light patch in dark stain on red oak

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Forum topic by weathersfuori posted 08-10-2016 11:03 AM 612 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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89 posts in 1093 days

08-10-2016 11:03 AM

Topic tags/keywords: stain red oak finishing question

This forum has been a huge help to me, and the few times I’ve posted I’ve gotten some excellent answers. Hoping you all can help me on this one…

I’m working on an entryway/mudroom bench for a client (my first big sale- most of the stuff I’ve sold to this point has been smaller, crafty stuff) and everything to this point has been as close to perfect as I am capable. The last step was to stain the bench top, which I made out of red oak from a local lumberyard.

3” boards were joined, edges were routed with a roundover bit, everything was sanded to 150 and then 220. I wiped all surfaces down with tack cloth and brought it inside the house two night ago. I tested a few different stains on a piece of scrap that was sanded and wiped just like the piece and was happy with the color, so last night I decided to go ahead and stain it. Minwax Wood Finish Ebony was the stain of choice.

I started by dampening a kitchen towel and wiping the surfaces to be stained to open up the grain a little. I then applied the stain with a foam brush, let it sit for 5-10 minutes, and wiped it off with a clean rag. As I’m wiping, I’m absolutely loving the stain… it looked better than I expected and exactly how the customer wanted…

...Until I got to the front edge of the piece and noticed one strip about 6-7” long and an inch wide was not taking the stain as well as the rest of the piece. I’m not sure how well it will show up in the attached picture, and I’m sure it looks worse to me than it will to the customer (she’s been very easy to work with and more focused on function than appearance, but still…), but it is bugging the crap out of me because I was so proud of this project up to this point. I almost wish it had happened elsewhere on the piece just so it looked a little more random!

So… at this point, #1 question is, is there any way to “fix” this, i.e. somehow darken that area without making the whole thing look worse, or am I better off leaving it alone? After about an hour or two I tried to put another coat of stain on that area, but when I wiped it off, it didn’t look any different.

I’m guessing I must have either missed this area when wiping it down with the wet towel, or perhaps this area didn’t dry enough after wiping? I’ll worry about the cause afterwards, right now I just need to focus on what, if anything I can do to fix it.

Thanks in advance for any advice, including “sorry, you’re screwed!”

-- Weathersfuori, Texas,

13 replies so far

View OSU55's profile (online now)


1629 posts in 1953 days

#1 posted 08-10-2016 12:02 PM

Try a little sanding with 150 in the area and re-stain. I would mix up some dye with some finish and try to cover, then cover it spraying a toner coat, but I’m guessing those aren’t options for you. Either it wasn’t dry or it’s glue contamination. There’s no reason to wipe down with water “to open the grain”. If you want more pigment trapped, sand with a lower grit. FYI, you don’t have to go nuts with getting all sanding dust off with a tack cloth. You’re going to wipe the stain off, and the dust will wipe into the grain and off the surface. I just vacuum the surface or use a microfiber towel and go. You may want to look into using dyes.

View weathersfuori's profile


89 posts in 1093 days

#2 posted 08-10-2016 12:16 PM

Thanks- I won’t be wiping with water anymore after this… I read about it somewhere else and tested it and it looked good, so I went with it, but I now feel confident that I would have been better off without doing it. I know it isn’t glue because this is on the edge and away from the joints, so the only logical explanation I’ve been able to think of is that I screwed it up by wiping it down.

So my concern is that if I sand and try to re-stain I’m going to make it even more noticeable. When I sand, do I just lightly sand into the darker, “better” part of the stain and then try to blend it all together when re-staining? By sanding is my goal more to get the wood back to where it will take stain again versus trying to remove what’s already there? I know this isn’t something easily explained through text… I think I’ll be taking the scrap piece to the sander first to try this out before I make a bigger mess of my project!

-- Weathersfuori, Texas,

View bonesbr549's profile


1531 posts in 3030 days

#3 posted 08-10-2016 12:40 PM

IMO this is why dyes are a better friend. They are pigments that are on top, and if you hit a patch like that you can redo no issue.

