Getting Maple to accept a dark (dark walnut,mocha) color

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Forum topic by brian88 posted 10-10-2011 02:46 AM 28650 views 2 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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108 posts in 2188 days

10-10-2011 02:46 AM

Hello, I have a large kitchen project coming up and the customer wants maple cabinets with a dark mocha color. I tried to steer them to alder but to no avail. They want the hardness of maple or birch but also they like the grain patterns( even though most of it will be lost in the dark stain color) I have always had difficult getting uniform results with maple when wiping on any stain. So I am looking for advice. I usually sand everything down to 120 grit before sanding. I have tried to spray stain before but I used minwax and I don’t think it is designed for that. I have a pressure pot hplv sprayer system that I use for my finishes. I use precat lacquer usually a satin finish although this customer wants a semi gloss. I also have a paint booth that I constructed. its a little crude but at least keeps the dust out. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Should I spray the stain on or mix it with the first coat of lacquer? should I sand down finer to get a smoother result? Seriously. I am a little intimidated by this but I know with a little help I can be successful with this project.

-- "thats all I have to say about that..."

11 replies so far

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3425 days

#1 posted 10-10-2011 03:08 AM

Check out this discussion. Sums it up well.

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

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 2430 days

#2 posted 10-10-2011 03:16 AM

Staining maple a dark color is definitely no easy task. I am going to assume you don’t have an easy way to convince the customer to go with cherry, mahogany, or another wood that takes a dark color without blotching.

First issue is how to get the stain on without blotching.

I would go with a gel stain (say Gen. Finishes Java), and to be extra careful, apply that over a prestain conditioner such as Charles Neil’s product. This will not get you as dark of a color you want but it is a good start. Seal in the stain with your preferred method.

The second issue is how to make the color as dark as the customer wants.

A good way to do this is by toning your lacquer topcoats with dye. I have had good success darkening cabinets with black (or another dark color) Transtint dye mixed in with the lacquer. With toning in this way, you may lose some of the grain clarity so the key is to use very small amounts of dye, but with as dark of a color as the customer is wanting, that may not be an issue.

Good luck!

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 2966 days

#3 posted 10-10-2011 03:25 AM

Dye stains will work for you. Transtint is one. I personally use mixol dye. Do some research one using dye mixed stains. Then mixing the dye into your finish will continue to darken with every finish coat applied. For exame stain the maple with brown stain or dye mix, then mix black dye into your finish and apply finish coats to further darken.

With all of that in mind, I push the customer towards a wood species that has at least the base color someone is looking for. I push walnut a lot, I just bought 900 bf of walnut for 2.50 bf. Walnut has nice brown color, sometimes with red undertones, but if the customer insisted I could add black to the finish which would darken the color and would also somewhat hide or tone down the grain pattern.

Jabota is a very pretty species and is very dark. Around here it sells for around 4.30 bf. A little higher then I typically pay, but when you consider your labor to get maple looking like some dark mahogany you might find you can save that labor charge and apply the extra hudget towards a species with color.

Then there is a Peruvian walnut that has nice rich color tones but that stuff cost in the 4.00 + range in my area.

Beech is a hard wood that stains dark and even much like oak, and then when toner coats are added to further darken, the grain pattern becomes less visible and more mild, similar to maple. I used beech one time when customer wanted dark expresso, I used it because I knew stain results were consistent and even. The finished job, it was very even and very dark and the grain pattern was mild, mainly because of toner coats.

Working with the customer, I attempt to educate and offer guideance based on my exp/knowledge. I might say “Maple may possess some charactoristics you are looking for, but as you have indicated it does not resemble the color you desire. There are several ‘hardwood’ options I think you should consider. Maple can be stained, but the process will be labor intensive thus costing more in the end, and thereby may not be your most cost effective option. I would also like to inform you that maple at times can take stain unevenly. For example, if my guy sands harder or longer in one area then another, etc etc… A few wonderfull wood species you might consider are… and this is why these species of wood better match your own personal taste.”

-- .

View Fuzzy's profile


297 posts in 3408 days

#4 posted 10-10-2011 06:09 AM

Look into using Charles Neil’s Blotch Control … topped off with an Aniline Dye … great color without obliterating the grain, and no blotching.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

View brian88's profile


108 posts in 2188 days

#5 posted 10-12-2011 04:34 PM

The customer is pretty much set on maple. Based on all of your suggestions I think going with the dye is the way to go. Can I start with going to say sherwin williams and just buy the dye or where do I get stated? Also do I hand rub a base color on first before I spray the dyed laquer? Thanks

-- "thats all I have to say about that..."

View brian88's profile


108 posts in 2188 days

#6 posted 10-14-2011 04:48 PM

So I went to Sherwin williams and they do not cary the drans-tint dyes at that location…only location that does is about an hour away. Where would you suggest that I go? Also could I just spray a stain over the maple and let it rest for a bit before wiping it off? Still looking for suggestions.

-- "thats all I have to say about that..."

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4405 posts in 3380 days

#7 posted 10-17-2011 08:32 PM

Stay away from the MinWax stuff. Use a dye, and TransTint has worked for me (even on pine). I sand to 150 minimum.
I would seal with a shellac seal coat first.


View rulesXorder's profile


1 post in 286 days

#8 posted 01-11-2016 01:56 AM

Total newbie and DIY’er here sharing my $0.02 on staining maple dark. Here’s the short version: use gel stain!

I recently embarked on my first flooring sand and refinish job after I tore up some vinyl and found maple underneath in my kitchen. My plan was to go dark, but as I researched and read more and more on how to stain maple dark, I became dismayed: it seemed like the entire internet was telling me it was impossible to stain maple dark successfully.

I decided to go against the online hardwood flooring forum hive mind and give it a shot. I am extremely happy with my results, and here’s how I did it.

  • Sanded using 24, 36, 80, 100 grit paper. I had to go through some glue and self leveling compound, which is why I started so low.
  • Water popped the wood to raise the grain. I think the raised grain helped the wood grab onto more pigment (especially given my choice in stain which I’ll get to). Just a hypothesis, I don’t actually know if that’s true. I did do test strips with both popped and not-popped and the difference was dramatic.
  • GEL STAIN. Gel stain, gel stain, gel stain. Old Masters dark walnut gel stain to be exact. From what I’ve read, gel stain sort of paints on top of the wood, and doesn’t penetrate it as much. I found that when I tried test strips using conventional stain, some spots on my board would soak it up like crazy, and other spots looked almost unstained. The gel stain however, went on much more evenly, and I found it to be very forgiving. The gel certainly seemed like the most important piece of this puzzle.

Here's a picture of the finished product with 2 coats of oil based polyurethane.

View pmayer's profile


847 posts in 2485 days

#9 posted 01-11-2016 01:58 PM

I cast one more vote for Transtint. Very good stuff.

-- PaulMayer,

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 571 days

#10 posted 01-11-2016 02:14 PM

Trans Tint dye, you dye to get the color you want, a wash coat of Shellac, 1- 1-1/2lb cut, buff with maroon pad, then stain to get the depth in the wood.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View CharlesNeil's profile


1602 posts in 3290 days

#11 posted 01-11-2016 02:38 PM

The good thing about a dye is you can add multiple coats , and achieve what you want, I like General finishes dyes, simply due to quality and consistency in color , you can also use a dye as a glaze which is a coat of color over top of the first coat of finish , it really helps to add depth and will also add some darker color, works well .

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