Toning a Table Top

This finishing problem is really more of a customer relations issue. But it's worth reading just for a look at the table top (a lovely piece of work). August 22, 2013

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
A customer wants me to tone out the red in the leaf sections of this Jupe table top I made for them. It has 3 coats of Krystal and I would need to sand back aggressively to keep within the mil allowance for Krystal. What I am afraid of is that toning may not be enough to lessen the differential between crotch and ribbon, or if I can even them out it will be too muddy and obscure the grain. Any ideas would be appreciated.

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Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Beautiful job on the table. I'm in agreement on toning. If I want to preserve the crystal clear appearance of the top, I spray aniline dyes before sealer coat. Remember, green is used to remove pink/red. Walnut stains usually have a high green quotient if not using a custom green dye stain. You may have to tackle each of the two types of grain separately to ring them to the same color temperature.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the feedback. One problem is that depending on where I am trying to match, it will not match elsewhere. In this case, the ribbon on the leaves matches the ribbon on the fat part of the crotch, and if I try to match the center of the crotch (dense and dark), the other end won't match. Most annoying is that the finished piece is very close to the rendered image I sent her for the proposal and she objects to it now!

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From contributor R:

You don't want to try to match the color - it would take out the drama of the piece you made. You want to get tone and warmth the same. You need that change in texture and shade to give the table life. You just need to get the colors in the same range. Do you have any of that same material? My guess is that it will take very little alteration of the color to make them blend well.

My question is why the hell do they want to mess with that beautiful table? I think I'd be a little indignant. Ask them if they'd like you to put a coat of paint on it for them.

By material, I mean lumber/veneer. I presume it is all solid, but the crotch is pretty remarkable if you were able to get that kind of consistent bookmatch with lumber and not veneer.

If you do have some, try just a very light/dilute dye to see if you can get the raw lumber color in the same ballpark.

From the original questioner:
A little indignant is putting it mildly! It is all veneers over MDF with wood edges.

From contributor J:
Buy her new/different bulbs for her lighting. Cooler Kelvin values. Great table, I really don't see much red, but it could be a computer screen thing.

From contributor M:
I am not sure if what you can do at this point will help. With 3 coats of Krystal I doubt you can sand enough of the CV off for a toner to be effective. I also do not see much red.

From contributor B:
Best to bring this back to the bare wood. This table is beautiful, very nice work. Work up a sample, then get your customer to sign off on it. Use Mohawk ultra penetrating dye stain - these dyes are fade resistant. I recommend blue. Dilute it with denatured alcohol. Better to have this dye weak, just tone the red parts of the wood. I've found it's easy to over think this and you may be surprised to find how little of an adjustment is actually made. You can tone over the finish but that just won't look right.

From contributor P:
I'd try to talk them out of trying to fix it. It looks great the way it is. Trying to sand off the finish without burning through the veneer is grueling. It can be very difficult to tell when you've gone far enough, and some finish will remain in the pores of the wood and interfere with absorption of any stain or dye. If someone thinks they have a foolproof method for doing it, I'd love to hear it.

From contributor B:
Wow! That's a tough spot you're in. Sanding veneers back to almost bare wood is crazy hard. A little too much pressure andů not good. What does she expect you to do? You'll have to tape off the ribbon and tone/airbrush some green tinted dye solution? Because that's the only way to get there. I think you need to have a serious talk with your client. If she was looking for contrast, she should have specified in the beginning and you could've used a different species of wood or done the tinting then. If you aren't super talented (fine artist like) with the toning you could end up with some expensive firewood.

From contributor O:
She could be looking for a "discount." You will be better off giving her back a (small) portion and letting her whine that she'll accept it even though she doesn't like it. Cut your losses so to speak. Whatever you take back on it will pale in comparison to the time and effort you spend trying to please her. There's a good possibility whatever you try to do toning wise won't be good enough. If you're determined to get it right, strip it and start over. Anything else may lead to that anyway.

From the original questioner:
You are right. I do get the feeling that whatever I do won't please her. It may well be worth eating the balance on the job and letting it become someone else's nightmare.

From contributor R:
So far, I like the advice to try a number of different bulbs, but I think compact fluorescent bulbs might give you what you want. I know they take the red out of my maroon towels and they look brown.

From contributor I:
Make a sample from a piece of scrap of the same wood and finish like the table. Tape off half the sample so no light can get through. Put the uncovered section where the sun can hit it for a few days and see how much it darkens and what color it becomes. With a little luck you may be able to get away with doing nothing more than letting them wait for nature to take her course.

From contributor D:
It is not a finish problem, it is a customer problem. If it is what she was shown and agreed upon, the conversation is over. If she agrees to pay you more for fiddling, then that may be worth considering, but where is the end? You stand a good chance of spending lots of time - paid or not - and never making her happy. Once you redo the whole thing, then what will it be?

From contributor O:
Couldn't agree more. While changing the lights would probably work in theory, I'm very well aware of the effects of metamerism, it won't work with someone who knows\thinks she has a problem. Imagine if she does change lights. If he could get out of it like that I'd be amazed and happy for him.

There are times we have to make difficult decisions in business. If you have to re-do this top, it's not free! Toning at this point is a waste of time - that's done in the early stages on something like this. I don't work with Krystal so I don't know how touchy it is. I have had clients like that, though, and pleasing them is almost impossible when they get a hair across their butt.

