Staining Cherry to Even Out Color

Cherry is a tricky wood to stain it takes stain unevenly and darkens by itself over time. Here's some advice on sanding and toning cherry to achieve a more even finish. December 15, 2005

If the customer wants a more or less natural cherry color (the rich brown, not the reddish) without going really dark, will a stain such as ML Campbell's Woodsong Traditional Cherry even out the colors to a nice, warm brown? Staining crown mould, light rail, 5-piece doors, etc. The wood has natural variations, some brown, some reddish, some light, some dark. Will such a stain bring things together well, or will the differences in shade/color still be bluntly obvious? I've used dark stains like Cordovan and Sedona red before, and they hide everything.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
I just stained some cherry cabinets MLC Traditional Cherry and it looks great, but it's a fair bit darker then just a natural cherry even after it darkens a bit.

Take some of the stain and make a thin sealer/thinner mixture. Maybe an ounce per quart of stain to thin sealer mix and tone it on with the spray gun in light amounts until you achieve your goal color.

Remember, cherry goes fairly dark - the stain won't look the same after some months. Sample on some pieces of cherry. Try tinted wash coat, or seal the wood and work with a tinted top coat, or glaze it to the wanted color.

Yes, normally the wood will stain in consistent shades based on its raw state. Many furniture makers use sprayed dye to even sap streaks and sprayed toners to even light and dark areas. Cherry tends to be blotchy when stained, so wash coats of finish are employed to limit absorption of stain. Another color evening technique is to sand with fine paper to lessen stain penetration. Most manufacturers of coatings prefer to go no finer than 180 grit on white wood. The concern is polishing the wood to the point where sealer and topcoat won't stick. Most of the cabinetmakers I know will sand cherry to at least 180.

We learned a hard lesson on sanding beyond 180 with ash, and it had to be the boss's personal project that I found out on. He'd made a nice bunk bed and sanded it all to 220, and it looked marvelous. The Magnamax simply headed for the hills when I sprayed it, making really freakin' odd craters. Took many coats and heavy coat sanding, which eventually filled in the grain (yes, it was that bad!). But hey, it looked great!

Make your own spray only stain. 2 to 4 parts burnt umber Huls 824 or 844 colorant. It depends on how brown you want your color sample. The more burnt umber you use, the less effect the other color (burnt sienna) will have. 1 part burnt sienna Huls 824 or 844 colorant. 20 - 28 parts lacquer thinner. The more lacquer thinner, the more dilute your toner. Your color sample will tell you which way to go. Make color samples starting with the lower amounts of lacquer thinner. Keep notes. Make sure to topcoat before you decide which mix is right for you.

Spray on a light but wet coat. Cut back on your material flow on the gun and increase your PSI (go for the overspray setting). Make a fog, but do not fog on your stain. The stain should spray on wet even though it will dry very quickly.

Keep in mind that the spray only stain is thin, just like spraying water. Use the right needle/nozzle and air cap for spraying material that has such a thin viscosity. Even though you are using only pigments in this method, if done correctly, you are not painting out the grain. Your clarity will be excellent.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the info. I like making up proprietary stuff like that. What type of gun are you basing your advice on? We use an airless (not air-assisted) and a cheap siphon-feed cup gun for onesies and twosies.

Try a 50% mix of Olympic walnut and their natural (to dilute color). It finishes to a medium warm brown. By far the best cherry color I have ever done. It eliminates the red color without really darkening much at all.