Ask the Staff
Question: I screwed up and tried to stain bookcases I made out of maple. They look terrible. How do I recover?
Answer: As you've discovered, maple doesn't color well with pigmented based stains. Its pores are too small so the pigment has no place to go, and you wind up with a splotchy mess. To color raw maple you must use a water-based dye. First, sand the piece to 220 grit, and raise the grain with a damp sponge. After the water has dried, sand off the raised grain with 220 grit. Right before you apply the dye, wet the section you intend to color with the damp sponge and immediately apply the dye. Unfortunately, unless you plan on restaining your bookcases with a darker stain, you'll have to strip them first.
Another way to color maple is to first seal the piece with a 1-1/2lb. cut of dewaxed shellac. This will keep the color out of the wood completely, thus preventing grain splotching. Next, dissolve concentrated dye like TransTint in nitro-based lacquer, a water-based finish or shellac and spray it on. Since the color never comes in contact with the wood, you get a perfectly even color, depending on your spraying skills.
You may also find these articles helpful: Finishing Lessons from a Small Shop Professional and Spray Finishing Doesn't Have To Be Scary.