Mixing Stain to Make Teak Look Like Wenge

Here's a primer on mixing your own custom stains from primary colors, plus some rare old lore on getting finishes to last on oily woods like Teak. July 29, 2007

I am in a situation where I need to make a wood stain that looks like "Wenge". How do I make the stain? This needs to be applied on teak wood doors I have to make and deliver to a client.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
You will need black, red and yellow dyes, preferably water soluble. These can be purchased from Lockwood dyes. The black will have a blue cast to it when dissolved. Add a small amount of red and then yellow to neutralize the red till you get the brown cast of Wenge. I cannot give you exact amounts, so you will have to test as you go. Dyes should be made at concentrations of 4 to5 oz. per gallon. These three colors can be used to make up all your dark colors and med and light tones too. More than one coat can be applied if first coat is not dark enough. Let each coat dry from 4 to 8 hours or more depending on weather conditions. If more than one coat is necessary, a light sand between coats will help keep wood surface smooth, 320 to 600.

From contributor B:
Wenge has such a distinctive grain that it will be nearly impossible to faux effectively. There is plenty of Wenge on the market (last I checked anyway) I'd say that you'll save money by remaking the doors with the real thing.

From the original questioner:
In India where I live, it is very difficult to get dyes in small quantities. But we do get what are known as "Universal stainers". These are solvent based though.

We also get wood stains. So I tried using Walnut, Red-brown and teak stains to get to the Wenge stain. I would say I was successful by about 80%. I am trying to adjust the proportion to get the right shade. Can you tell me what is the difference between universal stainers and wood stains? Can I use universal stainers to make wood stains?

From contributor A:
All named stains such as walnut, red brown, teak, etc. are a mixture of red, yellow and black or blue for the most part. Although black is not considered a color in color theory, it is used to darken the other two primary colors. When using dyes, green and red make a large number of wood color tones but are used more so for the lighter color tones with small amounts of black added to shade/tone the desired color. Your primary dye colors are blue, red, and yellow - which when mixed together create black - either to the blue red side or the yellow or greenish blue side, unless dealing with indigo or other natural blues. Pigments on the other hand use primary colors that are also red, yellow, and blue but when combined do not produce black but a grey color most commonly known as munsell grey or neutral grey. For wood colors the best all around colors that will allow you to produce 99% of all the colors you will need to produce are as I previously stated - red, yellow, blue and black. If you have already attained an 80% match with pigment stains, then if you add a very, very small amount of black pigment at a time you will darken or tone it and be very close but keep in mind you may have to adjust the other stains along with its addition. Every color affects each of the other colors as they are mixed together to change the overall appearance. You must keep that in mind. Make sure to formulate the stain and remember it will only look good and match the color on the particular species that you are applying it to and rarely on any other species that is not very close in color. Lastly, colors of different types or species cannot be intermixed. You can suspend for a short while a thin mixture of pigment and water but it will quickly settle out and be of no practical use as a wood stain, and it would needlessly raise the grain.

From the original questioner:
To contributor A: Thanks. Your advice will be of a great help. I will buy the universal stainers of the colours that you have and do what you have advised. I will get back on the forum and let you know what happened. And by the way I have to apply the stain on a teak wood door. So the colour of the teak is also going to affect the final colour of the finish. That will be a tricky thing.

From contributor C:
To add to contributor A's useful post "produce 99% of all the colors you will need ...red, yellow, blue and black."

I would suggest some white is often useful as well when you need to subdue the intensity of the color. The substrate color, in your case - teak - is a major factor in stain matching and is the reason that making samples as you go along is vital.

From contributor C:
I realized that while I had been asked plenty of times to stain other woods teak-colored, I have never been asked to stain teak to look like Wenge, or at all and think I contributor B has the right answer after all - buy Wenge to do the job with.

