I haven't had a lot of luck staining soft maple dark. Sure it stains,
but I don't like the highlights and inconsistencies in the color. The
finished product looks like some of that crap they used to stain all
the mediterranean furniture they sold in the 60s-70s. In those days
it was "if it has highlights, put on another coat".
Pine is the same way. So is fir, hemlock and many other soft woods.
Doesn't seem all that long ago that heavy pine furniture was the
Anyway use a conditioner before you stain and you should be fine.
They are available commercially, and there used to be a lot of
homebrew conditioner recipes on the net. One furniture guy I read
about just thinned white glue (not yellow) to the tune of 1 part glue
to 10 parts distilled water. The distilled water will keep out the
minerals that could react with your stain or finish. After
application, a quick swipe with clean non-oiled 0000 steel wool and he
was off to the stain can.
I like to dye myself, and I spray it. I mix SolarLux dye colors to
get what I want, then thin it to one part dye to 3 parts anhydrous
alcohol. It takes about four passes of spray, medium light coats only
through my HVLP system with a 1mm aircap. You can use any spray
delivery system you want as long as the coats of dye are properly
thinned or atomized. Multiple coats allow you to cover the piece
evenly. It looks nothing like the finished product, so it is a leap
of faith when you see it sitting with a brown powder on it.
I don't use water borne products, so this is just for solvent based,
by the way. After apply the dye and letting it sit for about 30
minutes after the last coat, I start spraying the finish coats. The
dye and the finish melt together, and in turn melt into the wood. You
can take real piece of crap wood and make it look like a million bucks
BTW.. you MUST test this method on a scrap, including the
final finish application. That is the only way you can tell if you
have it dark enough.
with blotchy woods like soft maple I get much better results with
glazing than staining. with glazing the color is in a layer of finish
that doesn't absorb into the wood at all. it takes some skill to make
it work, but it's not rocket science.
you'll get better advice over on the homestead finishing forum: