Hello, I am new to posting here and since I'm a dude I didn't read any
guidelines or instructions first. My father gets very sick from the
smell of oil based stain. He and I are avid home woodworking
enthusisasts. Are they any "low scent" or maybe water based stains out
there we can stain pine or oak bookshelves? Are we wasting our time
looking and the quality of such a stain too poor? Thanks in advance for
any suggestions and replies.
Rob in Sandy Ego
I do not really recall any stains having an odor unless you consider the
cheaper Minwax polyshades as a stain. More often I get strong odors from
Bartley Gel Stains and Varnishes are oil based and very low odor. They can
be found at better wood working stores and here.
Also General Finishes have a more acceptable odor IMHO. Again, found at
better woodworking stores.
Oil based pigment stains contain a binder, usually a varnish, which
makes the pigment "stick" to the surface. If the binder wasn't there,
the pigment could just be brushed off after drying. The solvent for
that binder (usually mineral spirits) is the source of the smell.
Water based stains will have much less smell, but it will not be gone
altogether. These stains are thinned with water, but the actual
solvent is glycol ether (just like in water-based polyurethane). The
concentration is quite low compared to the solvents used in oil-based
stains. If your father is okay with the smell, these types of stains
work perfectly well. They do, however, raise the grain in the wood.
Read below how to mitigate this.
Besides your Dad's sensitivity to the smell, pine is notoriously bad at
taking pigment stains evenly. It is almost impossible to avoid a
"splotchy" look unless you use a gel stain. That's not going to help
you, because the smell will still get to your father. Oak takes stain
pretty evenly, but pigment stains tend to make the grain even more
pronounced than it is naturally. That's because the pore size in the
early wood is much coarser than in the late wood, so it traps far more
of the pigment particles.
All this being said, even if your Dad didn't have an aversion to the
smell of oil-based stain, I'd go with a simple analine die because I
find that it works much better on those woods (especially pine). You
can buy it in powder form at places like Rockler or Woodcraft, or you
can order it in a million different colors from places like Woodworkers
Supply. You can get the standard stain colors (e.g. Colonial Maple) or
typical artists colors (e.g. burnt sienna) or primary colors so you can
mix your own. It's REALLY easy to use. You just dissolve it in hot
(but not boiling) water. You can brush it on or spray it or wipe it.
The only disadvantage (and you'd find this with ANY water-based finish)
is that it raises the grain in the wood. To get around this, you need
to sponge on a good coat of water ahead of time, thus pre-raising the
grain. Get it good and wet and let it dry overnight. Sand with 220
grit sandpaper the next day, and any subsequent grain raising from the
dye should be minimal.
One last thing to consider: If you plan to finish with a water-based
varnish (again, there IS somewhat of an odor with it), the water in the
finish will redissolve the dye. This is not usually too problematic,
but if you brush it on it can sometimes cause the dye to streak.
Spraying will avoid this problem completely.
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