Applying Stain, Dye, and Clear Finish

This story shows to how to apply stain, dye, and clear finish.

Applying Stain, Dye, and Clear Finish

Nothing brings out the natural beauty of wood grain better than one of several coloring agents followed by multiple coats of a clear finish.

Penetrating oils will color the wood; some more than others. Tung oil, for example, will have only a mild effect on the color and contrast of the wood. Natural (untinted) Danish oils will darken the wood somewhat, but you will achieve the largest color change with boiled linseed oil. Applied in a 50/50 solution of oil and mineral spirits or turpentine, this oil will initially impart some of its amber color to the wood. Then, over time, linseed oil darkens to a rich golden color with exposure to air and light.

Stains and dyes have a more pronounced effect on wood grain. Stains are a mixture of pigment in some kind of liquid carrier, and pigments, because they are large particles, stay suspended in the carrier but are not dissolved by it. Dyes are dissolved by their carrier, generally water or alcohol. The dye particles are microscopic and almost indistinguishable from the carrier. Because of this difference, stains and dyes behave differently on wood, and their effect on grain pattern is likewise different.

Because pigments are thick, they are absorbed less by the denser portions of the wood and more by the areas containing open grain. If you apply stain to oak, for example, and then wipe off the excess, the areas of open grain will appear much darker than the surrounding wood. If you dye the same piece of oak, the entire surface will take on an evenness of tone, because the smaller dye particles penetrate all areas of the wood almost equally.

For all these pronounced differences in their final appearance, stains and dyes go on pretty much the same. Flood the surface, give the colorant the proper penetration time, then wipe off the excess.

Applying Stain: Step 1

Mix stain thoroughly before using. With either a brush or lint-free cloth, apply it in the direction of the grain. Overlap your strokes slightly so you don't miss any spots.

Applying Stain: Step 2

Before the stain begins to dry, wipe the entire wood surface to remove excess. This also forces the stain's pigment into the grain, enhancing its contrast.

Applying Varnish: Step 1

To properly load a brush, dip the bristles into the finish up to about one-third of their length. Touch the tip of the brush against the sides of your container and put a little pressure on the bristles to let the excess flow out.

Applying Varnish: Step 2

Starting at one edge of the work, hold your brush at about a 45-degree angle and apply just enough pressure to deflect the bristles and release the varnish. Pull the brush slowly and in a straight line along the grain.

Applying Varnish: Step 3

As you approach the end of the piece, put slightly more pressure on the bristles, but don't change the angle of the handle or bristles.

Applying Varnish: Step 4

Keep the brush moving in the same line until you reach the end of the piece and lift the brush in one smooth motion as you clear the edge.

Applying Varnish: Step 5

Scrape the brush against the inside lip of the container, which will unload the remaining varnish. Then, with the brush held at almost 90 degrees to the surface, run just the tip of the bristles lightly through the varnish from one end to the other.

Applying Wood Dye: Step 1

Apply the dye liberally to the surface using a brush, foam brush, rag, or sprayer.

Applying Wood Dye: Step 2

Wipe the piece with a lint-free cloth to remove excess dye.


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