Staining is one of the most overlooked finishing methods by newbie woodworkers. This is because there is not much information about the basics of staining.
Staining can open many finishing possibilities with remarkable results for someone willing to learn the basics.
I have gathered all the info I could from top finishing gurus like Flexner, Jewitt, and L’Eralio and topped it up with my own experience with stain to explain the basics of staining.
What are the different types of wood stains?
There are different ways that stains can be grouped. Understanding the composition, properties, and how stain interacts can help us predict how a certain stain will perform.
We will classify the stain using the following criteria to make this as easy as possible.
- Colorant – is it a pigment or a dye.
- Binder – is it water-based, oil-based, varnish, or lacquer
- Thickness – is it liquid or gel
These substances typically confer a color on naturally occurring plants in the environment. With the advancement in science and technology, you will also readily come across human-made dyes mostly obtained as a byproduct from the fractional distillation of crude oil.
Dyes carry out the coloring action of the substance they are applied to by filling up the wood spaces, totally absorbed by the wood. Dyes are a utility coloring agent and hold on tight to the wood without needing to be held in place by a separate agent, e.g., a binder.
The composition of dyes allowed it to remain in the solvent in which it was dissolved for a pretty long time without it separating, as you will find in pigments. Based on its ability to be dissolved by the appropriate solvents, you can capitalize on this by wiping off an application of dye with relative success if you aim to apply a color closely matching the one you want to get rid of.
The type of solvent that will dissolve a dye varies. The variance is due to the nature of the dye you aim to work with. Here are some common examples of solvents used in dye dissolution; alcohol, lacquer, water, and mineral spirits.
When buying a dye, the type of solvent that it will be dissolved in will be inscribed on the pack. The mixing proportions and other directions will also be properly listed for you to follow. Water-soluble dyes are easy on your pocket, and the solvent used is environmentally friendly and less likely to cause any form of harm to humans.
When you check out the desirable qualities and other factors that you want to impart on your project based on the dye’s type of solubility, the water-soluble dyes come out tops because they don’t fade as fast as the oil or alcohol soluble types.
This quality is called “Lightfastness.” The rate at which water-soluble dyes dry is quite slow, allowing the dyes to be thoroughly absorbed by the wood. This also allows you to correct mistakes and remove surplus dyes from the application.
Pigments were, in the beginning, natural compounds got from nature. When combined with most liquids, they are solid materials that will settle out due to their density levels, so you have to shake the container or mix the solution before the woodworker can use it.
Nowadays, you will find artificially produced pigments more than the natural stuff. Unlike dyes that penetrate and are absorbed by the wood, pigments, on the other hand, get stuck in markings, gouges, holes, and other indentations on the surface of the wood.
Suppose a relatively large amount of pigment is applied to any area on the surface of the wood with more concentration of markings, pores, etc… In that case, you will notice the distinct color variation compared to other areas without such depressions.
Other than the pigments settling into these areas on the surface, the staining can also be achieved by applying several layers of the material to the area of interest. The tone you hope to achieve will determine how many layers of the pigment you will apply; the darker the tone, the more layers of pigment that will be needed.
We have touched on the two major staining agents, but do you know that some coloring agents are on the market that combines these two? Some individuals favor it because it works well in thick woods.
3. Penetrating oil-based stains
On the shelves of hardware stores and home centers, you will find oil stains in abundance and water-based stains. First, let’s deal with the most common oil stains.
Penetrating oil stains are the easiest stains for the amateur to get their hands on. They are inexpensive, come in various colors, and are inter-mixable.
The major drawback with these stains is that they need to be applied at proper temperatures. Apply these below 50°, and you will run into problems with drying, and over 800 (especially if there’s high humidity), you will run into the problem of the stain “sweating.”
All in all, I would say that penetrating oil stains are what the novice should begin working with.
4. Gel stains
Gel stains are another type of stains that come thickened to reduce splatter. Many people like using these stains because they wipe on and wipe off. You can also purchase gel varnishes that rub on just the same.
The biggest advantage of gel stains is that they do not penetrate as deep as other dyes. This makes them attractive for problematic woods like pine and cherry.
