Help with uneven stain on red oak

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Forum topic by ShawnSpencer posted 11-01-2014 09:35 PM 1839 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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81 posts in 961 days

11-01-2014 09:35 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak finishing

I recently completed two projects in red oak. I have always struggled with finishing and went with GF gel stain to help get and even color. One project I sanded to 220, 1lb cut amber shellac, then the gel stain. The other, I sanded to 150 and did the gel stain. Both resulted in a extremely uneven color. I tried to be very careful and wipe off evenly. I am at a loss. Now, I’m sanding them down and starting over. Can anyone please recommend a product or method to help me in my quest? Im going for a walnut type brown and then an arm r seal top coat. The arm r seal has been a dream to work with. Maybe some kinda stain that is applied similarly? Considering going with watco danish oil walnut color or a water based dye. Any advice is much appreciated.

-- I know you know...

23 replies so far

View Gshepherd's profile


1727 posts in 1620 days

#1 posted 11-01-2014 09:48 PM

I have never had a problem staining Red Oak. I use Gemini Gem Glo Dark Oak oil based stain mainly case it gives the oak a nice old feel to it. I sand to 180 and take 220 to soften edges and end grain I sand to 320.

I have not used Gel Stain for ages. I have used a lot of Transtint followed by the Gemini oil based stain.

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2753 days

#2 posted 11-01-2014 10:07 PM

I see a lot of folks use a wipe on/wipe off toner on top of the stain to get a more even color. You might look into that option.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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81 posts in 961 days

#3 posted 11-01-2014 10:33 PM

I see a lot of folks use a wipe on/wipe off toner on top of the stain to get a more even color. You might look into that option.

- stefang

Is there a product you recommend? Most of the stuff on toner I’m finding is mixing pigment with lacquer and spraying.

-- I know you know...

View firefighterontheside's profile (online now)


13065 posts in 1276 days

#4 posted 11-01-2014 10:41 PM

I have not had a problem with red oak, but in general if you sand unevenly the stain will be taken in at different rates. It usually happens when you sand some areas more than others like when sanding off hole fillers or sanding down rough spots.

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

View a1Jim's profile


115172 posts in 2996 days

#5 posted 11-02-2014 03:01 PM

I use to use wiping stain from Sherwin Williams and it did a great job,now I use General finishes dye/stain and it does a great job too. It could be the use of Gel stain that’s making your color uneven.

As far as learning about finishing, Charles Neil has a great book covering just about everything you could think of ,he also has in house classes and on line classes on finishing also a very exstensive DVD set on the subject.

-- Custom furniture

View ShawnSpencer's profile


81 posts in 961 days

#6 posted 11-02-2014 04:25 PM

Thanks Jim, I’m a big fan of Charles and his book is on my Christmas list. I’m realizing on one of the projects uneven sanding could be the culprit. I used 120 with my power sander and 150 for the tight spots by hand. It’s was what I had and never thought twice about it. I know in Charles’ corner cab series he is a big fan of the water dyes. I’m gonna see what I can get locally. I do have a Sherwin and Glidden dealers. Probably go with one of those products. Anything GF I have to order. Hopfully after I get Charles’ book I can produce some really nice projects.

-- I know you know...

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115172 posts in 2996 days

#7 posted 11-02-2014 04:42 PM

I think your right about the sanding being your problem ,when I sand I sand the whole surface and start as low a grit as I feel necessary Say 100 grit and then work my way up through all the grits to 150-180 ,except end grain I may go up to 800 grit on it.
Wiping stain at SW can be made in custom colors and is easy to apply.

-- Custom furniture

View Woodmaster1's profile


732 posts in 2006 days

#8 posted 11-02-2014 04:51 PM

I use watco oil stain and have never had a problem .

View Redoak49's profile


1817 posts in 1408 days

#9 posted 11-02-2014 04:57 PM

I never have problems staining Red Oak and typically use oil based stain. I have had more issues with water based stains both from getting them even and in terms of raising the grain and have stopped using them.

IMHO, I think that you need to sand more and to a finer grit. Most of my projects are built with red oak and typically, I plane it all to the exact thickness before building. I rarely need to use 100 or 120 grit and typically start at 150 or 180 grit. I always sand to at least a 220 grit before stain and finishing. The final sanding before finishing is with 220 or 320 paper and always done with a very light touch. I will take my hand to go over the wood to find if I missed anywhere. I find that I can feel poorly sanded areas better than seeing them even with good light.

With some woods like pine or plywood, I will use a sealer like shellac but on red oak, I do not use anything and just stain the raw wood.

My suggestion is to get some pieces of red oak and run some trials or different sanding techniques and also different sealing or not sealing. This may lead you to find what works for you.

Another suggestion is to see if you can get some pictures of your problems and post them. It may that you can get some better suggestions.

View Flipper01's profile


39 posts in 723 days

#10 posted 11-02-2014 05:00 PM

A1Jim hit the nail on the head. Over the years, I’ve use alot of different “techniques handed down through the ages” and various products both old and “new and improved” and these videos distill down the proven methodologies and products you can trust in my opinion presented in a way that doesn’t, as he says, require even a single college.chemistry class.

View a1Jim's profile


115172 posts in 2996 days

#11 posted 11-02-2014 06:36 PM

Everyone has their own finishing regiment ,I say if it works for you go for it. I like water base because it has way less fumes than oils and drys a lot quicker too.. As far as grain rasing goes ,I plan on it and wipe the wood down with a damp sponge let it dry and do a very quick sand with 180. The thing about sanding to higher grits hurts nothing at all but for most projects I don’t find the need to sand higher than 180 .If your trying to stop your finish from penetrating then sand to 220-400 this is good for some blotchy woods,but not a concern for Oak. A conditioner is the best insurance on blotchy woods. I always recommend what Redoak49 suggest trying your finishing out on a sample board of the same material.

-- Custom furniture

View ShawnSpencer's profile


81 posts in 961 days

#12 posted 11-02-2014 08:13 PM

Some really great advice guys. I’m going to grab a few of the recommended products and do some test boards. I’m still a newb and get too excited about getting the project completed. I need to be more thoughtful and methodical in my process. Something woodworking is slowly teaching me. Charles is really right. I’ve heard him say you can build a work of art but if the finish is crap . It will look like crap. Or something like that. I’ll try and get some pics up and report back.

-- I know you know...

View gfadvm's profile


14929 posts in 2109 days

#13 posted 11-03-2014 01:08 AM

Shawn, Some pics of the problem would be helpful as I’m not sure if you have blotching or just that the early and late woods are staining differently (a characteristic of cathedral grained red oak).

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1409 days

#14 posted 11-03-2014 01:06 PM

I work with a lot of red oak, but I use water/alcohol dye. I use Target Coatings WR4000 clear base Transtint dyes and a few pre colored dyes. You would have to order it. WR4000 is an emulsified linseed oil stain, providing the look and feel of BLO but fast drying and no bleed. Dyes can be more forgiving of imperfections in prep.

I recommend Bob Flexner’s “Understanding Wood Finishing”. He explains the science behind the finishes. I haven’t read Charles Neil’s book, so I don’t know if he does. Knowing how and why things work is the key to great finishes.

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81 posts in 961 days

#15 posted 11-03-2014 10:15 PM

Here is a pic of one of the sides of the bench. I picked up some Watco today. Called Sherwin and Glidden stores, neither stock the Gem Glo. I did research the Target products and they look like something I’ll order for future projects. That alkyd top coat is something I wanna try especially with a toner.

-- I know you know...

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