Extending the Working Time of Waterborne Stains?

      Waterborne formulas dry quickly. Here are some tips on how to give yourself a few more minutes for hand application. February 12, 2007

I've decided on a Minwax waterborne stain which I will hand apply to the face frames and doors over conditioned maple. The trouble I'm having with this stain is the working time. The stain seems to get tacky after only a couple minutes on the wood. The working time is very short, which will be a problem for large doors and large panels. Does anyone know of a product or technique to extend the working time to about 5 minutes without the stain becoming tacky and tending to smudge? My project is to the stain phase and I'm almost at a standstill here.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
I use waterborne stain by Fuhr, but the drying time is short when compared to oil base stain. I went to the local sheet metal place and had them make a tray large enough to hold the biggest door I make. The tray is about two inches deep. I put about 1/2" of stain in the tray. I put the door in the tray and flip it over, then I stand it up in the tray and wipe with a sponge. I then take my air hose, regulated down, and blow where the panels enter the stiles and rails. I blow from both sides of the door. I also blow out hinge and hardware holes. I then lay the door down and wipe with rags. The process from start to finish is less than two minutes per door. Not getting the door wet enough is the main problem when using water borne stain because of the rapid drying.

From contributor R:
The cooler the temp of the shop, the better, and try to stay out of any air movement from fans or heating ducts. I like early morning before the shop is fully heated. You do have to move quickly, and don't be sparing with the stain. Target's water stain, for one, has a much better work time than what you're using.

From contributor M:
Propylene glycol.

From contributor A:
We use Target Coatings Oxford stains. Time in a warm shop is about 5 minutes, which is long enough to do large man doors (7' x 40"). Using clear glycol, as mentioned above, works for some products, but be sure to do test panels and check for adhesion as well as consistency between the panels.

Thinning with glycol can reduce the depth of colour and should be done in precise measures so that it can be repeated. If you don't do it precisely, you can end up with differing color tones from one panel to the next, should you not mix enough for the project.

From contributor M:
Use ten-twelve eyedroppers to a quart. You may have a hard time getting it from your supplier. You can also use plain glycerin, which you can buy at any drug store. They both will work with water base glazes. Use the same amount as the WB stain.

From contributor P:
I use a spray and wipe method. I spray the stain on fairly wet, and immediately start wiping it down. Waterbased stains don't usually require much time to penetrate, so this works pretty well. You have to watch backs of doors and adjoining surfaces for any drips. They're hard to blend in when you flip the door to do the other side, especially if you let them dry.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone, great ideas. Contributor P, I assume you use an airless sprayer or an HVLP? I've got a nice airless, so I could do that or try the poly glycol suggestions. I'd like to try the Target products but I've got too many stain samples to try another product at this point. I'll try Target on the next project.

From contributor P:
I don't have an airless (yet - there's a Kremlin on eBay tonight!). You can spray stains with any kind of gun. I use a turbine HVLP or conventional gun. An airless may be overkill for stain. You're really just trying to get the stain on quickly so you can work it before it dries. I should mention that I rarely use WB stain as my main colorant these days. I usually start with a WB dye, then do a second coat with a diluted WB stain, then maybe a glaze. I haven't yet seen a WB stain that I like all by itself.

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