color you want in the first coat, for darker applications it is more like five to ten.
5. Once dry at the right hue you’ll want to apply a tinted dewaxed shellac (2lb) using a slightly more warm shade than used in the water based dye. Analine dyes are remarkably flat, the shellac overcoat is intended to warm the color. Again a light hand since the dyes will react with the alcohol, not enough force to move them around
6. Top coat with your preferred finish. Oil and Urethene will provide a very durable finish, poly will also work if you want a bulletproof finish.

Second, dealing with the situation of a blotchy entertainment center sitting in your shop

If you have time you can strip the surface using a dichloromethane based stain/varnish stripper. Please note, it is very caustic, will cause a first degree chemical burn if applied to skin. Wear gloves, wear goggles, work with plenty of fresh air. For the solid wood parts an alternative is to sand, but on ply parts you’ll have to be careful. Once you’ve removed the stain you can go ahead with a coloring/finishing routine

If you’re “out of time” on the project then you’ll have to use a tinted shellac/glaze method that will obscure the grain. You’re looking to create a smooth finish by applying full strength tinted shellac and glaze coat. Stick with dewaxed to avoid topcoat problems, and apply enough coats to hide the blotchiness.

Best of luck

View Coleby's profile


29 posts in 3030 days

#7 posted 10-07-2010 07:17 PM

Thank you everyone! Atomjack, I really did not plan on staining this piece dark to start with. I thought about some sort of clear coat but my wife changed her mind and thought it would better match our den with a darker color. Everyone’s advice has been very helpful. I will try a few such as the dyes and gel stain with of course the prestain before going through with anything.

Jonathan Dean

-- Dean,

View Jonnyfurniture's profile


59 posts in 3066 days

#8 posted 10-08-2010 12:50 AM

I use dye stains from Mohawk or Behlen or M L Campbell has stains that will wipe and or spray well. I have found these methods produce the best clarity with no blotching. No mixing or sealer coats before staining. Good for toning uneven color also.

The reason to choose maple and stain it dark is that it is a wood that is relatively cheap with nice tight grain features that can be made to look like a variety of woods.

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 4026 days

#9 posted 10-08-2010 03:11 AM

The only thing I would add to the above is about the min-wax stain conditioner. I have had much better luck letting it dry overnight. Then wipe with a rag damp with mineral spirits. If an area soaks in/dries much more quickly than the surrounding area, coat that area again and repeat the overnight dry. The “soak in” area is where you will have a darker blotch in your stain. When it is even, then lightly scuff sand before applying your stain. If the stain will not penetrate, use a higher grit sandpaper with a block and with the grain. The more porous wood should still stay sealed unless you over-sand.

The spirits wipe also will work with the Zinsser, (overnight dry not needed) altho I have not tried the cutting the 2# mix to 1#, which I will in the future. Thank you Nathan Allen for the tip.


-- Go

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 3384 days

#10 posted 10-08-2010 05:31 PM

Gofor, exactly, technically we should be using flakes, but having dewaxed #2 that can be cut to #1 and sit on the shelf about a year is too convienent.

And thank you for the tip on Minwax, I’ve avoided staining maple because I could never get the samples right even with conditioner, but mineral spirits should help identify those spots.

View Beeguy's profile


179 posts in 3876 days

#11 posted 10-15-2010 09:03 PM

I am sure by now you have decided on a process, but I thought I would throw this out. I use Seal Coat cut 50/50 with alcohol as NathanAllen described. I, however, favor gel stains for these types of hard to stain woods especially if trying for a dark color. I have had really good success with them. The General Finish products seem to work the best for me but I have used other brands with good results too. Charles Neil also sells a water based product that does a great job as a seal coat. Using it or using the shellac method described above I have been able to get excellent looking results using pine and popular in addition to maple.

-- Ron, Kutztown, PA "The reward is in the journey."

View Coleby's profile


29 posts in 3030 days

#12 posted 10-19-2010 02:44 AM

Ron thanks for the advice! Do you have a recommendation for which general finish gel stain to use. I was thinking the antique walnut but I want a dark color but not so dark it looks black! I want to see the grain patterns and bring out my work. Let me know if you have a suggestion. Thanks!

-- Dean,

View Blakep's profile


232 posts in 3042 days

#13 posted 10-20-2010 03:26 AM

I did a recent project out of maple ply and had no problem with any blotching on the plywood (the solid hard maple is another story for a different time). I used minwax pre stain conditioner with minwax red mahogany oil based stain. It is my only project posted on here but you cant really see the plywood. All you can see is the solid drawer fronts and they turned out horribly blotchy but it was because of my own error. I had no blotching what so ever on the plywood using this method though and the grain pattern shows pretty well also.

View Beeguy's profile


179 posts in 3876 days

#14 posted 10-20-2010 05:29 PM


For the table I think I used GF Candlelight but my wife wanted it still darker so I used another shellac wash coat followed with a final coat of GF Java which is really dark which is why I used the wash coat in between. The table is on my project page if you want to have a look.

-- Ron, Kutztown, PA "The reward is in the journey."

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4114 days

#15 posted 10-20-2010 05:36 PM

Just my two cents … I vote for Zinsser over Minwax.

-- -- --

View wadec's profile


2 posts in 3011 days

#16 posted 10-24-2010 07:00 PM

Having read all of this thread (and others like it on woodweb), I am still unsure what to use on my current project (a maple mantel surround that I want to be dark). It seems that I either use a dye stain OR a wash coat with pigment stain. The project has quite a bit of detail that is difficult to sand, and I do not have a sprayer. Has anyone used both methods (dye stain; wash coat with pigment stain) and can help me understand pros and cons re: ease and result with the two?

-- Wade, Minneapolis

View PGreene's profile


114 posts in 3669 days

#17 posted 10-25-2010 02:58 AM

I recently posted a piece of pine furniture that I used a dye and glaze technique on. The article is based on pine, but the technique works well on any wood that finishes unevely. Give it a try, I really liked it.

Click here for the link

-- Patrick

View wadec's profile


2 posts in 3011 days

#18 posted 10-25-2010 08:54 PM

Thanks PGreene.

-- Wade, Minneapolis

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