A Little Cabinetree #4: Leaves to Dye For (From)

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 11-24-2010 01:42 AM 2552 reads 4 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Scroll Saw Marquetry. Part 4 of A Little Cabinetree series Part 5: Assembly (and a little setback) »

About the same time as I started this project I found a source for aniline dyes that came in concentrated liquid form and were available in a starter kit of 12×2oz. bottles, a substantial pallet of colors to work with. When it came to coloring the leaves it was a small step to think of them and there began the process that lead to my biggest challenge on this piece. Let me say here that I’ve never done this before or heard of it being done. I’m flying completely blind here, 100% experimental, 100% fun. If any one knows an existing method of doing this I’d love to hear about it. Otherwise it is my sincere hope that some of you reading this will take up where I leave off and make this process work more easily, better, or both. The watercolor style of dying that I will demonstrate here is the easy part. The harder part is getting a good finish on the piece after it is assembled. The two big challenges here are that the dye will bleed into areas where it doesn’t belong at the slightest opportunity and secondly that you can’t sand or scrape the dyed surface as the dye is very shallow.

This photo was in the last entry but it is re-presented here to emphasize that the assembled marquetry must be sanded flat and absolutely uniformly in thickness before dying to have any chance of success.

This was my setup to begin the “watercoloring”. I have the four dye colors I will use (burnt sienna, yellow G, yellow R and green) brushes, water in the larger container and alcohol in the smaller one. There’s also a cloth nearby for wiping the brush on to remove excess moisture.

This is the technique. Nothing special here, just be comfortable and relaxed and go for it.

This is the sequence I used. Again, it’s all experimental. I can’t say this is the best way because it was about the first way I tried it and it worked. I made the assumption that it would make sense to start with the lightest color and work toward the darker ones. So, I started by flooding the piece with the lightest color I would be using, in this case, yellow R.

Next I touched a few spots with green and just let it bleed into the wet yellow.

Then, still working wet on wet, I pulled the brush across the edges where I wanted the dark color and let it bleed into the wet yellow. Where I wanted it quite dark I repeated this step. It may look like there is too hard an edge on the dark area here but it’s not a problem.

Now it’s time to blend. I tried a few ways and found that I got the best results for this project’s purposes by half loading the brush with the yellow and pulling it from the yellow area into the dark (burnt sienna) area. I tried to avoid the green as I really liked the bleed the way it was. Also you may notice I put a few random dark spots in the center areas to indicate the random holes and bruises naturally occurring on fall leaves.

Here are three of the four leaves that will be on the top of the box with the dying completed. Notice that the water has really caused them to arch. In the future I may try mixing my dyes entirely with alcohol instead of 1/2 and 1/2 alcohol / water as I did this time. There is substantial reason to worry about these pieces losing their very critical shape here because of the shrinking and swelling over the many varied grain orientations and piece sizes.

I used a hair dryer to dry the pieces until they were almost, but not quite completely flat. They will continue to dry after you turn off the dryer due to the residual heat. In these pieces I had no distortion. I did however have that trouble with the “falling leaf” on the front door.

After the dying I re-assembled the whole piece and gave it a sealing coat of spray on poly in the hope of preventing future bleeding with the water based poly I was planning to use for finishing. The choice of wb finish may sound odd but I chose it for it’s high build solids content and water clear appearance. The high build is important because, remember you can’t sand these parts again and as careful as you have been with the prep, there will be little discrepancies that you would like to sand or scrape before finishing … that you can’t.

I hope that this gets some of you experimenting. This can’t be the best or only way to do this . Nobody’s that lucky. I’ll be very interested to see what others can add to my start here. ... or what some one has already done before me.

Thanks again for following and commenting. I’m having a ball and I’m glad you are too.

Please ask questions and don’t be afraid to critique. There’s no bad feedback.

Thanks again


-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

13 comments so far

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3250 days

#1 posted 11-24-2010 02:11 AM

Paul you did a great job and excellent use of those dyes. Those are some very convincing leave.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3363 days

#2 posted 11-24-2010 02:19 AM

Those leaves look so lifelike. Better be careful or someone might try to use a broom on them. Just kidding…really First class.

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4147 days

#3 posted 11-24-2010 02:55 AM

They look light as a feather. Really nice work Paul…

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View terrilynne's profile


836 posts in 2948 days

#4 posted 11-24-2010 03:16 AM

Awesome painting and crafting.

-- Terri, Rocky Mountain High Colorado!

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3169 days

#5 posted 11-24-2010 03:23 AM

thats is out of the box thinking :-)
thank´s for sharing the tecnich
about the finish I think I wuold use an air spraygun
to apply the finish with that you can lay out such a thin layer
that it will nearly dry up before it arive to the wood
and preventing the colours to bleed into each other
nomatter what kind of finish you choose
I´m not an expert at all on this , have only used a spraygun a few times


View shipwright's profile


8006 posts in 2852 days

#6 posted 11-24-2010 03:29 AM

Thanks all. Dennis, I am spraying but even the smallest amount of water or alcohol based finish will make it bleed. The spray can poly works, you just have to get it all, every tiny spot.
Thanks for the comments.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3169 days

#7 posted 11-24-2010 03:35 AM

no its me who thanks :-)
that you let us learn new things
take care

View mickyd's profile


31 posts in 3192 days

#8 posted 11-24-2010 04:20 AM

Great job Paul. Looks like the real thing. Great technique you learned.

View TJ65's profile


1378 posts in 3104 days

#9 posted 11-24-2010 10:37 AM

You are such an artist, just having a knack with the colours like that – and you just experimenting!!!!! Ha!
cant wait for the finished article. People like you certainly give us mere mortals inspiration to continue woodworking & to try and achieve that higher standard.

-- Theresa,

View Gene Howe's profile (online now)

Gene Howe

10619 posts in 3483 days

#10 posted 11-24-2010 02:13 PM

WOW! Just, WOW!

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3131 days

#11 posted 11-24-2010 03:10 PM

Thanks for taking us with you on this fun adventurous journey into the unknown Paul. Very informative and inspiring blog. I know I for one will have to remember this….

Thanks for sharing Paul. I am really enjoying this blog series.

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4131 days

#12 posted 11-25-2010 06:18 AM

I thought you were a boat builder??? LOL>...clearly many talents…this is really fun to watch!!!

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View tdv's profile


1188 posts in 3124 days

#13 posted 11-25-2010 02:49 PM

Stunning & a well thought out technique

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

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