Toning and Shading Basics

      Fundamentals of toning for a first-time finisher. April 19, 2011

I am spraying a toner (first time) over a dark walnut stain on maple for a bar. The toner is a lacquer and will be topcoated with a clear lacquer. I have been trying to get some dark colors on maple and have had many problems. This project is a bar with raised panels. I am not a pro when it comes to finishing. The company where I get my stain and lacquer (Camger Coatings) suggested using a toner to get the dark even color. I use an HVLP gravity feed spray gun. Any tips or problems I should watch out for would be much appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor G:
The hardest thing to overcome will be striping. Keeping dark streaks out of your finish requires a very fine tuned gun. Keep the color content low in the shader (toner is used before stain, shader after). My usual mixture is 50-50 mixture of thinner and lacquer and up to one ounce of shading concentrate. Usually two thirdís of an ounce. Spray on a light (2 mil) wet coat and let it flash. Be careful, as it dries and the wet coat gets thinner the pigment particles get more concentrated and the shader gets darker.

Put on a coat in a cross hatch pattern and let it flash. Check your color against your sample, if it needs to go darker do another coat. Usually I try for two coats of shader. Never try to do it in one, always better to build to get the color than do one coat and have it end up to dark.

From contributor F:
Itís actually pretty easy to get maple dark without blotching, the difficult part is getting the color consistent throughout the project. A stepboard is a must. Spray an NGR stain on. These require a little practice to get right. As Contributor G says, build the color slowly and pay attention to your stepboard. Spray a washcoat, about 5%. Scuff with ScotchBrite pad. I use the maroon ones. Wipe on and wipe off a wiping stain. Seal with a sanding sealer or lacquer, or whatever you use for a topcoat. Scuff sand.

An optional step that may or may not be required: spray on a toner or a shader. Toners and shaders are essentially the same thing. The difference being that toning has an emphasis on shifting color, while shading has an emphasis on darkening, then scuff sand. Both are the same, but the name describes your intentions of either shifting or darkening. Spray a topcoat and call it done.

From the original questioner:
First off I would like to thank you guys for taking the time and helping me out. I have had problems in the past with striping usually on larger areas. The raised panel back for this bar is eight feet long and 40 inches high and this is where I would be concerned with the stripping. Is it better to spray this laying down flat or standing up straight?

Like I said I am not a pro when it comes to finishing but after a lot of aggravation I usually achieve good results. I only have a run of the mill spray gun and I know I will have to upgrade to a better one. The shader is already mixed so I don't know exactly what they put in but I think it was meant to be sprayed after the stain. It seems to be the same consistency as the gallon of clear coat they gave be but very dark. Should this be thinned out and if so does this help with the striping?

Also I am not familiar with a cross hatch pattern. As far as fine tuning the gun would you recommend less air, more fluid, or is this something I have to play around with? I do not have an NGR stain just a wiping stain. This is something I would like to try in the future. What I have is a gallon of pre-mixed shader (they called it toner), one gallon of clear coat (laquer), and the stain. What my plan was is to sand to 180, then stain and put on a sealer. Scuff with a 220 pad and then use a shader. Once the color is good top coat with clear.

From contributor F:
Cross hatching, sometimes called box coating, or box pattern, means to spray a light coat in one direction immediately followed by a light coat going perpendicular to the first coat. Think a Tic Tac Toe board.

A couple things will cause striping - holding the gun too close, not overlapping your passes properly, improper spray patter from the gun and many others. Basically, practice fixes this. I would spray the part laying flat, at least this way you wonít have to worry about runs.

To make sure your gun is atomizing properly, turn your guns tip so that it is spraying horizontal and shoot a spot on a piece of cardboard that is standing up. Shoot the spot until a run develops. The run should be running equal along the length of the spray pattern. If it is running heavy in the middle, and not much at the ends, you need to adjust your setup. This could involve a new tip set, more air, thinner fluid, etc.

Find out what the premixed shader is and what you can use to thin it. Most likely you can thin with standard lacquer thinner. It is a lot easier to develop the color with multiple thin coats than one thick coat. This will also help with the striping.

