Dye Stain Tips

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My favorite kind of wood stains are dye stains, and for a number of reasons.  Dye stains can be mixed together to create custom colors, they color the wood with great saturation, and they are very easy to mix and use.  There are a few things however that can help when working with dyes for the first time.

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dye stain
A selection of water and alcohol dyes and mixing jars.

Dye stains are different than regular stains in the way that they color the wood.  Regular stains use pigments, which can be thought of as colored dust or particles that adhere to the surface of the wood to create the color.   Dyes do not.

Too much stain (pigment particles) and you will have the effect of paint, which means the grain will become lost.  Even under a few coats of pigment stain, the grain can be muted.

A well done dye stain on a piece of figured wood will really bring out the grain and enhance every detail.  It will also not illuminate sanding scratches like pigmented stain, as there are no large particles to become lodged in the scratches.

Dyes can be mixed on demand to create custom colors.  Some other stains can be used this way, but dyes are designed to be mixed together to create a perfect color match or a custom color.

dying wood
Dying a Briar ring with a Dark Walnut stain.

When making a dye recipe, note the number of drops and the amount of liquid (alcohol or water) used.  This makes it easy to remember how to make the same batch next time.  Making a custom color that is truly yours is a simple matter of combining a few colors and adjusting it to get the color you want, and writing down the recipe.  Now you have a custom color that nobody else has.

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Also, dye stains do not wash off fingers and clothes like pigment stains.  These can stick around for days if you get a hold in a glove and have the dye in contact with skin for a while.  Ask me how I know.  Be sure to wear disposable gloves when handling this kind of stain.

Dye stains dry incredibly fast.  Even when mixed with water, these dry quickly and the alcohol dye will dry in seconds.  This allows multiple coats to be applied in minutes, and clear coating can be done right afterwards.  The color will dull slightly when dry, then pop again when covered with a top coat finish.

Lastly, one of the best ways to mix and keep dye stains is in 16 ounce glass jars.  These are sold in the canning section at the store, and come with metal lids/rings.  Mix a color and write the number of drops and amount of thinner on the lid.  The color will be easy to spot on the shelf, and the mixture can last a long time if kept indoors.

If you want to know more about wood finishing, take a look at my 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing for more easy ways to finish wood.

Anyone have any dye staining tips that they want to share?

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
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