Staining MDF

Products and techniques for best results. July 28, 2004

Is it possible to stain MDF and if so, what is the best product and technique to use? I will apply a lacquer top coat.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor T:
Yes, but do some samples to see if you can get the color you want and if the general appearance is satisfactory. Depending on what you're trying to accomplish, you might try aniline dye (alcohol type, or you'll be sanding forever).

Also of possible interest: one of my laminate suppliers just sent me samples of 3/4" MDF that has color mixed into it at the factory. Six colors including a brown. I can't remember the name, but if you're interested I can post it in a day or so.

From contributor M:
Another option is using a shading stain. Select any color you want, and then add it into your coating. I suggest you first apply seal coats, and then apply the shading for color, and then apply your clear coats.

Always start with completed samples.

From contributor R:

The ICA CNA water based stains work great, and you have lots of colors to pick from.

From contributor T:
Contributor R, I'm a professional cabinetmaker but an amateur finisher, so I defer to any pro in this forum. But wouldn't you expect to get a tremendous amount of grain raise on MDF using a water-based finish?

From contributor R:
You might think so, but I did about 10 doors for samples and there was almost no sign of any damage from the water. They looked really good.

From contributor T:
All right, cool. I'll take all the tips I can get.

From Bob Niemeyer, forum technical advisor:
Contributor R is right. I set up a guy doing the same on hi-tech KD office furniture and it worked awesome.

Make the CNA as a spray only stain.

Only thing to watch is some MDF can have a little bit of a film on it from manufacture that would need to be sanded off first. One nice thing with the CNA is you have any color you want, not just 25 shades of brown like other stain companies.

From the original questioner:
If you use the water based CNA stains, do you have to top coat with water based lacquer?

From contributor R:
No. You can use any finish over CNA stains.

From contributor T:
I think I recognize ICA as a brand name, right? But what is CNA? And you prefer this over the aniline dyes, I take it. What is there to know about this CNA stuff?

From contributor R:
CNA are concentrated, intermixable water based stains for universal use (including outdoor). They have excellent transparency and grain definition. ICA has a stain kit that lets you mix 210 colors in 5 minutes right in your own shop.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
It may be hard to believe, but I had great success applying penetrating stain to MDF doors. I had to be very careful not to overwork it and melt the grain surface (you get a grey, gooey mess if you do). Apply with a foam brush with very light strokes or spray on.