I'm doing some cabinet work for our master bath, and I'm trying to
stain some pieces to match some store-bought cabinets. I have the color
right, but for some reason, much of the wood isn't really absorbing the
I am using "soft maple" as Paxton here in Austin labeled it. I'm using
minwax "Red Oak" and "Cherry," one after the other to get the right
color. The stains are oil-based.
To prep the wood for staining, I used my smother to get the stiles and
rails even, then went over everything with a palm finish sander (220
grit). Once it was really smooth, I alternated between my compressor
blower and a brush to get all the sawdust off.
I'm thinking that maybe the sander somehow compressed dust into the
pores of the maple, and that's blocking absorbtion. That's pure
I didn't have this problem with the same wood using lighter honey
stains on previous work. I can't remember how I prepped those pieces
for staining though.
Any help is appreciated!
Is the wood not absorbing the stain after the first color or the second?
I would think you might achieve better results if you pre-mixed the two
colors (and tried it on sample boards) instead of the procedure you mention.
I usually get best results with a water based dye stain on maple, but that
was hard not soft maple.
Ok, so taking both pieces of advice, if I use one of those conditioners
(to seal it), plus mixing the two colors, then I should get better
Strange that it would be necessary to condition with soft maple,
because it's still quite hard. I guess it has to do more with the grain
structure than actual wood hardness?
Also, I thought the conditioners only mattered with water-based stains.
Is this incorrect?
Does my sanding and cleanup process see about right?
Thanks for the responses!
Maple's a real witch to stain to start with. Sanding with 220 is probably
sealing up the pores. Try sanding a scrap piece with 150 then staining that
to see if it's any better. If swirl marks show up then final sand by hand,
going with the grain only. Will probably take some 'spearmintin to get the
desired results. I avoid staining maple myself altogether but I know you're
trying to match existing furniture. Good luck.
Conditioners have little to do with the hardness of the wood or the type
of stain. They are suppose to partially fill those super adsorbent areas on
the surface so that the stain that follows goes on more evenly. Cheers. JG
Mike Reed wrote:
the easy way to avoid problems staining maple is to get yourself an HVLP
and apply light coats of dye. If done correctly, you are guaranteed a
splotch free finish. I use water based because it's more light-fast
than alcohol based dyes.
I have one of those "classic" spray cannisters for my compressor (not
HVLP) that does reasonably well with paint. It's one of the ones that
obliterates the stream of paint with two air jets to the side, and
atomizes the whole thing that way. Any reason that wouldn't work for a
Given the responses I'm getting here, I'm starting to think that the
existing cabinets are dyed. They almost have that look -- like there's
some depth missing. Like the maple doesn't have the spirit or soul of
maple. The honey maple and just plain tung oil finishes I've done in
the past often look like they're 10 inches deep.
Again, thanks to everyone for all the useful info and experience. I
find myself so much better at cutting wood than coloring and finishing
it. Just need more practice I suppose.
You might also try glue size. Homestead Finishing sells a good one.
It's water based, so you can't use a water-based dye afterwards. It's
the best-kept secret around for staining maple.
Wet the grain and knock it down with sand paper at least once, then
apply the glue size full strength. Wait for it to dry, then _very_
lightly sand down any fuzz.
Next go with an alcohol- or NGR- based dye stain. (I haven't tried
pigment-based stain, but it might work as well.)
Yes, you may lose some "penetrability" with the sizing, but you'll get
decent uniformity as your trade-off.
I'm like the others, though...I hate trying to stain maple. If
necessary, I'll seal it with shellac, do a gel-based toner on top of
that, then use dark-garnet shellac the rest of the way. Don't know if
that would be tough enough for cabinetry, though.
That's pretty typical of many maples, especially if they have any figure.
After you've made sure your sanding is uniform, there are a few things that
- Use a stain conditioner
- Use a washcoat of dilute shellac (works in a similar way to a stain
- Use a gel stain (tends to be more resistant to blotching problems)
There are several good books you can find at the bookstore or local library
... look for books by Jeff Jewitt or Bob Flexner.
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