This is 9 Massive Tips for Using Wood Dye to Color Your Projects. In this post, I’ll show you several tips on using dye stains that will make the process easier, more enjoyable, and give you a higher chance of success. Enjoy.
Using Wood Dye for Finishing
Aniline dyes are a lot of fun to work with as a method of adding color to your wooden projects. In the world of finishing, there are a lot of different ways to color a piece of wood, and dyes are definitely one of the most versatile and interesting.
First of all, dyes are very different than regular stain. The particles are immensely smaller, and the coloring is much more permanent. Also, the rich and vivid hues that you can create with aniline dyes are amazing to behold.
If this is your first time thinking about using this type of wood stain, then you are in for a real treat as you read the rest of this post. I’ll show you all kinds of great tips and tricks for using them, and you’ll feel like a pro before you even start.
Here is the list of things I’m going to cover, and I’ll go into each one of them in detail farther down in the post.
- Water and Alcohol Dyes
- Mixing and Storing Your Stains
- Creating Custom Colors with Dye Stain
- Dye Brings Out Grain Detail
- You Can Sand Dye to Show the Grain
- Contrast Staining With Dye Stains
- Make Sure to Wear Gloves
- Protect Anything You Care About
- All Dyes Need a Top Coat to Pop
See Also: Using My New Fiebings Dye Stains
Water and Alcohol Dyes
There are two major types of dyes that you can use for your wood finishing needs. The main two classifications are those that are mixed with water, and those that are mixed with alcohol. There is also powder and liquid.
In my experience, the only real advantage to using the alcohol version over the water version, no matter whether it’s a powder or liquid is that the alcohol version does dry significantly faster. If that’s a good feature, just go with the alcohol dyes.
Both the alcohol and water version have a variety of colors and come in a powder or a liquid concentrate. Both of them are about as easy to work with as the other, so I recommend making your decision for the color you want, and then decide on water or alcohol.
You can’t go wrong either way.
Just for transparency, I use alcohol dies for the vast majority of my woodworking, and I only use the watercolors for a very specific need. I’ll cover that very specific instance in the section on contrast staining.
See Also: Dye Stain Tips
Mixing and Storing Your Stains
One of the best things that you can get for storing your stains when you mix them is empty mason jars from the grocery store. These are clear glass jars of that come with tight fitting lid‘s and rings, and they’re in expensive.
For most stain mixtures, the 8 ounce variety is going to be all you ever really need. Though, you can use the 16 ounce as well if you like. Anything bigger than that is a waste, because you’ll almost never use that much of one color.
One of the really fun things about using this type of stain is mixing your own colors. The bigger the container you purchase, the more it will encourage you to waste color on one specific look, where you could make tons of smaller batches in smaller bottles.
To mix the stain, start with the alcohol or water, and add the dye stain concentrate or powder to the jar. Carefully swirl it around, and ensure that the product is completely mixed. Now, you decide if you like the color.
If the color is too light, add more die. If it’s too dark, add more water or alcohol. Make sure to match whatever the dye calls for obviously, but more of the thinner will make the color less powerful.
See Also: 9 Excellent Tips for Staining Plywood
Creating Custom Colors with Dye Stain
The real beauty of working with dye stains is mixing them together to create custom color creations that are entirely your own. You can always use the colors that are created by the manufacturer right out of the bottle, but it’s so much more fun to make your own.
This is also where a little bit of custom wood finishing comes in to play, because you can literally create a color that is all yours. All you really need to do is pay attention to how you are mixing it, and what the amounts are that you’re using.
Here is the easiest way to do this:
- Start with the exact same amount of thinner in your jar, maybe 2 ounces.
- Add drops of dye to the thinner, and count them. If you are using powder, measure it carefully as you add it.
- Use as many different colors as needed to create your own perfect shade.
- Write down the amounts of dye concentrate that you use to achieve the color, as well as the amount of thinner that it is mixed with.
- Using a rag, pick up a very tiny amount and apply it to a piece of wood to check the color.
- Make any adjustments by adding more thinner or more dye concentrate, and write down exactly how much you add.
- Take another very tiny sample, like less than what you could drip from an eyedropper, and check the color again.
- If you like it, then you can stop. If you don’t, keep repeating this process until you get the color you like. The only caveat is that the more drops you remove, the less accurate your formula will be. Only test maybe 3 to 5 times to be safe.
- Once you’re happy with your color, do the math and create one sheet of paper that has the exact recipe for that particular color.
- Finally, give it a name that you can remember, and save it for yourself.
Dye Brings Out Grain Detail
Something that dye really does that not a lot of people are aware of is it brings out the detail of the grain in the wood. These are the growth rings that go through the piece, as well as any figure that is present in the wood.
This can be an extremely desirable effect for a lot of reasons, because it highlights the natural look of the wood exactly as it was made in nature. There isn’t any muting of differences in color or figure like other staining products.
