Why Use Both Dye and Stain

Pros explain the value of using dyes and stains in combination, and provide advice on technique. December 14, 2009

I've always kept my schedules very simple. I notice that many postings here have schedules that include dye and stain. What added benefit do you get from using the dye that isnít being obtained through the stain alone?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor F:
I'm sure there are many good reasons. My reason for using both is if I'm trying to get a dark color on a light wood. Stain by itself usually only gets you so far. But if I spray a coat of Microton on, and then a coat of stain I get a much darker, and nicer look to the wood.

From contributor B:
Dyes are more translucent and typically penetrate the wood surface. While stains can contain dyes, they're typically made with pigments that sit on top of the wood, ala paint. When used with a stain, dyes provide the "deeper" background color, while the stains even out the overall color and provide the surface tone. Together they give you a richer, more even color. Dyes are usually sealed before a stain is applied.

From contributor P:
Dyes don't obscure the grain like pigmented stains. But dyes alone often don't give you the depth you get when a pigmented stain hangs up in the open grain. Also, many dyes are not very lightfast. Applying a pigmented stain over a dye will help protect against fading from UV light.

From contributor M:
Stains are best when you want to highlight the grain. The pigments lodge into the open part of the grain easier than the dense part. Dyes typically give a more even toning effect, especially when sprayed.

From contributor X:
I use it for the same reason that contributor F described.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for the responses. This clarifies something that I always thought was more time than benefit. When you spray the dye, is it better to mix with water or alcohol? Do you put a washcoat down first? If so, what type? Doesn't the wash coat interfere with the wood absorbing the dye? What is the best procedure for the blotchy woods? I have heard that dye can minimize blotchyness but from my experience it has resulted in blotches.

From contributor P:
I mostly use Lockwood's waterbased dyes. Diluted dewaxed shellac makes a good washcoat. It does interfere with absorption some, but that's how all washcoats/pre-stains do their thing. If you use Zinsser SealCoat, two parts alcohol to one part shellac is a good place to start. Sand lightly, and then dye.

From contributor F:
I only mix if I'm making a custom color. Otherwise I use Microton dyes which spray right out of the can and dry instantly.

From contributor E:
The type of dye you are using will determine what to thin it with. Some are solvent only, some water, and some like the ones I use from Valspar are universal, so I can thin them with anything or put them in just about anything to make a toner. My personal preference is to use a high quality lacquer thinner because this way I can still use the reduced dye to make a quick toner with my finish if I need to. You do not need a washcoat before spraying the dye, indeed this will impede penetration and possibly remelt your washcoat too, depending on the exact products used.

What you want is controlled penetration of the dye into the wood. This is achieved by thinning the dye and spraying in fairly light coats, building your color in several coats. Spray each coat so it is just barley wet on the wood and flashes off fairly quickly. Let each coat dry before spraying the next and avoid flooding the dye on as this is what causes it to get blotchy. That's the beauty of dye, you are not limited to one or two coats like you are with a wiping stain so theoretically you can put almost endless coats on to build a deeper and darker color.

If a washcoat is still desired apply it after you dye but before you stain or glaze. If you still want to spray more color on after that point, make a toner by thinning down some finish and adding the dye to that mixture. Do not spray dye on top of a sealed surface without adding some finish to act as a binder.