Mixing Custom Stains

Tips on mixing and using your own stains made with pigment, binder, and carrier. October 25, 2006

Finishing schedule:
mix UTC with paint thinner to make stain
stain project with base color of mixed utc
spray light coat of topcoat as a wash coat
stain project with dark color of mixed utc (gives the 2 tone effect)
finish with 2-3 coats of topcoat (water-based Varathane polyurethane)

Does anyone see problems with this pattern, if each coat of stain dries for at least 2 hours between finishing? Can we use the UTC as a glaze over a topcoat? We don't have a booth, so lacquer is out. Also, we are a small shop. What finishing equipment is recommended? We have an air compressor that we use HVLP guns off of. The guns are cheap Grizzly guns. I had the Devilbiss cup, but it died. I had a Husky gun attached to it, which did okay. Need advice on an affordable system. We haven't had adhesion problems in the shop. Can the adhesion fail over time? Also, I read that you can thin paint down to make stain. Does this work and what topcoat would we use?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor T:
Won't work. Pigmented stain is a mix of pigment, binder and carrier. Your mix is missing the binder, which is necessary if you don't want your pigment to fall off the project. If you want to mix your own stains from a pigmented base, I would suggest japan colors. They are a very thick pigment in a binder that you can mix with MS to create your own stains and/or glazes. A little can is expensive but it goes a long way. I would steer clear of making stain from paint. It can be done, but why mess with it?

From the original questioner:
I'm assuming the binder could be boiled linseed oil? How long would it need to dry if I did that and is it compatible with water based finishes?

From contributor T:
You could use BLO as the binder, but it takes a couple days to cure. Once cured it should be okay under a WB topcoat, but I would test it before application on a major project. Not sure why you want to mix your own stain, when there are plenty of good ones available off the shelf, but if you do, I would still stick with japan colors.

From contributor C:
BLO could work as a stain binder, but you'd be better off to acquire a clear stain base from one of the leading industry suppliers and then tint that to your required colors. Even better still to take a sample of your required color to a supplier with one of the new stain matching systems and walk out half an hour later with a near perfect match of the best quality, fastest drying stain you've ever used. I recently had this experience with my supplier's new Tri-Clad stain system and am pleased to invite you to come out of the dark ages! Join the twenty-first century!

From the original questioner:
One of the biggest reasons I ask this is that we do a lot of custom matches. We have tried going to the stores (Sherwin Williams, Vista, Frazee, etc.) to have them matched... First of all, the employees are never trained finishers, and second, by the time they figure out how to mix it, my drive time, standing around, etc., I could have mixed it myself, and finally the ones who can do it need to ship off the sample to a different location. So we need to mix it. The other reason is that I hired a finisher who says he has 20 years experience. He does it this way, but wants to use the BLO. In my experience working with other shops, they do the same thing I do without the BLO. It seems to slow the dry time down to a couple of days instead of hours.

I have no experience with Japan colors. What brand is the best, what do you mix it in, and what should be the finish schedule? I am considering using Oxford water based shellac and then Oxford water based lacquer. If you can tell me a schedule with these products, it would be very helpful. I would also like to know what brand name stains are recommended or if I should use Target's stains as well.

From contributor T:
I use Behlens. It comes in the principal wood tones plus blk, wht, blue, red and yellow. Thin it with MS or Naptha. Dries very quickly. Using a clear stain base as suggested is much better than using BLO as the binder. Just add UTCs or HULs to get your color.

I don't know what your experience is with mixing/matching colors. It's one of those things that seems easy until you try it. The quickest way to a match for me is usually achieved by combining 2 or 3 stain colors or by tweaking an existing color by adding blk, wht or a bit of primary.

If you have an adequate compressor, you may as well stay with HVLP. I'm sure you know, the more you spend on a gun, the better it will be: more durable, easier to clean, more needle/nozzle/combinations/etc. Buy the best you can possibly afford and you'll save money in the long run. If you want to really upgrade, look at Kremlin Airmix.

From contributor E:
I just made some stain with Naptha and UTCs and it works great. Are japan colors the same as the UTC colors or are the japan colors better than the UTC brands?

From contributor T:
You can add color to white wood with UTC's like you can add color to wood with dry pigment, but there's nothing to hold it down. You can then seal or topcoat it, but if you try to glaze with your mix, you will be able to wipe much of it off after it dries. UTC's are pigments which you add to a binder/carrier such as a stain or stain base. You can even add it to plain old varnish and get stain. If you add it to a WB finish, it will dry too fast to wipe, but you could spray on a thin coat to stain, glaze, shade, or tone. Japan colors are ground pigment in a varnish binder to which you add a carrier. Color principals are the same for either approach.

From contributor T:
I worked for a high-end millwork shop in LA for years that made some of their stain with UTC and mineral spirits. They never had adhesion problems. The big key is to wipe all excess stain off. Problems occur when guys try to spray on extra stain or leave more stain on the wood to get their final color. If you need a binder, most manufacturers make a clear stain base concentrate which will work for you. I use UTC mixed with mineral spirits or VM&P naptha for glazing all the time and have no problems. I never leave it on overnight without setting it with a coat of finish. I also use artist oil colors in tubes for some antique glazing. These have BLO in them as a binder and they work great with the lacquer I am using now, but you can have problems with some finishes.