However, if that’s not what you want to do, and you’re looking for a more even type of coloring, then dye stain is not what you’re looking for. In this case, you would probably do better with a gel stain, which creates a much more even look.
See Also: The Easy Way to Stain Wood Darker
You Can Sand Dye to Show the Grain
Something that you can do with dyes and it’s super interesting is you can sand it back and only the softer areas on the piece that absorbed more die will hold onto the color. The harder spots will release it as you sand.
In reality, the soft spots suck up the dye like a sponge, and the hard spots don’t suck it up nearly as much. When you sand, you go through all the layers evenly, so the hard layers lose their color faster than the soft layers.
You can use this to your advantage to reveal a lot more detail in the wood grain and figure by sanding back the dye and revealing the natural wood. This will tend to follow the grain, highlighting it even further.
See Also: How to Prepare Wood for Staining
Contrast Staining With Dye Stains
Another thing that you can do with dye stains is create what’s called a contrast stain. This is where you dye your piece extremely dark, sand away quite a bit, leaving it only on the grain lines, and figure, and then apply another lighter color over it to stain everything else.
This is why I keep watercolors around. The water tends to not interfere with the alcohol nearly as much as using alcohol over alcohol. In this case, I’ll use a dark alcohol based stain, sand it back, then use a lighter water-based stain.
What this does is create a darkened look of the grain and the figure that is highlighted incredibly. Then, you come back with the lighter color for the rest of the wood, and it doesn’t affect the darker parts at all.
What you do get is a contrasting look between the two colors that gives the wood an incredible amount of depth, and great character. It’s all possible because of dye stains and their properties, which is another reason you should start to experiment with them.
Make Sure to Wear Gloves
This is a funny story of mine that I’ve told several times, and it shows the difference between dye stain and traditional stain. Having been used to not wearing gloves while using pigment stain, I made the mistake of doing that while using dye stain.
When I went to the bathroom to wash my hands just as I had done before with any other stain, I noticed that the soap and water did absolutely nothing. I washed my hands several more times, and still it did nothing.
After that, I even went out and used some thinner for wood finishing on my hands, and still nothing happened. In fact, I was stuck with a very dark colored set of fingers for a little over a week.
Don’t be like me. If you’re going to work with dye stains, definitely use gloves, and make sure you don’t buy crappy ones either.
If you get a hole in that glove, the stain will seep right through and keep coloring that portion of your hand the entire time.
See Also: Rustic Wood Staining Technique
Protect Anything You Care About
This is a really good tip that comes from another one of my personal failures, and it really illustrates the power and the permanent nature of dye stains. Anything that you care about, make sure you protect when you are using this type of stain.
I was using a mixture of extra dark walnut and black when I accidentally knocked over about 8 ounces of dye stain in a glass jar.
I was in the garage shop at the time, and when the glass shattered, it shot dye stain all over the place. Also, as the glass flew through the air, tons of stain was ejected from the jar and landed on everything.
Everywhere that that stain touched is still very dark brown to this day. The woodworking bench that was right next to it, the concrete floor, all of the wood stack on the bench, and a rug that was nearby.
When I tell you this stuff is permanent, it absolutely is. It’s almost like someone took a photograph of all of the spill and splash marks on the ground like it was a murder investigation. That stuff is permanently preserved, and I learned another valuable lesson.
All Dyes Need a Top Coat to Pop
Like any type of stain, dye stains and wood dye are going to need a clear coat on top of them in order to really make the color pop. The color that you see while you’re applying the stain is not the same as the color you’ll see in the end once a topcoat has been applied.
For all of your projects, select a good quality clear coat that will hold up well for a very long time. I recommend furniture grade lacquer in a spray can, or a good hand applied finish like a wiping varnish.
Apply them following the directions after your coat of dye stain has fully dried. Let the first coat dry, and then apply a second. Follow the directions from the finish, and then let it fully cure as well. At that point, you’ll see the true nature of your dye.
See Also: 14 Easy Tips for Using Wiping Varnish
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know all of these tips for using aniline dyes in your woodworking and wood finishing, it’s time to get out into the shop and take action. Click on one of the pictures of dye stain above, and it will take you to Amazon to have a closer look.
Pick up a couple colors that excite you, and if you’re still wondering about what to mix it with, just get Transtint, which mixes with alcohol because it seems like that one is a little bit easier to work with in general, and it dries a lot faster.
When you get the stain into your shop, start experimenting. Get yourself some glass jars from the grocery store so that way you can make your own custom colors, and make darn sure to write down the exact amounts that you put into each one.
The last thing that you want to do is come up with the worlds greatest gift of color to all woodworking projects and not remember what the heck you put into the mixture. The second you don’t write it down, that’s what you’ll end up doing.
If you have any questions on these nine important tips for using wood dye to color your projects, please post a question I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.
- 20 Years Experience in Woodworking
- 7 Published Books Available on Amazon
- 750+ Helpful Posts Written
- 1 Million+ Words Published