Need some staining input

Hello everyone.
I was wondering if I could get your input on staining. I've built a fish tank stand out of pine. I wanted to stain it a VERY dark chocolate brown with red highlights. I went to Home Depot and bought Minwax products. I bought mahogany gel stain, oil based stains in two colors (Jacobean and mahogany), and a can of Red Mahogany Polyshade. I have lots of scrap wood to test with so I've been experimenting. With the oil stain there doesn't seem to be a way to get the wood DARK. Like a solid dark chocolate brown dark. The gel stain is worthless (although I love the consistency of it). Too bad. I've gotten great color by applying the polyshade. It's a lot redder than I wanted so I plan on purchasing the Tudor and mixing in some Red mahogany for red highlights if it works out. The problem is that since it's thick I get paint lines and bubbles. I am using a foam brush though for testing and expect that it's the reason for the bubbles. I had a few questions:
My girlfriend's dad who works with wood all the time suggested I paint on the polyshade, wait 5-10 minutes and rub it off with a cloth. He said to keep doing it until I get the darkness I want. He said that by rubbing it off I would get a smooth shade with no lines or bubbles. Has anyone done this before? If so do you have any tips? I guess I'll have to practice on 4-5 pieces of wood to make sure I can get all the pieces the same shade.
What grit should I sand with. I planned on sanding with 180 and then 240. Since this polyshade is more like a paint I don't expect that the fineness of scratch lines would play much of a role in accepting more stain.
To clean my wood after sanding and before polyshading I was rubbing down with mineral spirits and then letting it dry. Is this a good idea or should I use denatured alcohol?
Between polyshade coats I've been rubbing slightly with 0000 steel wool. Should I use mineral sprits to clean any debris off? I was just rubbing with paper towels.
Any other polyshade tips would be appreciated.
Thanks,
Sam
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I would try wood dye.
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pixelated:

Hey, it's pine. He should use an old tin of shoe polish.
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This is a classic problem for hobbyists. Applying more coats of Minwax stain will not get you as dark as you seem to want. Polyshades is in the right direction. It is just a polyurethane based toner. Someone already mentioned the gel version which might get you where you want to be after several coats and it will minimize the streaking on pine. You describe the gel stain as worthless. I am guessing that you sanded to more than 180 so the gel stain, which sits on top, had no place to adhere. Like the Polyshades in brushing form, you must be careful that you don't obscure the grain so much that you may as well have painted it. If you want to use the brush on Polyshades as a wiping toner, just thin it out about 50% by volume with mineral spirits. You will need more coats but you won't have to worry about brush marks. I am assuming you can't put the care needed into brushing on polyurethane without brush marks. What ever you use, be careful where you overlap wipes or brush strokes. You might get a dark line with the applications overlap.
Good Luck.

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Yeah I sanded 120 and then 180 and then 240. I'm going to sand back at 180 and see if it makes a difference.

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Cause nothing says "fist tank stand" like stained pine... ;~)
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Sam Hopkins spaketh...

A dye might have been better for very dark, but try the Jacobean and let it sit until almost dry, then rub off.

The finer you sand, less stain will be absorbed, the lighter the wood.

Yep.
--
McQualude

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I don't have a lot of experience, but I'm half way through a book that has changed the way I thought about things a hundred times over (not to mention debunked a lot of "advice" I got for free ;)
It's _Understanding Wood Finishing_ by Bob Flexner. I've read many posts where people recommend it. Lemme tell you, they mean it. It's incredible. Mostly because you really understand "why" things work the way they do (gels vs. oil stains, vs water dyes, etc) and now I can make better decisions because when I know what I want I know how to approach it. Sure, I'll still need practice, but I can get there a lot faster now.
Anyway, if you pick it up at the store or at the library, you could probably get by with 3-4 chapters and be ready to get yourself some dark pine (which by the way is totally achievable, there's a store in town that sells some awesome custom country furniture that has some really dark pieces that are to die for -- but I digress).
My suggestions are:
Chap 2: Preparing the wood surface Chap 5: Staining wood Chap 7: Introduction to Film Finishes
That will give you enough info to do a pretty sweet job (my guess is you'll want to start with aniline dye and then use a glaze over it, fun, fun, fun!). Oh, and another good suggestion is _Wood Finishing_ (VHS) by Frank Klausz (also at the library), it's handy to be able to "see" someone apply a finish (Varnish is probably what you'll want and I didn't realize how easy it was to put on -- I made it way to hard on myself until I saw how he thinned the first layers, etc, etc).
Good luck! Mike

[snip]
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Preparing the surface and applying finish to a project is not something I've ever been fond of, but Flexner's book has made the process itself into less of a chore and turned it into another area of woodworking that you can take pride in.
The keyword is in the title: "understanding".
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 8/24/03
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I have to say, that I was very surprised how much I enjoy the finishing steps. I figured I'd just be doing it to get it over with, but I find finishing to be enjoyable. It really seems like, at every step, every investment of time clearly makes the project look better. While it can be drudgery sanding a big project through a bunch of grits, for example, I feel that every pass clearly improves the look of it, so it's very satisfying.
-BAT
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Thanks! I just reserved the book at my library. I'm going down there and looking for the VHS tape this afternoon.

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