Highland Woodworking Wood News Online: Ask the Staff
Highland Woodworking Wood News Online Ask the Staff, January 2007

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Ask the Staff

Question: I want to start working with water-based dyes. How do I get the best results?

Answer: Dyes are colorants that are usually mixed in water or alcohol as a carrier. Dyes are characterized as transparent, as they bring about color changes in wood without obscuring the figure. The molecular size of the dye particles is so small they allow light to pass through virtually unhindered. Water-based dyes are non-flammable and low odor, and tend to be more lightfast than alcohol-based dyes.

When coloring raw wood with water-based dyes, sand the piece with up to 220 grit sandpaper. Next, take a damp sponge and go over the portion to be dyed in order to raise the wood's grain. After the water dries, sand off the fuzzy fibers with 220 grit sandpaper. Now, wet the piece again with the sponge and immediately apply the dye in any manner you like - with a rag, brush or sponge. I generally rag it on. The water from the sponge acts as a wood conditioner and guarantees a uniform appearance with little chance of splotching. Try it; you'll be amazed.

To shortcut the procedure, put the dye down with a grey Scotch-Brite Hand Pad (196202) going with the grain. The abrasive pad will cut down the grain as it rises from the moisture in the dye, and you won't have to sponge and sand.

When topcoating water-based dyes with a water-based finish, the dye can bleed into the topcoat and cause a muddy appearance. To prevent this, use dewaxed shellac as a sealer prior to applying the water-based finish.

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