Mixing Your Own Toner

Stain mixed with lacquer makes a good toner, but it takes practice. March 18, 2005

I have read a few posts from others that make their own toners using stain added to lacquer. How is this achieved? Do you have to use an oil based stain? Can this be done with any pre-cat lacquer? I am currently using a pre-cat lacquer made by Macgregor called Mac-O-lac. I like the idea of being able to blend your color using a toner, just never did it. Is there a ratio to use so as not to inhibit the quality of the lacquer?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor W:
Your precat should work fine. You could use the sealer as well. You need to use a dye stain. We get ours mixed by the Sherwin Williams Commercial Coatings store. They will match just about any stain color. I have heard that Trans Tints dyes also work very well but I have never used them. You can buy the concentrates and mix them yourself. I think you can get those from Jeff Jewitt at Homestead Finishing.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I mix toners with stain, dyes, and pigments - just depends on the effect and color needed.

Using the same stain for a toner guarantees a match. Using dye keeps the toner transparent. Using pigment can mask the grain, especially if you use too much, but it's handy to hide imperfections at times. I also use titanium white pigment in the lacquer over a whitewash stain to brighten the color when needed.

To make a stain toner, take 28 ounces of lacquer thinner and add 1-2 ounces of stain to it. The stain can be oil-base or lacquer base. Then add 4 ounces of your lacquer (pre-cat is fine) to the mix and stir well. The lacquer acts as the binder and thinned down this much will leave a very thin coat when you spray it.

To make a dye toner, take 28 ounces of lacquer thinner and add 1/2 - 2 ounces of dye to it. Any brand of dye that's reducible in acetone will work fine (there are a lot of choices). Add 4 ounces of lacquer and stir well.

To make a pigment toner, follow the same steps but use 1/4 ounce of pigment (or less) per quart.

Start with a coat of sealer over the wood (bare, dyed or stained) and sand it smooth. Then spray a coat of the toner. Try not to use more than one coat of toner if you can help it. It's harder to control the color from piece to piece if you apply more than a single coat. Spray the toner very light, just wet. Spray very evenly, overlapping enough to make sure you don't get stripes. Don't spray any runs, sags, or pools. Follow the coat of toner right away with a coat of lacquer. Don't sand the toner or you can mess up the color and it can't be fixed.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, Paul! I will definitely give that a try tomorrow on some doors that I need to finish. So if I understand you correctly, only one coat of toner is needed and then follow with my regular schedule of lacquer on top of the toner without scuff/sanding it. I usually spray my coats every 30 minutes with the precat without scuff sanding in between until I achieve approximately 4 mils, which I consider a first coat, 40% diluted and sanded after an hour or two, then 3 more coats on top of that, every 30 minutes or so. So to adapt this into my schedule, should I stain, seal coat, sand, toner, then my 3 coats of top finish?

From contributor R:
Spray a full coat of lacquer immediately after shading or toning. The toner is so thin it dries instantly. Also, a good way to practice is to try to shade an even color over an 18" x 18" piece of white melamine. If you can get an even tone on that, you are ready to start shading. Also, be sure to shade with the grain to keep from getting stripes.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
If you can, try to get the color you want with one coat of toner. Each coat of toner increases the chances to mess it up and it gets harder to maintain a consistent color from piece to piece if you spray more than a single coat of toner.

The steps you list for your schedule sound good. Practicing on scrap, the larger the better, is always a good idea and even more so when it comes to spraying toner. The idea of spraying over a colored surface is interesting; it'll really show any inconsistencies in your spray pattern.

From contributor T:
What a great forum. After reading this thread I feel like I might be doing something wrong. I mix concentrated dye from Transfast straight to my sealer till I get the color I want. No thinning. I shoot the colored sealer then lay on the topcoat. This thread suggests I should be adding my color to thinned lacquer. Have I been doing it wrong?

From the original questioner:
Thanks! You have been a great asset. I like the idea of spraying on a white surface also to see if the stripes will appear.

From contributor O:
Contributor T, you thin the material so that you have enough resin in the material to act as a binder for the colorant, but not so much that you get excess buildup, which could cause cracking, if you have to make multiple passes. Use a topcoat rather than a sealer because most sealers have stearates in them that aid in sanding but could promote adhesion problems. Many manufacturers warn against using more than two coats of sealer. Many sealers are also not as transparent as topcoats.

From contributor A:
I never knew toner was this complicated! We just add a few ounces of stain to the first coat of clear topcoat. We tone by eye, darkening the light areas, blending as needed with the finish volume turned way down. More like an airbrush than a spray. I can lighten the tone coat for the first full coat by topping off the finish cup with more topcoat. Then 1-2 coats of clear as needed. I use Gemini products. They have a "core 24" system that has stain, putty, wax, aerosol can toner all color matched. The stain is soluble in their lacquer. This system has made my finishing much easier.