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Forum topic by , posted 11-24-2009 10:30 PM 1218 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2387 posts in 3572 days

11-24-2009 10:30 PM

I might have a customer in the near future that has the taste of a darker stain, he mentioned ‘expresso, dark brown, merlot’. He also mentioned the use of maple in this kitchen because they don’t like the grainly look of oak. I have used maple extensively on a lot of projects myself, I have even stained maple to almost black using ‘transtint dyes’ and I did not like that procedure. I much prefer keeping my finish simple as I can so our typical procedure is using a Sherwood stain product from Sherwin, then we go through a lacquer process that finishes out our peices. I have messed with toners in the past but I am not going for something that might require a higher experience level than what we have. I have always liked trying different woods myself and I have given Walnut some thought because it is darker to begin with and likely could achieve a dark brown or expresso look. I am looking for a wood that accepts a good uniform stain and will be easy to get to a darker color. Walnut is all that comes to miind right now. How about an alder wood that has been stained? Is Alder an open grain that stains easy? I have used beech in the past and that is an extremely easy wood to obtain a professional finish with, very forgiving wood. Beech would not work though because it is grainy, little like oak.



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8 replies so far

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4031 days

#1 posted 11-24-2009 10:58 PM

Experiment with Poplar and Old Masters wiping stains, where successive coats of stain achieves a darker tone. You’ll be surprised how attractive stained poplar can be also.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2718 posts in 3312 days

#2 posted 11-24-2009 11:04 PM

I agree, maple is hard to stain dark without going to a lot of trouble. Alder would probably be a good choice.
It takes a stain well. I have seen it used quite a bit around here with darker stains. I would get a sample and try it before I committed to it, just to make sure it’s what they want. One problem with alder is that you usually don’t get wide pieces, and it tends to have a lot of small knots. We use a lot of rustic alder which is supposed to have knots, so that’s not an issue. Years ago we used alder for paint grade projects because it was cheap. The quality really went down-hill over the years, but it seems better now. When you get good lumber alder is good to work with. Check with you supplier and see what he’s got, or can get.

Good luck with the project


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2387 posts in 3572 days

#3 posted 11-24-2009 11:10 PM

I agree poplar probably would look nice stained, never tried myself. I will say though, I chose to build a pottery barn style bunk set for a customer painted white with poplar, and it was so soft, easy to work with but not a good choice for a bed. I was dinging and denting it regularly. I have used poplar on paint grade built ins also, never stained it though.

I am going to get some alder and give it a try just to see what happens. The grain seems mild in alder wood. Sometimes though stain will bring out the grain a lot. So we will just have to see. Around here they sell a knotty alder and then a regular alder, I assume the regular alder would have much fewer knots in it.

Thanks for the suggestions. Any other suggestions on wood species would be great.


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View Brian Havens's profile

Brian Havens

196 posts in 3131 days

#4 posted 11-24-2009 11:23 PM

I do not know if this is too dark for your application, or if it would work with a slightly lighter stain (espresso vs. ebony), but I have used walnut with a primer of “iron buff” followed by ebony stain to get something that looks pretty close to ebony. I used it on the base of a Jewelry Armoir. (Iron buff is made by dissolving steel wool in vinegar, and works well on woods with high tannin content, like Walnut.) Downside is that Walnut is more expensive that Poplar. Another suggestion is poplar with metal acid dye.

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

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2387 posts in 3572 days

#5 posted 11-24-2009 11:45 PM

I like your idea Brian and what an amazing Jewelry Armoir.

So you simply first primed the walnut with “iron buff” (what is that and where do I get it? Woodcraft maybe?). Then you followed with ebony stain, maybe in my case expresso stain. Then you finished off with your personal choice of finish, whereas I would likely do a sand/seal lacquer and top coat with a lacquer finish, which always gives me a nice even and very professional look to my cabinets.

Great advices everyone. I hope the alder works, if that is not going to be a go though I will likely look into using walnut in a similar way Brian did. The only knock on walnut will be the 5.00 per ft price we have to pay in this area for walnut. Alder I think is down around 2.00 per foot. Then I also need to consider with either of these two choices what kind of plywood I will use, I personally know alder ply is up around 75.00 to 90.00 per sheet. I am not even sure what walnut runs per sheet.

Thanks everyone.

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View Brian Havens's profile

Brian Havens

196 posts in 3131 days

#6 posted 11-25-2009 12:18 AM

I got the idea for the buff from this Fine Woodworking Article. I think you need a subscription to see the article, I am not sure, but I can paraphrase:

Submerge a 0000 (fine) steel wool pad in one pint of white vinegar. Use a glass or plastic container, as the solution will cause metal to corrode. Cover loosely, not tight, as hydrogen gas is the by-product of the chemical reaction. After about one day, you should have a usable solution, but one week is better. Before using the solution, strain it first through a paint strainer and then a coffee filter to get out undissolved iron particles.

One thing I did notice when I used this is that the pores in the walnut did not always absorb the solution, but the main goal is to get the wood dark in preparation for the stain.

Let me know how it works out.

-- Brian Havens, Woodworker

View BlankMan's profile


1490 posts in 3379 days

#7 posted 11-25-2009 02:55 AM

I’m working on something along the same lines though a ways off from finishing yet and I chose walnut. It’s a TV stand and I’m using white maple for the shelves and walnut for the posts and trim. I want the walnut to be dark, close to black, but still want to see the grain. So I picked up General Black and Expresso stain and when I get to that point I’m going to experiment with them and see how it works.

If you try those on walnut I’d like to hear and see how it turns out.

-- -Curt, Milwaukee, WI

View jeffthewoodwacker's profile


603 posts in 3830 days

#8 posted 11-25-2009 04:36 AM

You can use steel wool in white vinegar to make the iron buff, but rusty nails work better and don’t make as big a mess. I use an old plastic water bottle, fill 3/4 full of white vinegar and drop several very rusty nails in. After letting it sit for a couple of days it is ready to go. Reacts best as previously stated with woods that have a high tannin content. The longer the nails stay in the mixture the darker it will get. A little goes a long way!

-- Those that say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

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