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How To Select The Correct Color Dye Stain For Your Project Part 1  


I don't know. Really, I don't. I get asked this question at least three times a week and for someone like me who pretends to know everything it's really frustrating to tell people that I don't have a clue.

I don't. Here's why:

How the color of the dye is perceived works is a function of the color of the dye, the strength (dilution) of the dye, the underlying color of the wood underneath it, the texture of the wood and how the sheen of the wood reflects light, the color of the topcoat over the dye, the lighting on the piece, and the color of the piece next to the dyed piece. I might have left out a few criteria but that's the gist of it. Look at the following examples:
All the examples use the same walnut dye at the same strength. Of course you can vary the strength of the dye and the intensity of the color just by diluting the dye.

Same dye, same strength, on two different types of bare wood (poplar and pine)

Same dye, Same strength, on poplar. Top coated with blond shellac on the left, no topcoat on the right.

The previous samples were photographed under natural sunlight near a window. This picture is of the same wood but under regular fluorescent lighting.

Here is a walnut stain sample surrounded by a dark or light border.

Do you see what I mean.

In part two (which may or may not be the next blog entry) I'll talk about things I discuss when in spite of my ignorance I try to help people get the
color dye they want.

Note: Due to the way I like to photograph things the pictures are redder than they are in real life.
Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 4
01/18/2010tom fidgen

loved this post and appreciate the honesty! When I work with clients on a custom piece of furniture the fist thing I tell them is that I don't use stain- if they want a dark tone, then I recommend a dark wood. If it's a lighter shade they're after then I suggest a lighter species. I never understood why people work with say, birch and then go through all of the trouble to make it look like cherry or walnut.
I laugh when I walk through the big box stores and see examples of a 'cherry finish''s usually a dark, puple/red tone that ressembles a plactic rose wood or something.?
I do appreciate dye's and stains when used as an aesthetic compliment or in a detail for accentuating something visually- perhaps an inlay or a moulding....but working with one species for an entire project and then staining it to look like an altogether different species is something that always left me scratching my head.? But hey, that's just my two cents.
Thanks for the great blog and keep well.
01/18/2010John Poole
Thanks for posting this. It underscores a frustration I share with you, and I am glad to hear that it's not just me! Friends think I'm nuts, but I've actually created a collection of "swatches" of wood species I work with frequently with varying degrees of dye/stain intensity and different (or none) top coats that I likewise tend to favor, and keep them around just for purposes of comparison or reference. Not unlike a color card for paints. Helps in make decisions sometimes, or at least making educated guesses on what to try next.
02/08/2010McKay Sleight
Years ago I had a customer that wanted to have an ivory color on her kitchen cabinets. The kitchen was north facing so we had pretty good light. However, when you put the molding up at the top it literally changed colors. I had a scrap piece left over and showed her how just changing positions changed the color of the trim. Even seeing the sample and the change when moved she would not believe that the trim was painted with the same color. I ended up paying a painter $1300.00 to change the color for her. Needless to say he had the same problem. I wished at the time never to see her again and so far, (knock on wood) I haven't.
03/11/2010James Messer 
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