Coping With Grain Reversal
by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher
When coloring softwoods such as pine, "grain reversal" can be very frustrating
and very hard to deal with. Grain reversal is when the softer areas of the wood
grain being stained absorbs more color than the harder areas of the grain. Grain
reversal occurs most often on soft woods and to a much lesser extent, on
harder woods because of the different absorption rates and densities of the two types of woods.
When this happens, there are very distinct differences of color and blending these areas
together can be difficult.
Here are some tips:
1. Always use a wash coat or wood conditioner before staining. This will help to even out the
color and make the problem much more manageable.
2. After wash coat and staining, let everything dry for at least 24 hours before proceeding.
3. On smaller projects like jewelry boxes and other small items, spray on a couple of
light coats of lacquer sealer sold in spray cans, or if this isn't available, use regular lacquer
in spray cans and spray on several coats, giving each layer at least 30 minutes drying time.
4. Sand the "sealer" with very fine paper to get the trash out
5. After this is dry, sanded, and using that same stain as before, use a small soft brush and blend the
lighter areas in with the darker areas. Let dry overnight.
6. Seal this in and repeat as necessary until desired effect is accomplished. Sand very lightly again and
topcoat with more lacquer. (Spray-on oil-based varnish is available in spray cans and can be used instead of
lacquer. However, the drying time for these are the same as brush or wipe-on varnish and will add
days to the finishing process. Spray-on shellac should be used instead of spray-on varnish when lacquer is
7. Another way to achieve evenness is to use a colored varnish like Poly Shades by Minwax and wipe on
many coats over a long period of time, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly. This will be a painstaking
process but will work by building the color slowly and applying finish at the same time.
8. Professional finishers use "shaders" or "toners" to achieve evenness on a much larger scale utilizing
spray equipment and lacquers "loaded" with dyes. Results can be seen immediately with the added
luxury of total control over the entire process.
9. Lacquers that are "loaded" with dye can also be bought in spray cans and used to blend together
color differences. However, finding the correct color or combinations of color to achieve an acceptable
result can be tricky, though with a lot of practice on prepared scraps of the same wood you are working with,
and combining different shaders together along with a little patience and note-taking, you should
get the hang of it.
10. As always, good air movement and temperatures above 60 degrees assure proper curing of
all finishing materials.