Dark Stain for Maple

Advice on staining maple a dark color, with the use of a washcoat and toners. June 17, 2009

I have a new piece of furniture made out of northern Minnesota hard maple and the customer wants a dark stain. The last piece I stained out of this wood blotched and I would like to know how to get a nice finish. What product (or steps) and procedures should I follow?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor E:
You want to do some toning - putting some or most of the coloring in the clear coat, which must be sprayed on. I'm sure if you search the forum under toning you'll find all you need to know. Make a sample, make sure you're good with repeating it, then get them to sign off on it before the finishing.

From contributor G:
I would use a method similar to what Eric mentioned. To eliminate the blotching I would apply a stain base (clear stain, no pigments) and let that sit for at least 20 minutes. Then apply your stain, which should be a lot darker than you think it should be. The clear base will slow the absorption of the stain and it will come out lighter than without. It will also come close to eliminate the blotching. Then the rest should be done as toning or shaded lacquers. A chair will be tough to do with color in your lacquers because you might get streaking of the color. Try to do most of it in the stain and get it a bit darker with the tone coat.

From contributor G:
Another method is to water-pop the maple before staining. Spray the sanded piece with an alcohol/water 50/50 mix and after it dries, go gently over it with 320 just to cut back the raised grain. This will allow deeper penetration of your stain and blur the mottling effect caused by the wonky grain of the maple.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The blotchiness is due to the difference in cell structure in maple. Some of the cells are higher in cellulose and therefore more absorptive. Plus, the small variations in grain, which are natural in this species, cause pockets of partial end grain which are highly absorptive. So, the best idea is to seal the wood surface prior to staining and/or put the stain in the coating rather than in the wood.

From contributor D:
I like more of layered approach.

1. NGR (dye) sprayed on bare wood Transparent- and should give you at least 50% of the color you are aiming for.

2. Washcoat 1# cut shellac. Will prevent blotching from step 3

3. Pigment wiping stain. Adds color and grain definition.

Following these steps I would use a tinted sealer or topcoat to increase the color as needed. I might also use a glazing step for color or accent. I think this approach results in seeing more grain figure and depth to the finish than if you rely mostly on tinted finish to achieve the dark color on maple.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I also like a wash coat or sanding sealer. Both prevent the uneven penetration of stain into the wood.

From contributor G:
I like the multi-step approach when doing cabinets and doors. Among other benefits, it gives a more uniform look to the kitchen. However, we donít know what type of furniture piece has been made. In general, I think furniture would get moved around more, and possibly more dings and scrapes. For ease of repair, I suggest the simplest schedule that will give the desired depth of color.

From contributor C:
Can you give me your input on washcoats? With the shellac, what are your ratios when cutting? Can a sanding sealer be thinned down and used as a washcoat as well.

From contributor D:
Yes you can use your finish or sealer as a washcoat. It's best for you to determine the ratio of thinner to sealer or finish by your own experimentation. Run a series of samples. Start with a 75/25 mix (75 thinner/25 finish). Let it dry and sand it very gently. Then try your wipe stain over it and observe the result. Try other washcoat mixtures thinned more and less. Generally speaking use the thinnest washcoat necessary to control penetration adequately to avoid unsightly blotch. (Some variation is usually a good thing). Do look into the NGR dyes also. They will take your work to a new level. They are not hard to locate and the learning curve is not great. If you work it out on samples you should be able to achieve 90% or more of your color in these two steps.

From contributor S:
In the Pacific Northwest the majority of us use a product put out by Daly's called Benite. It is far easiers than a washcoat and gives you the same result. Just brush, wipe or spray on. Some will wipe after application to take off excess, I do not. It will take you half the time and you will master it on your first application rather than many applications.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
If you partially seal wood using a washcoat or stain conditioner before staining, it will absorb less color than normal and come out much lighter than the stain typically produces. That's the price you pay for getting even coloring using the washcoat or stain conditioner.

When you want a dark color on a light wood like maple, you need to add the lost color back in using another step or two. Adding the color back is easiest to do using a spray gun to apply dye to the bare wood before applying the washcoat and/or by applying a colored finish over the stained and sealed wood (called a toner or shading stain).

There's a description of the process I would use below. By applying the color in multiple applications, you can build up the depth and shade any amount you want.

Staining and Blending Difficult Woods