Troubleshooting Blotchy Endgrain on Raised Panels

Consistent end-grain finish starts with careful sanding. October 19, 2005

When I use a wipe-on stain on a solid wood raised panel, the end grain on the raised portion of the panel absorbs more stain than the flat parts, resulting in a blotchy, shadowy look. I have difficulty controlling this, especially when the raise also has a bead. This also happens at the ends of the stiles. I tried various and varying amounts of sealers with less than predictable results.

Do I need to fill the pores here? If so, how do I do that properly? Because of this problem, I have been resorting to spray dye stains. They look great but I know I can't rely on them all the time. I need to expand my finishing repertoire.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor :
The key is to seal the end grain enough to prevent the stain soaking in and getting dark, without sealing so much that the stain can't color the wood at all.

Using a wash coat before staining will lighten the color the stain produces and you may want to use a dye on the bare wood and/or a toner to make up the loss.

Try varying the solids content of the wash coat between 5% and 15%. For stains that cause a lot of blotching, somewhere around 10% works most of the time. For stains that don't blotch badly, 5% works well.

Here's an explanation of calculating and adjusting the solids content of your wash coat: Wash Coats

From contributor A:
Since you have a problem with the end grains, you need to spend more time sanding the end grains on the raised panels. The extra time you spend sanding will definitely improve your final finish.

From the original questioner :
I knew that this would be tricky. I used to work with a finisher who does this and it always comes out perfectly. I don't know what technique he used because I was in the shop and didn't get to look over his shoulder.

From contributor A:
Without the proper sanding, the wash coats in most cases may help some, but itís the sanding that smoothes out the rough wood that will prevent the stain from blotching. If the wood is sanded too smooth, then the stain will not take. You must then go down to a lower grade and re-sand. With a little trial and error, you will find the right sandpapers to use.

From the original questioner:
I do believe proper sanding is the first step to a professional finish. I think it will be a while before I can master this part of the process but I will get there.

From contributor B:
For encouragement, let me say that you're already ahead of the game. A lot of woodworkers and cabinetmakers consider sanding a dirty, thankless chore that has to be done, like taking out the garbage. But you already know that "proper sanding is the first step to a professional finish", so you're more likely to accomplish your finishing goals.

Here are a few tips. Don't skimp - buy the best you can afford. Learn about the different types of abrasives and backings, and their best and worst qualities. And lastly, when the sandpaper is dull, toss it. Don't try to get every last second of sanding from every piece of paper. It's not worth the effort you'll have to put in to it to make it cut.