Color is easier to layer on and even out. Only thing is if your topcoat is waterbase, use alcohol based dies and if your topcoat is oil, use water soluable dies.

Not used a stain in eons for the very reason you state is your issue.

You could sand down color with a dye and where it’s light layer the color till it matches.

Get a sprayer . Just my 2 cents worth.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

View DrDirt's profile


4423 posts in 3705 days

#4 posted 08-10-2016 02:23 PM

I would get a spray can of Mohawk dark walnut toner.

essentially a dye in lacquer – you can even the tone out – - primarily used for finish repair/color matching, when you need to tweak the color.

I have used it when there was damage that I had to go back and sand throught the finish, and need to rebuild the color and blend it out

Since there is already finish that has soaked into the fibers – the wood will NEVER take finish like the original raw wood did. (just like veneer plywood floatin panels don’t like to take stain the same as raw wood frames)

Charles Neil has a great video (he uses a little airbrush gun – - but the rattlecan toner is convenient)
Your issue/fix starts at about 12 minutes

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View weathersfuori's profile


89 posts in 1093 days

#5 posted 08-10-2016 02:41 PM

Thanks Dr Dirt- I checked out the video and honestly was a little skeptical until he sprayed the finish over that spot- wow!

Do you think this extra dark walnut will be okay with the ebony stain or should I try to find a dye closer to the black/ebony, even if that means something not in a spray can?

I’m still a little nervous about trying this as I have very limited experience in finishing techniques, but I very much appreciate the options you all have presented me- very helpful!

-- Weathersfuori, Texas,

View OSU55's profile (online now)


1629 posts in 1953 days

#6 posted 08-10-2016 03:18 PM

Try to recreate the issue with scrap, i.e. wet an area then stain the whole surface. This will give you a test piece. Then sand the area a little, and then wet sand with stain, and see what you get. May want to prepare several scrap test pieces to try some different approaches.

Adding spray finishing to your skillset opens up a whole new world in finishing. Finishing is 1/2 of a project’s total, and should receive that level of attention.

View firefighterontheside's profile


17931 posts in 1820 days

#7 posted 08-10-2016 03:41 PM

This can be caused by uneven sanding with different grits. If you sand heavy with 220 in a spot that spot will take less stain than an area sanded only with 120. This typically happens when working to sand off a blemish.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View CharlesNeil's profile


2385 posts in 3834 days

#8 posted 08-10-2016 03:50 PM

It works and Even the Harbor Freight air brushes will do it

View pintodeluxe's profile


5620 posts in 2776 days

#9 posted 08-10-2016 04:00 PM

Curious, why did you wipe the project down with water before staining? Is it water based stain?
You shouldn’t apply water before oil based stain. And for water based stain / dye you can wet with some water, let dry, sand and clean before applying the colorant.

A smear of dried glue will also limit stain absorption.

As far as tinting / toning the wood, I wouldn’t bother. That is a difficult technique to get right. I have done it with good results, but the learning curve is steep (like Mt. Everest).
If the top can be detached from the bench, just sand it back to bare wood and try again.
Good luck with it.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View weathersfuori's profile


89 posts in 1093 days

#10 posted 08-10-2016 04:25 PM

Curious, why did you wipe the project down with water before staining? Is it water based stain?
You shouldn t apply water before oil based stain. And for water based stain / dye you can wet with some water, let dry, sand and clean before applying the colorant.
- pintodeluxe

I wiped it down because I read somewhere that it would allow the wood to take the stain better. Skeptical for the same reasons you mention (it is oil based stain), I tested this out on scrap first and the result looked good to me. Without wetting the wood, the stain was lighter and had kind of a washed/grayed out look to it, which is why I went looking for ways to darken it.

