Black Finish for a Maple Floor

      Black belt finishers display their chops on an unusual problem: staining a maple floor black. No pain, no gain ... April 21, 2008

I am trying to get a dark ebony or black finish on a new maple hardwood floor. I applied several coats of Minwax oil based stain, but the floor will not take enough pigment to make a dark color. I think I am going to have to sand it down and restart, but first I need a plan. What other options do I have? Are aniline dyes or paints options, and if so, what types and what would be the best application and finishing technique?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
You are unlikely to reach a deep or very dark black over a light wood (maple) with stains alone. Water stains are capable of going darker than oil stains, but even so, to get very dark, you are likely to need some pigmented glaze (AKA tinted clearcoat) to block more light. I would not start over, but rather continue onward.

And "several coats of stain" is not cool. Stains are not layerable. So do wash off any loose stain with a rag dampened with mineral spirits. Minwax stains have a fair amount of binder in them, so maybe not much will come off and that is okay... loose stuff is not so good. You can use Minwax's polyshades as a glaze, but I'd make my own with clear polyurethane and black pigment. You could also mix some clear polyurethane with your stain to make a glaze of it (at least 50 percent polyurethane), though this is a thinner and weaker glaze... not so good if you want much more darkening. You control opacity by adding more pigment or by layering more coats or by thinning some coats. I like to get the colors buried in the finish and to keep the topcoat clear or very slightly tinted. This way wear will not remove much of your tinting and the whole look is deeper and prettier.

From the original questioner:
So far I have been using oil based satin which, in a sad last attempt, I layered on the last time incredibly thick and let it dry without wiping till, in many areas, it was totally opaque. (Don't know what I was thinking.) So I have been trying to cut it back with mineral spirits, but they don't seem to be working very well. If I don't strip the stain right off, many boards randomly fog up on me when the floor dries and you can't strip it without rubbing pretty hard, which in some areas seems to strip the color almost back to bare wood. So now I have some blotches to repair, which I'm thinking I'm not going to be able to blend back in too well. I'm not thinking you can apply water based stain effectively over what is already there and, while polyshade is not economically available in a size to do 500 sq ft, nor is it a good foot traffic protector. I like your idea of basically making your own. Do you recommend water or oil based poly?

From contributor C:
Re-sand floor, and use water dye - Lockwood #5791, nigrosine black. Buy 4 oz of 5789 orange yellow tone also. These are both single color concentrates. Follow directions on package to prepare for staining. Purchase tannic acid 1 lb, iron2sulfate/ferrous sulfate - 1 lb. Start by making 1 gallon of black, 5 oz to the gallon, then add slowly 1/4 oz of the dry orange at a time to neutralize the blue in the nigrosene to end up with a brown/black dye just like true ebony. Then dissolve 4-5 oz of tannic acid also. This will be your first dye application. Apply wet and brush out, let dry 24 hours. Second dye same as first, but instead of the tannic acid, add the ferrous sulfate - apply as first, let dry, seal, sand, top coats, let dry, use.

From contributor D:
I'm sorry to say this but... whatever happened to doing samples? As much as I wish I could, I would not recommend that you move forward with what you have done, as I feel you could spend way more time and effort trying to get it right than the time spent to get it right by starting over. This is only 500 sf. If that is an option you will even consider, I would recommend this: sand back all you have done, then dye the maple with a water dye (I use Lockwood, New York) - very cost effective, very lightfast. Then if you want to, stain with a pigment and clear coat over with a floor finish of your choice. Trying to fix a mess more often than not makes for a bigger mess and an unhappy client. Not a good place to end up at.

From contributor D:
What contributor C has suggested would produce a beautiful rich color, but if you want to keep it simple as possible, dye, stain, clear coat, and get out of there with a check.

From contributor R:
Glitsa and Duraseal both make stains specifically designed for floors. You can get deep dark colors with a single application and they require only a simple lamb's wool applicator. They both have long open times so you won't get lap marks. I have seen many ultra high end floors stained with both of these products.

From contributor C:
If you do go with water dyes, do not use waterbase on top - it will make the color bleed into finish.

From contributor L:
I hate to say it, but I think you are at a point where you do need to step back and make a new beginning. Now that you have given a few more details I think that you'd do well to go contributor R's route. If you still need to tint your topcoat, either water base or oil base is fine... but use the appropriate tinters. Bonakemi makes some nice floor coatings of both types, though they are best known for their water base products.

From contributor M:
Go with the Duraseal - Ebony stain! Sand back to fresh wood and apply the stain in one coat, or two if you want it even darker than top coat. Have done this many times with great results.

From the original questioner:
Good stuff. You guys rock! This is the first dark floor I've ever done and good old Minwax was always adequate for previous jobs, especially oaks. I did do some test pieces but didn't work them down to the ultimate color target, shame on me. (I should have gone looking for the experts before I took it on!) The job was complicated by being laid at 45 degrees, which pretty much quadruples the required working time to apply and wipe multiple coats, so I kind of lost my patience and went experimental. Luckily the customer is family and we agreed to take the shot together, so I have some slack on this one. I'm intrigued and inclined to use contributor C's technique just because I love a challenge, but knowing me I'd end up with some kind of spontaneous combustion thing, so maybe I'll take contributor R's and M's advice... this time!

In your experience, which product - Bona, Glits, or DuraSeal - is most likely to achieve a dark black finish for me? Also, which product is most likely to support additional tinting if necessary?

