Popping the Grain on Curly Maple

      How to enhance contrast and definition with curly Maple. October 28, 2008

I have a client who wants the figure in the curly soft maple to really "pop" out on an entertainment unit we're building. We have an HVLP spray system. What finishing process would be easiest for getting the desired "pop"? The piece is to be stained a light brown color as well. We're not opposed to hand finishing if needed.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
Use dyes instead of pigmented stains. The pigments block the characteristics of the curl and make the finish block the beauty of the wood. The dyes will give it the depth you desire. Also a clear stain will get deeper into the wood and give a better shimmer.

From contributor J:
Even a very diluted dye mixture will work wonders if you don't want to add much color. Using a higher sheen finish (40+) will help as well, the amount of flatting paste in lower sheen finishes tends to mask the grain pop a bit.

De-waxed shellac also provides a nice shimmer effect. Some of the old timers will recommend boiled linseed oil to pop the grain, but I have never been comfortable using an oil under my lacquer.

From contributor P:
I think any stain would enhance the grain. A gel stain, which I like to use on maple less so, but any oil base wiping stain would work fine. A dye stain on its own wouldn’t look great to me. I like to layer colors. Dyes aren't typically light fast.

From contributor R:
Wood isn't light fast either. I would also go for the dye stain. If you are doing samples first try using two colors of dye and after the first color block sand the wood, the color will come off on the harder wood leaving the color in the softer areas. Now add the second color and you will really accentuate the figure. Also a clear stain base concentrate wiped on before sealing can work like a penetrating oil and add even more depth. Do samples and experiment a little.

From contributor M:
I agree that a dye stain will work the best on maple. An important point not mentioned yet is to lower your air pressure way down to about 10 psi to where it is just atomizing. It will spray real wet and give the penetration which brings out the figure. If you get a drip just wipe it off right away and it will blend right in. Thin back the dye stain so that you can reach your desired color in two to three passes. You won`t get streaks or blowback in corners if you spray with real low pressure.

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