More Toner Tips

A discussion of toning techniques. August 22, 2005

I usually use dye stains to make my toners, but for the job I am working on now I would like to add a little bit of the stain that I am using into the clear. My question is, how many ounces of stain per gallon can I add (safely) without risking adhesion problems? The clear is chemcraft opticlear (pre-cat) and the stain I use is Lenmars clear stain base (U-1000) with colorants. Any help would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
Using a stain as a toner will usually muddy the clearness of the top coat and hide the grain. This is because the pigments in the stain will hide the wood.

From contributor M:
To contributor L: Do not blame the pigments for painting or hiding the grains of the wood, blame the finisher. If pigmented stains, toner, or glazes are applied properly they have good clarity.

From contributor D:
I would agree with Contributor M on the muddy look. Not being familiar with the stain you are using makes it difficult to say. I will give my opinion only and that would be not to exceed 3 oz per gallon of a heavily pigmented stain and 5 oz on the lighter colors.

From the original questioner:
I have done several step boards for this job and have not noticed any muddying of the grain with the formula I have come up with. I am primarily concerned with adhesion problems down the road. This job is a large pine bar (the entire room is 20x20 including a coffered ceiling) in a country club and I just need a something to even out all the staining and bring the room together.

As a side note, this is the first time I have experimented spraying my pigmented stain from a cup gun (over a washcoat) and I am amazed at the ease and consistency. I am always looking for the best way to deal with woods such as pine and this seems like the way to go.

From contributor M:
To the original questioner: As Contributor D stated, one would really have to be know the material to give you an honest answer. My suggestion to finding an answer to the adhesion question is to do a few simple cross hatch adhesion tests.

From contributor J:
There is a huge difference between toning to change a hue and toning to alter a shade or opacity. In today’s world of lower quality hardwoods being harvested the use of pigmented toners is almost mandatory to blend together the differences in wood color. I hardly ever tone with straight dyes as my regular schedule - I feel that dyes aren't covering or making up for the lack of something, but they are altering a color which in my mind is a failure in the staining process.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Here's the mix I usually use to make up a stain toner;

1 1/2 - 2 ounces of stain
4 ounces lacquer
28 ounces lacquer thinner

I've used the blend with a few different brands with good results. I wouldn't add too much stain or you can run into problems with compatibility between the oil-base stain and the lacquer.

The lacquer thinner lets the stain down so it mixes with the lacquer better and it keeps the toner coat(s) very thin as well. I always use the toner over a coat of sealer or finish and then spray a couple regular coats of clear over it. Are you trying to get all your color from toner?

From contributor M:
To the original questioner: This may help you.

>Tinting Toner Tips

From the original questioner:
Another question I have is to save a step, would it be advisable to add the stain to my vinyl sealer? The sealer would go on after the stain so it does not need much sanding (it almost lies out as smooth as a topcoat).

This will eliminate the worries of sanding the toner off in places and making the color uneven. If I did this, could I add it into the vinyl sealer and not reduce it as much as you would a normal toner (for example as Paul's recipe suggests above)?

Here is my schedule as it stands now:
-30% sealer/ 70% thinner (washcoat)
-Spray on pigmented stain, light wiping for consistency.
-Spray straight vinyl sealer with a small amount of the pigmented stain added (1.5 to 2.5 ounces per gallon)
-Top coat with 35 opticlear.

I don’t like to use any color in my topcoat, so adding the stain to the sealer would avoid an extra step. Does anyone have any thoughts?

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:

I like to use toner over the seal coat after it's sanded smooth. I have tried using the toner on bare or stained wood with mixed results and would not recommend it. I also would not recommend sanding the toner coat(s). Sanding the toner will cause uneven coloring. I mix the toner with the thinned lacquer, spray it and then come right over it after it flashes with clear lacquer. There is no adverse effect on adhesion.

Adding the stain to straight vinyl or lacquer will probably cause the stain to turn into globules. The oil-base ingredients in the stain need to be diluted (let down) in lacquer thinner and then mixed with the vinyl or lacquer. You can do a little test to see if it happens with the stain you're using. It's happened with different brands I've tried.

Also, you can use more stain if you want to (as long as you cut it with the lacquer thinner). 2 ounces per quart produces a good color, so that would be 8 ounces per gallon. Mix a small batch and do a color sample and see what you think.

From contributor J:
I avoid using any pigment stain in sealer. Here’s something you could try on a sample:
1. Stain
2. Seal
3. Have a prepared 15% stain in high grade lacquer thinner in a gravity cup.
4. Let your sealer coat flash over, but not dry, and shade with a cup gun.
5. Have your control sample wet with mineral oil and compare as you go. If they match wet they should be real close dry.
6. Go ahead and spray a second coat of sealer within the flash time.

As long as you’re using a solvent base stain with as little as possible mineral spirits in the mix it should be just fine.

From contributor M:
My interpretation of a toner is it is used at the beginning of the finishing process to blend, adjust, or change the color of the woods, whereas the shading stains are a part of the finishing process, or in some cases are a finish unto their self (shading stain finishes).

I do use dyes in some cases for my toners, but in most cases I prefer using the paste pigmented colorants because there are white pigments which allows me to make up more colors for my base or background. You cannot do this with dyes, because there are no white dyes.

From contributor M:
I am sure that most finishers are aware of a product called Bleachtone. It’s a ready for use white toner, that is use to make the woods look like they have been bleach. It is intended to leave the woods translucent, not to paint the woods.

I basically make my own toners by using a white coating. I then add in the pigmented paste colorants in to make additional toner colors. I then reduce the toners down so I am adding color, while not blocking out the woods. Toners are a valuable technique, and certainly should be in every finisher’s tool bag.