99% of the top came out great- even better than I expected. Usually when I make a rookie mistake like this, it is pretty obvious what I did, but I know for certain there was no glue there, and I can’t imagine that only that one spot didn’t dry after wiping it down with water… the sanding theory presented by firefighterontheside is the only one that I can’t say with some level of certainty is not the cause…. totally possible that I just hit that area different during sanding than the rest of the piece, perhaps because it was near the rounded edge. It would explain why the light patch is stretched out along the length of the piece and only extends about an inch from the edge. Cause or not, I’ll be ensuring a more even sanding job next time!

I think I am going to run to Rockler today to see if I can find some spray dye. Looks like my options there might be limited, but I don’t see anything on the Woodcraft site and I can’t really wait for something to be shipped to me…. customer wants this before school starts here in a week and a half. I’ll get what I can, try to recreate the issue on scrap wood and try a few things. If I can’t get a spray can, and I don’t want to get a sprayer, can I do this with some kind of brush or wipe-on product?

I was hoping there was a way to sand down the problem area and reapply stain, but it sounds like that will only make it even more noticeable.

Thanks again everyone!

-- Weathersfuori, Texas,

View weathersfuori's profile


89 posts in 1093 days

#11 posted 08-10-2016 08:47 PM

So I got home and tried to re-create the issue… and it appears that does have to do with wiping the wood with the wet cloth. I must have just missed that small portion of the wood when I wiped.

I took some scrap wood and did everything the same, except I purposely missed parts of it with the wet cloth. Threw the stain on let it sit, then wiped it off. Sure enough, light patches where I didn’t hit it with the wet cloth.

So, lesson learned is if you are going to do this “popping” technique as I read it, make sure you get everything wet! In the end, I still like the color better with the wood wiped vs. not, but I’m sure there is a much better way to do all this!

So I went to Rockler and the guy there strongly discouraged against using a dye at my skill level due to the risk I might make it worse- He definitely didn’t dismiss what all of you advised, but I think in person it is easier to realize just how inexperienced I am!

He recommended I try to put a thin layer of shellac over the problem area, let that dry, lightly sand it, then brush on the same stain over the shellac… almost detail brushing it over the problem area. He said it likely wouldn’t end up as dark as everything else, but it would be closer and at least I’d be working with the same color as the original vs. a different color dye from a different brand, etc…

That would be good enough for me. What do you all think? I am going to try it out on the same scrap piece I just used to test the water theory…

-- Weathersfuori, Texas,

View pintodeluxe's profile


5620 posts in 2776 days

#12 posted 08-10-2016 10:30 PM

That will likely take as long as refinishing the top, and no guarantee it will look any better.
I still say refinish the whole top.
Otherwise present it to your customer and see what they say. They may be thrilled with it as-is.
Usually we are our own worst critics.

And I still don’t buy into the technique of wetting a project before an oil based stain. If you want a darker color, just use a darker / different stain. Avoiding this extra step is why I prefer oil based stains over water based dyes, but each to there own. Next time you buy stain, pick up some Rodda, Varathane, or Cabot. They work very nicely, and I promise you will never shop for the yellow can again.

Hope it all turns out in your favor.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View weathersfuori's profile


89 posts in 1093 days

#13 posted 08-11-2016 11:49 AM

Thanks for the comments, Willie. I sort of took your advice… I decided last night that I would try to sand just the problem area and re-stain, and if it didn’t work I’d just strip the whole surface and start over. Fortunately, I was able to make some improvements just by working on the problem area. It’s not as perfect as my eyes want it to be, but it no longer looks like a mistake, and I am confident the customer won’t even notice there was an issue. Phew!

The whole water before oil-based stain thing doesn’t make sense to me either, but it does seem to allow the stain to soak in better. I could actually see a difference between the wet and dry spots on the scrap wood as I applied the stain and watched it soak in, and the resulting color without wetting the wood was much more brown than I expected from an ebony stain.

Definitely a learning experience on this project! You guys have given me a lot of things to work on once I get this project out of the way. I appreciate the help.

-- Weathersfuori, Texas,

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