From contributor C:
Nothing in my formula that can ignite when mixed - smiles. This is not something new, but old - the good thing about it is that it can turn the lightest wood black without the need to use any other toners or pigments to go blacker. I first used this when I was finishing pianos and Yamaha first came out with their black polyester finishes - mid 1970's. My boss wanted to copy that finish using standard materials/methods - lacquers/acrylics - and it was up to me to develop a way to get any wood as black as their polyester was, which then was the blackest look on the market! You can also use a straight black dye over top of what I said if it truly needs to be blacker, or just repeat the steps I already outlined before any clear coats are applied - this way no color wears off as the floor is used.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the background, very interesting. There is no substitute for experience! If I should decide to take it on, where do you buy the materials?

From contributor C:
Ferrous sulfate and tannic acid from - 1 lb each. Black and orange dyes from WD Lockwood & Co. in New York. 1 lb black nigrosene and 4 oz orange - make sure they are water dyes only soluble in water - you do not want dual soluble dyes.

From the original questioner:
Thanks again. I already researched Lockwood and pretty much decided a layer of dye is going down first. Why the difference in your process between the two coats? Would you recommend topcoating with oil based poly then or another product? Another recommendation was to lie a layer of stain over the dye before topcoating. What is your opinion on that if I go the Lockwood route?

What product do you recommend to seal these products and grit to sand?

From contributor C:
Maple does not have an acid principle, meaning there is no tannic acid of consequence in the wood to make it react with another chemical to darken it - like oak or walnut or mahogany has and others.

So by applying a water solution of tannic acid to the maple and letting dry, you create the means for the chemicals to react with the acidulous wood and darken it - in this case the ferrous sulfate - which will turn it a dark black/grey. What I found in trying to come up with a black dye/stain was that if I used the tannin and iron method and also added the black/brown water soluble dye in with it, I came up with a 2 step process instead of a 4 step process that could be repeated as many times as necessary to obtain the darkest black possible. I have other ways to obtain this but this is the safest one for general use.

As to urethane/varnish/tongue oil/shellac/wax/clear coats, keep this in mind - all will go over this dyeing process, but you cannot use a waterbase material as the first coat. Why? The stain is water soluble and will be picked up by the waterbase clear if you apply it directly on it. My suggestion is to use a solvent base system you can both apply and sand smooth, for there will be some grain raising, but this can be minimized if you wet the wood surface with water to pre-raise the grain before your final sand. As to grit, I would use 240 or 220 between coats, and the wood floor I would final sand to 150 or 180, but you may experiment with that on samples to see what works best for you. Do not sand the floor after stain is applied - only before.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, I think I understand. Is the first coat of finish then considered your seal coat or do you use a different product for that?

From contributor L:
I have respect for contributor C's methods and his knowledge, but I fear he is giving you a recipe designed for finishers several levels of skill advanced from where you are.

Lockwood makes excellent products and I have used their nigrosine black many times. It does get pretty dark, though on maple you may want another layer of color to get as dark as you'd like. Glitsa and Duraseal have stains that contributor R is recommending and he is a credible expert whom you can trust. Bonakemi is a top producer of clear finishes (though Glitsa and Duraseal may also have such products). Staining and topcoating are really two different applications.

I have used Minwax polyurethane on floors before and with superb results, though I tend toward other products these days. Minwax has been pretty lax in the quality control of some products (notably their stains) and this has left many professionals with an aversion to their products in general. In addition some of their products have characteristics designed to make things easier for beginners but which are not attractive to professional users.

From contributor C:
Yes, your first coat of clear is your seal coat.

Only if you're willing to do a full scale sample of good size, 4'x4', and feel it would be no problem accomplishing a 500 sq. ft. floor in the same manner, would I tell you to go ahead with the process as outlined. I do not want to see you waste your time and money for naught, though I feel it is not complicated. For you, it may be - so I agree you should consider all before doing this.

From the original questioner:
An update... I decided to go with what I thought would be the easy way, so I sanded the floor back down and purchased Sherwin William's black dye, figured out the concentration I wanted to get the right shade, and laid down a coat. It went down pretty evenly, however I neglected to make sure I got coverage between the cracks so when the first coat dried, I had quite a few white streaks where the wood had shrunk/dried. Next I tried to spot dye the cracks - wrong! Results: a spotty, streaked finish. So to make a long story short, it took a couple more attempts to get that evened out. Next came the top coat. I started off with Minwax extra fast solvent based semi gloss drying poly. Wrong again! As you spread the poly, it actually starts to dry and tack out too fast and as a result, you get streaking where it starts to tack up and you overlap. Over a very dark finish like that, you really see the differences in sheen.

Second mistake... Make sure you use a lambskin applicator! I used a flat artificial application pad. When the poly tacks up and you overlap, the tackier it's setting up, the more fibers the poly pulls out of the applicator. So now I also had lots of very small fibers in the surface, particularly in certain areas I had to try and sand out. Lots more work. So I got most of that, but not all of it, out and put on other coat down, but went to a plain fast dry Minwax poly, applied fairly thick with a lambskin applicator. So now the finish looks much more uniform. The finish is dark, but in the sunlight the poly gives it a bit of a gold or brown hue instead of a more true black to charcoal I was trying for. Most but not all of the fibers are gone, but there are still some that show slightly in certain light. I'm trying to decide if I should call it done or try for a little better by spot sanding the remaining dirt/fiber spots totally out, light sanding the rest of the floor, and applying one more final coat. Also if I should use the same product or an even slower drying one for a more uniform finish, and if there is a product that I can put down over the current solvent based poly surface that can be dyed to get rid of or hide the goldish/brownish tint and get back to a truer black tone. And the saga goes on. Many lessons learned.

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