5. Water-based stains
You can reduce most oil paints to a stain by thinning them with mineral spirits or turpentine.
When we think of latex paint, we must remember that it may be thinned by using plain ordinary water or, if you want to get fussy, distilled water to dilute it to stain consistency.
In essence, then, this is what water-based stain is.
Many companies manufacture their own brands along with their oil-based varieties of stains. While oil-based varieties of stains contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds), water-based stains have none. Better for the environment, better for you.
The biggest disadvantage of water-based stains is that, because they are water-based, they will raise the grain of the wood. So, in order the counteract the problem, you must first wet the wood lightly with a sufficiently damp sponge, allow the wood to dry, and then cut the raised fibers by sanding before you even get started staining.
Do you have to do this step? Let’s say it would be a wise thing to do. The bottom line is, like everything else mentioned in this article; water-based stains are there to be investigated. So grab
your deerstalker cap and find your magnifying glass, Sherlock.
6. Lacquer-based stains
Lacquer stains are fused with fast-drying binders and solvents. Their fast-drying ability make them an attractive choice for professional finishers using spraying equipment. With a good spraying system, these stains can be applied in about 30min.
Lacquer stains are noticeable by their strong odor caused by the solvents used (normally xylene and various ketones).
Lacquer stains are so fast drying that even professionals will work in pairs. one person will apply the stain and the other person follow behind closely wiping off the excess stain. This makes the application a level harder and hence is not recommended for newbies.
Choose lacquer stains if you plan on spraying and don’t want to spend too much time between staining and finishing. Lacquer stain is also a good option for someone that wishes to add a colorant to their lacquer for glazing purposes.
7. Varnish-based stains
Varnish and oil-based stains are quite similar, the main difference though is the binder in varnish stains.
Varnish stains are made with varnish binder (mostly polyurethane varnish). Due to the poly binder varnish stains will cure hard. This is contrary to oil stains that do not cure hard and the excess has to be wiped off.
Due to the ability of varnish stains to cure dry, they can be brushed on wood and left to dry without wiping off the excess.
Varnish stains are not as easy to apply as oil stains. This is because they dry fast and do not allow much time for leveling with a brush. Brushing and leaving the excess usually leaves prominent colored brush strokes.
Varnish stains are ideal for repairs to use as overcoats on an already stained area that is scuffed and dull. Because the stain hardens well there is no need for a top coat of finish. The brush marks are not a problem in repairs as they are disguised by the existing stain underneath.
Anyline dyes are not readily available to the public. Aniline dyes must be ordered over the Internet from woodworking supply houses or other finishing supply sources.
The furniture industry relies heavily on these types of dyes the water-soluble type being the preferred favorite amongst professionals. However, when mixed, aniline dyes are 90% water-based, so you must remember, that they too will raise the grain of the wood.
To make a quart, you usually mix a tablespoon or two of dye powder or crystals, 1/4 cup or so of methanol, and then 33/4 cups of water. Aniline dyes come in an amazing variety of colors and unlike penetrating oil stains, aniline dyes will really soak into and color the fibers of the wood – and your flesh!
You definitely have to wear gloves with this stuff.
What are the different colors of wood stain?
Choosing a wood stain color can be tricky. There are so many options out there, and it seems like each one is geared toward different styles of furniture.
Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be so difficult! Here are some tips to guide you through selecting your perfect stain color. The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding on a stain color is that all wood reacts differently to different colors.
Make sure you know what type of wood you are staining before making any decisions about how dark or light you want your finished product to look. If you aren’t sure, check with a scrap of wood as a tester.
If you like the outcome you can proceed. Applying in light colors and building up with additional layers is always advised.
Wood stains fall into one of two categories: dye or pigment. Dye stains allow the wood to retain some of its natural look and, in general, are more durable.
Dyes can still be further divided into more types with respect to their binders or thickness. When choosing a dye it’s important to know how long the dye will take to dry.
Knowing how long it takes a stain to dry will help you know how much flexibility you can afford in terms of wiping off excess stains.