From contributor E:
For evidence that the table looks fantastic, make a copy of all the responses from here and just maybe she will see it different.

From contributor U:
I assume you got a deposit. Was it non-refundable? If the customer agreed to the work, then that's what she got. Personally I would not do any toning or give her the table at a reduced rate. I'd keep it and sell it to someone more appreciative. It's a great piece of work and I don't think you will have a problem finding a buyer.

From contributor O:
I've had clients like that. I've made color samples with all the same color and they would wax poetic on their differences.

From contributor D:
There is another way, though a bit risky: Refuse to give her the table, period. Tell her you do not want her to have it unless she is delighted, and there will be no second table, sorry. Give her back the deposit in full and make apologies, "...there are many others that would love this table as it is."

The best woods don't get toned to suit someone's tastes, just as you can't get a JMW Turner in blue, sofa size. She just may decide that it is good enough to keep as is. Just be sure you are paid before you leave it with her.

This assumes you can find a home for it. It is great work and deserves a great home, and a great price. You did your job well - very well. Do not let someone like that make you feel deficient or second rate.

This is the problem - great craft, great design, and the money is the problem. The money is everywhere, but how many people can make a table like that?

From contributor Z:
I think you would do more harm than good by toning.

That is first rate veneer work. You are dealing with a customer with unrealistic expectations. The only way to get truly uniform and even color would be to paint the damn thing. Wood is a natural material. It will never be perfect in that way.

I would be hesitant to offer a refund. The customer commissioned art, and you clearly produced something that is professional, and workmanlike. You deserve to get paid! However, this may also be a situation where you might be better of giving a refund and selling the table to someone else. Did you have a solid contract?

From the original questioner:

I have decided to strip the whole thing and go with raw umber toner to make it all brownish. On recommendation of my Campbell rep, catalyze Krystal, thin 50% and then add up to 10% (Mohawk raw umber penetrating stain ) I am told this gives me the ability to quickly build uniform color and stop when I am happy. Because Krystal has a limited mil allowance, thinning 50% gives me more wiggle room. Crossing my fingers but I know it will never be as nice as my first effort!

From contributor A:
Kudos on this beautiful work. Not to fault you - your effort to accommodate this client is extraordinary. But what an awful shame to use any pigmented toner on this table. I note in your picture there is a thin white inlay between your sections with a little circle at the point, which is a really cool detail. I'm just envisioning the effect of the raw umber pigmented toner on this nice detail. Ugh.

I fear for you to redo this table without a clear sign-off from the customer. I know it is more work but I would strongly urge you to make up some sample material and work this out before lifting a finger on that beautiful table top. I'd really hate to see you go through all this work redoing the table and see your client come up with another beef.

I do agree if you're going to make a move you are correct to strip and start over, but instead of pigmented toner I would try a greenish or bluish dye sprayed directly on the bare wood. You have a much better chance of altering the base color with dye than you do with a pigmented toner. Again, working on sample material is the way to go until you're sure of the result.

From contributor X:
Mohawk raw umber ultra penetrating stain is actually red-brown, not green-brown like you might expect. Also the only darker dye stain they make is black. If I were to use any stain on that table it would be a very dilute blue dye stain to cool the orange down. Oh, by the way, Krystal is very difficult to strip. Have you ever tried? That table could get trashed by a botched attempt at stripping.

From contributor R:
I'm a little saddened that you will attempt to strip and re-do your finish. Nearly everyone here is supporting you're doing something less drastic. I have to agree that applying a pigmented stain will likely muddy the grain clarity and is a lesser alternative than using a dye stain. But this is your work and you need to take care of your business (even though we think your customer is nuts) and keep customers happy.

Remember - do the test pieces and get a written acceptance of the sample and a signature on the accepted test piece.

From contributor B:
I've been in your shoes, many times. Putting the ultra penetrating stain into the Krystal even reduced is a mistake. I think you customer is wanting to see less red, you put the dye in the coating it will give the color an undesired effect. Not sure what your rep is thinking giving you that advice. Would be best to reduce the ultra penetrating stain with denatured alcohol - you can reduce that as much as you need to - weaker is better. Raw umber is a decent color to use - it's got some green to it. The dye being weak will allow you to add color as needed without overdoing it. Most of all, do some samples if possible and get your customer to sign off on that before shooting the top again.

From contributor X:
This kind of color correction is really no big deal. A shading lacquer can be applied at any point in the finishing process, even after what you thought was your final coat.

I would caution you to not sand too much when conversion varnish is used. If you sand through the top layer into the second or first coat, creating halos or witness lines, these areas will likely wrinkle or lift when spraying a heavily thinned coating such as a shading lacquer.

If you are nervous about spaying color directly on the table top, spray your shading lightly on a piece of single pane glass, laying it on the table to check your progress. This is a good way to think about the shading process. You are laying a colored "lens" on top of the existing color, altering the color temperature. This is done every day in my shop, on similar tables (nice work, by the way). A good starting point to mix shading lacquer is one part catalyzed CV, one part of your dye stain mixture, and 3-6 parts lacquer thinner. 3 parts may be too concentrated, while 6 parts will probably be too diluted, requiring several passes to achieve any change at all. When you are happy with the result on glass, scuff-sand the top, completely remove the sanding dust and apply evenly to the top. Even at this point, if you are unhappy with the result, it can be washed off with thinner before it dries. If you're happy with the result, let it tack up for five minutes and spray a light but wet coat of Krystal to seal in the shading.