Wood Finishing: To See or Not to See

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher

In virtually every class I teach, the very same question is always asked: "What are the differences between stains and dyes?" In the world of finishing, another great question would be: "When should I use a dye and when should I use a stain?" Here are some tips:

1. A stain is nothing more than a very thin paint. They always have to be stirred before use to make sure the pigment is dispersed in solution, and most usually contain a binder to lock the color in.

2. A dye consists of a carrier (be it water, alcohol or oil) and color pigments so fine that light can pass completely through, thus allowing the substrate to be completely visable.

3. Since a stain is thinned paint, the most common application would be to stain a lesser-quality wood to mimic a more desirable one.

4. Usually with stains, more than one application is needed to see the intended result. Too many applications would likely give the surface a "painted" look, obscuring the wood.

5. On the other hand, a dye is usually used on highly-figured woods that only need a little enhancement (if any at all), and does not obscure the wood surface when the topcoat is applied.

6. A common practice in finishing is to combine both stains and dyes. By using both when dealing with case goods that are made from both solid wood and veneers, such as veneered tops on poplar substrates, a dye can be applied to the whole piece and then a stain can be applied to the "core" woods to bring them closer in appearance to the dyed veneers.


I invite you to sign up for one of my upcoming wood finishing seminars at Highland Woodworking:

Antique Restoration, April 18-19, 2009

French Polish Workshop, April 29, 2009

Gilding and Gold Leafing, May 6, 2009

Wood Coloring Basics, May 13, 2009

Furniture Repair, May 23, 2009

Scott Antiques Mall Treasure Hunt, June 13, 2009




Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at anoelfurniturere@bellsouth.net.


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