Staining exotic hardwood

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Forum topic by donaldcox posted 02-27-2010 02:03 PM 2250 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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18 posts in 3107 days

02-27-2010 02:03 PM

Topic tags/keywords: zebrawood padauk mahogany wenge purpleheart cocobolo bubinga scroll saw finishing question trick

Hello all,

I am building a figured cherry toybox with a couple exotic hardwood inlays. The inlays contain roughly 20 different types of wood, most of which are dark/colorful. My question is: Does anyone know of any good reviews on stain types? If not, anyone have any advise? I will probably purchase and try many but I don’t even know where to begin. The inlays turned out great and I am concerned if not stained properly, one color may leach into the other. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.


19 replies so far

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3098 days

#1 posted 02-27-2010 03:45 PM

It is very hard to know in advance what a particular stain is going to do on a particular wood – especially if it is an exotic wood. You will have to experiment. Personally, I would probably not use a stain at all and just finish it with one of several different neutral colored finishes that I use. I like to see the natural color of the wood.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View PaulfromVictor's profile


228 posts in 3369 days

#2 posted 02-27-2010 04:50 PM

If they are already dark and colorful, why are you staining them?

View tooladdic's profile


3 posts in 3039 days

#3 posted 02-27-2010 04:56 PM

Have you considered an oil finish, like salad bowl?


-- Don's Woodworking

View wisno's profile


88 posts in 3035 days

#4 posted 02-27-2010 05:06 PM

If the inlay is already nice looking, it is better if you keep it in natural. So what you need to do just apply clear coat. Apply 2 x sealer and 2 x top coat will give you a nice look piece.
Or you may do staining with light colored stain, but do staining too much, since it will cover the natural color of you exotic veneer.


View dfdye's profile


372 posts in 3061 days

#5 posted 02-27-2010 07:46 PM

Instead of a stain, how about a finish with a little color. Something like an amber or garnet shellac, or a “cherry” tinted danish oil? Neither of these is over the top, so they wouldn’t hide the figure or the color of the inlays. Another good argument is that the color can be built up with light coats of either of these. With the shellac, the coloration should even be reversable to an extent if you overshoot.

Just an alternative idea if you think you need to change the color of the project a little.

Also, remember that Cherry changes color over time, so keep in mind the color the project will be in a few years, and not just it is going to look like “right now.”

-- David from Indiana --

View donaldcox's profile


18 posts in 3107 days

#6 posted 02-27-2010 08:31 PM

Thanks for the help. I actually do want to keep the natural appearance of the wood but also want to protect the wood. However, I was contemplating using a stain to mute and darken the wood to give a antique like appearance. Just throwing around ideas. Is it possible for pigments of one wood to ‘leach’ onto the adjacent piece?.....if so I would like to avoid this. The wood is 1/8 inch thick.. Thanks everyone.

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4151 days

#7 posted 02-27-2010 09:30 PM

Experiment with toners for an on-the-top color.

-- 温故知新

View KMJohnson's profile


165 posts in 3045 days

#8 posted 02-27-2010 09:35 PM

Natural hardwood colors do not leach out.

-- Let's do it in the wood pile!

View williams's profile


53 posts in 3041 days

#9 posted 02-27-2010 11:47 PM

This pure tung oil is great Refinished some outdoor hardwood benches with it and love the look and enhances the wood without “staining” it as such. They have a dark tung oil also but have not tried it. Then seal with something like arm-r-seal. Test drive it first.

Question. If you live in the area of the exotic hardwood, it is still exotic?

-- William, Brighton, MI

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3098 days

#10 posted 02-27-2010 11:55 PM

In response to williams question – - Most people consider osage orange to be an exotic wood and one of the very few that are native to North America. I live in an area where there was a lot of osage orange (locally it is often called hedgewood) and some still remains. I still think of osage orange as an exotic wood.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View alexsutula's profile


96 posts in 3078 days

#11 posted 03-02-2010 07:51 AM

I personally prefer a natural finish and love the natural color any wood has. I feel staining is unnecessary.

About you color leeching question. I don’t think it will happen as a result of the color from one wood mixing with another. BUT, depending on the colors of the wood, residual dust from sanding the woods can stand out on lighter toned pieces of wood on your project.

2 years ago I was shellacking a trunk that had maple and paduak, which is very bright and orange. I was using cheese cloth to apply the shellac and the dust imbedded in the open pours of the paduak got on the maple and gave it a reddish hue. All this even after blowing it with compressed air and tack ragging it before hand.

-- You can't stand apart unless you're prepared to stand alone. Alex, Cleveland

View Alex Lane's profile

Alex Lane

508 posts in 3914 days

#12 posted 03-02-2010 03:13 PM

I’ve heard that some professional woodworkers (including Scott Phillips) absolutely love to use Garnet Shellac for making a piece look more antique, yet retain (and perhaps enhance) the natural beauty of the wood beneath. I’ve never used it, but I watched him use it and it’s really beautiful. The color of Garnet Shellac is suspended within the finish itself. Very little will soak into the exotic woods and “stain” them any particular color.

I noticed that some of the other responses here advised you not to change the colors of your exotic inlays with stain. I tend to agree, but as I mentioned, the shellac can potentially intensify the beauty of the inlay, and simultaneously “antique” the look of your workpiece. Look online to watch some of Scott Phillips’ shows on The American Woodshop, and you’ll see how and why he uses Garnet Shellac. It’s just a suggestion…take it or leave it. Just experiment and use what YOU think looks the best.

Have fun!!

-- Lane Custom Guitars and Basses

View davidpettinger's profile


661 posts in 3224 days

#13 posted 03-02-2010 11:05 PM

For certain hardwood finishes, especially those containing exotics, I like using equal parts of beeswax, turpentine and clear oil varnish. leaves a nice soft protective finish and keeps the integrity of the inlay. Just apply it with a clean piece of an old clean white lint free t-shirt. Leaves a soft warm glow to the wood.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 3752 days

#14 posted 03-02-2010 11:22 PM

i like alex’s idea best. Garnet Shellac. It really looks great, its an old finish, and it will add protection/color.

View dfdye's profile


372 posts in 3061 days

#15 posted 03-04-2010 12:17 AM

Not to split hairs, but shellac won’t add very much protection, and I would not rely on it to do much more than look pretty. If you want protection, you should put a coat of poly over the shellac, especially if you expect to get the piece wet, and especially if you will get alcohol on it.


-- David from Indiana --

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