Highland Woodworking Wood News OnlineAsk the Staff, March 2007

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Ask the Staff

Question: I have been building cabinets and furniture for 15 years, and the one thing that I am not content with is the final finish on my pieces. The big problem that I have is what others have called "bleed back". After a period of roughly 4 to 6 months, the stain bleeds back out of the pores of the wood (under the polyurethane) and gives the grain a black unappealing, aged look. It happens on almost all of my projects that involve using a Minwax "wipe on, wipe off stain" on red oak. I have tried my best to wipe off all of the excess stain and always give it 24 hours to dry. I know that red oak is a bit more porous than most other hardwoods, but again, this problem shouldn't be . What am I doing wrong? Or is it the product that I am using that' causing this?


Answer: Bleed back on red oak is a fact of life and not necessarily something wrong on your part. The porous oak sucks in all that stain and only the top layer of stain near the surface actually dries. The stain underneath never cures and eventually bleeds out. Here are three time-honored solutions to a classic problem:

  1. Apply the stain very thinly with a rag, let dry 24 hours between coats and reapply subsequent thin coats until desired color intensity is achieved. Wait an additional 24 hours, then scrub down any bleed back with a grey Scotchbrite pad and apply the finish.
  2. Use a fast drying gel stain like Bartley's or Varathane. Gel stains don't penetrate as deep and are less likely to bleed out. Still apply in thin coats, however.
  3. Seal the raw wood surface with a 1 to 1-1/2 lb. cut of dewaxed shellac to fill the pores prior to staining. Once the shellac is dry, put the stain on. You will most likely have to put on additional coats of stain to get the level of color you want since the wood is partially sealed, but you should not experience bleed back.

 
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