Matching the Grain Definition of Solvent-Borne Stain Using Waterbornes

Careful colorant choice, some formula tweaking, and careful application may do the trick. July 14, 2010

I have a sample door that was stained in a lacquer base stain and finished with a pre-cat lacquer that is several years old. I would like to match this color with a water base stain and top coat. I am working with an M.L. Campbell distributor to color match this sample. He is able to get close to the color except we are not able to get the dark definitions in the grain that the pigments leave once the stain is wiped off. My distributor tells me that the pigments in the waterbase will not stay in the grain the same way as the solvent based pigments stay in the grain. Has anyone else run into this situation, and if so how were you able to solve it?

We are using MLC WS29WB10 stain base and P&L Glycol 844 colorants. The wood is birch and is sanded to 220, the stain is sprayed on and let set approximately 20 - 30 seconds and then wiped off. The customer really likes the way the darker areas of the door make the color stand out. Here is a picture of the door.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Ask your MLC distributor to cut down on the amount of P&L colorant and add more water borne dye concentrate to develop your stain color in the WS2WB29 stain base. It will allow the WB stain base to dive into the wood more. That base will allow you to get very rich colors just like solvent if you use MLC dyes in it. The only real issue is it stains more evenly than typical solvent stains if you are doing a match. Normally, even application with WB29 stain is a big advantage on maple and cherry to prevent blotching. I like sanding with 220 to cut down on any grain raise, but you might also try 150-180 grit before you put on the stain to open the grain more. Hope that helps you.

From the original questioner:
I will have them try that. I am doing a complete new kitchen and am just trying to get the color of the sample. Getting a more even stain color is a big plus with the WB29 stain base. I did try sanding to 150 and had a lot of grain raising as you said and it seemed to help with taking the stain a little better but not near enough. I am trying to get a very dark brown or even black look in the pores. I'll let you know how it goes.

From contributor T:

There are water base stains available that allow you to produce the same, if not better, grain definition then solvent based stains. They also have better uniformity on woods that tend to be blotchy, like maple and birch. Ask your supplier what type of pigments they are using. If they are using standard, inexpensive pigments, like the 896 series and the 824 series, you will never be able to achieve distinct grain definition-these pigments tend to produce a muddy appearance. Contact a supplier that using microlithe (or micronized) water base pigments. These pigments are manufactured in Europe and have very popular in the U.S. last five years. Some of the companies using these pigments are Akzo Nobel (industrial division), JDC Supply (612-812-0916) and Fuhr International.

From contributor K:
You might want to try Targets stains or General Finishes as they come closer to what you want.

From the original questioner:
Contributor T - they are using the 844 colorants, I should have mentioned that the first time. I will look into the mircolithe pigments. Thanks.

Contributor K - I had some General Finish samples from another job and I tried some of it on a piece of birch. You are right it produced a look that was much closer to what I was looking for. I started with the shaker maple and it was to red. Then I added some of their green dye stain to take some of the red out of it and I lost the reddish orange that I was trying to get. Not exactly sure which color to add to get from to red to orange-red, more trial and error I guess. I may have to pursue that further if I can't get the MLC to work. I was just trying to make it easy and get it locally, so much for that idea. The thing I didn't like about the General Finish stain is that it seemed to really raise the grain (much more than the MLC) and it is very thick (heavy bodied) and does not lend itself to being sprayed. The can just says wood stain, I don't know if they make it in a different base that would spray better and still look the same. I will call them and see.

From contributor K:
I agree that Generalís stains are too thick but you might try their thin dye based stains.