When clearcoating teak, you have to wash the oil off so the lacquer will stick, so wouldn’t he have to wash the oil off before staining, too? I’d also think that the oil would make waterbase stain a poor choice. You’d need a spray stain with a lacquer thinner or acetone base that would dry and be clearcoated quickly before the oils could migrate back to the surface again. Is teak really cheap in India? If you absolutely have to use it, try some tests with chemical stains, too.

From contributor A:
We are getting off of the main subject to a large degree, but the point you make has validity in this sense. Any oily or waxy wood is much more difficult to finish than your standard cabinet grade woods. In the 1850's till around the turn of the century, Brazilian Rosewood was used extensively in furniture and pianos, as well as many other high end commodities. Then the industry, for the most part, turned away from its use because of problems with the finish not holding up and the veneer coming loose, etc. Those people who knew the chemistry of the woods and of the prevalent finishing products for finishing the woods both exotic and standard, had virtually no problems finishing the hard waxy/oily exotics. Finishing goes back in my family for 3 generations. Fortunately I have all my grandfather’s notes and formulas, my father’s wood and chemistry books as well as what I have studied and gathered in the last 42 years. While everyone else's finishes were flaking off, my grandfather’s are still alive and well 110 years later. He learned to treat these exotics with an acid solution that would coagulate the wax and oil and bring it to the surface so that it could be wiped off with a neutralizing solvent which made the upper portion of the wood, for all practical finishing purposes, inert. This surface then, (after a very light sanding with fine paper to smooth the surface once again) would accept water dyes, chemical/mordant dyes, oil stains, oil dyes, analine dyes, metallized complex dyes, and all the other staining/dyeing materials that were used then or now.

Since I'm talking about proprietary info here I won’t go any further. But you can accomplish this with a dilute (5%) solution of phosphoric acid, followed by a wet wash (and dry) of 95% S.D.A #1 ethyl alcohol. This will give you very good results, though not as good as what I use, but bankable. After you have made the surface inert, I personally would finish it with fresh pure dewaxed shellac that I make by myself, or a two component urethane if it was to be in a hostile environment, such as a kitchen, table top, boat, etc. Make sure it is an 8 to 1 mole ratio, meaning 8 parts acrylic polyol, to 1 part urethane catalyst/resin designed to adhere over oily/waxy woods - one that has proven itself for a decade or more would be the preferred choice. I almost forgot, the water stains would not soak in any deeper than the chemical treatments had gone therefore no new oil would affect it in an overnight drying situation by coming to the surface. You are welcome to try and see for yourself.

From the original questioner:
First, about the usage of teak here in India - teak is the most prevalent wood for use in furniture and architectural work, i.e. making of doors and windows. These days because teak has become expensive and good teak not being available, some other species are coming into use - Neem, Mango, Sal, Tumma .

The government of India is coming down heavily on deforestation and so the populace here is shifting to other species. One product that I feel will have enormous feature is composite bamboo wood and bamboo mat board, to be used in place of ply. Now, coming to the wood finishing part, the most prevalent way of finishing wood was by the shellac finish. The composition was denatured spirit, shellac and Sandarac. This mixture was kept in the sun for about a week and then applied with a pad. The wood surface was prepared with earth oxide powders. These acted as wood fillers and also colourants to the wood. For example Yellow ochre is used for giving teak its natural colour. Umbers are used to bring out the shades of Walnut, rose wood etc.

In this practice there is no consistency and the skill of the applicator, and his sense of colour, was paramount. Again since the powders were mixed in small batches, the shade consistency is always suspect. Then came the melamine and it caught on the imagination of the people here. The tradesmen would prepare the surface like they would prepare for French polishing and after two coats of shellac polish, would spray on Melamine. I have been campaigning against the use of melamine with my clients, because of its highly carcinogenic nature. Pu also is toxic but once it’s cured there is no toxicity. Presently moving on to water based Pu.

I am working on standardizing some practices and training other tradesmen in this field. Since there are no written down conventions and standards my aim is to do that, so that there is a proper understanding and the tradesmen can offer their clients better service.