If you apply the wiping stain directly to the maple, it will be very blotchy. A wash coat or conditioner will help this, but this will significantly lighten then color. This is the main reason for using the NGR stain, to develop a dark background for the final color. The shader/toner will help to even out the blotchiness, but for future get some NGR stain and experiment/practice and you will find itís very easy to use.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the quick reply. Iím still sanding and should be ready to stain soon. I will try that with the gun to adjust it. I will definitely upgrade but for now I am stuck with it. The toner can be thinned with the lacquer thinner? How much do you think I should thin it? How close on the gun - 12" and also the overlap? I will be definitely trying the NGR in the future.

From contributor F:
I usually hold my gun about six to eight inches away with a 50% overlap on each pass. How far you hold the gun depends on other variables such as how well the gun is atomizing and the viscosity of the fluid. Cardboard is a great tool for checking spray pattern. Short bursts of fluid will show you how small the droplets are when atomizing and will tell you if you need more or less air. Shooting a horizontal spot until you get a run tells you how even the spray pattern is. I would do a couple test pieces with the shader thinned at around 25% to 50% and see where you are comfortable and donít get stripes anymore.

From contributor H:
Toning/shading is the easy to do and to screw up. Dyes shade far better than do pigments. They are very bright and readable where pigments (UTC) will tone down the look and soften the overall look. The way to not get stripping is to apply multiple coats of shader. Your gun has a maximum fan pattern efficiency from the center of the pattern to the outside of the pattern. The density of the pattern lessens as you reach the outside of the fan. More expensive guns will have less differential but they will still have the problem. So if you make your mix just dark enough to barely see, that will minimize your chance of tiger stripping. After about five years of practice I shade everything with my Kremlin 10-14 and love it. My normal routine is to apply one coat to the whole surface, then one or two to blend lighter areas, followed by one unifying coat to everything. Watch your edges of doors that are vertical, they will take need more color. Also if you are shading your doors and drawers flat and the casework vertical, gravity will cause more color to fall on the horizontal surfaces. So if you spray one coat on each the vertical surfaces will need about a half a coat more (cut back on your fluid knob and mist on that coat).

The last thing you want to do is have your doors and drawers darker than the casework. Finally if there is one unifying law to shading/toning: always stop one coat before you think you need to! It is easy to shoot one more coat. You are not going to sand off just one coat.

From contributor S:
Thin your toner out of the can by at least 50%. It will spray more evenly and build up color on the surface more slowly lessening the chance of showing a spray pattern. Never spray toner cross grain (cross hatching). Slight color streaks with the grain can look natural, cross grain they look bad. Another thing: never sand or rub out a toner coat. Always put clear over it first, so you won't sand through the color.

From contributor H:
Agree that you should never sand you color coat, except for a few faux and aging techniques, but what is the difference in sanding your color coat and sanding a darker shellac finish? Some ambers and Gossamer have more color in them that do most of my shaders and you would think nothing of knocking them down to get a build finish.

From the original questioner:
I sprayed a sample door and the color is definitely there but a little dark. I thinned the toner 50% but I think it needs to be thinner. Is it okay to thin more than that?

From contributor G:
Put in less color. I know my MLC rep says not to thin more than 50% or separation is possible. I can't tell you if this is the same for all companies.

From the original questioner:
Itís already pre-mixed from where I get my products from Camger coatings. Any tips on spraying the larger surfaces without striping? I have a pretty big panel back eight feet long with six raised panels.

From contributor S:
I think the difference would be that with amber shellac, you have no choice but to sand it at some point; you can't take the amber out of it for a sanding coat. Also, you are using multiple coats to build up the finish. So if you sand a little heavier somewhere, your light spot will be compensated for with the multiple coats you are applying after. With a single toner coat, you can't afford to sand any color off, so it's best to clear coat it first. Thin your premixed toner as much as you need to lower the toning level. As someone else here put it, always err on the side of lightness.

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