The color of wood can be created in all sorts of different ways, but easily the most popular is "stain", but is it the best? Most woodworkers don't even know about wood dyes, or Aniline Dyes unless perhaps you are Luthier (maker of wooden guitars, violins etc). There are options when it comes to fine tuning the color or your wood project and know what to use and why is important information for woodworkers to know ...
If you are a woodworker, you have probably used wood stain to change or enhance the color of the wood on a wood project you have made or even refinished. During that process when you first opened the can and started to stir the contents, you probably noticed globs of "gunk" that had settled in the bottom of the can ...
Those globs are pulverized rock, which is what gives the stain it's color, and because it is heavier than the fluid it sits in, it sinks to the bottom of the can. And that is also why the instructions on the can will tell you to continue stirring the contents during use. The reason for frequent stirring is to avoid color changes as you apply the stain.
A Selection of Spirit based Wood Stains
It is these same particles of pulverized rock that can also help to mask some of the features and grain of wood and especially woods where the grain feature is why you bought the wood in the first place. Where these tiny particles of rock are a benefit is when you are wanting to stain a fence or maybe even a picnic table, both of which live out side in the weather and are subjected to wind, snow, rain and UV light from the sun. All of these features play havoc with the wood in breaking it down slowly, but wood stain, with it's thin coating of pulverizes rock can help block UV light and help to fight off the breakdown of the wood, making these items last longer.
Wood stain can and is often used indoors as well, in these cases it is often coated on the wood, let to sit for a short time then wiped off with a soft cloth which leaves something of a colored wood behind. These stained items could be door or window trim, floors or even furniture. In many cases the details of the wood are not deeply masked by the stain, the grain and features of the wood can be seen as often these items are more like "background" features and not highlight features like a special piece of furniture or picture frame.
The fact that someone has brushed on wood stain, the wiped off some of it to leave behind some color, this process will at the same time also leave behind some of the pulverized rock, which, depending on the grain of the wood, can hid or mask some of those grain features.
Wood stains are typically only available in "wood color tones" because that happens to be the color of most of the rock or earth when the color tones come from. This why wood stain is often described as a color that lays on top of the wood, but a small amount of it does seep into the fibers of the wood as well.
If you are interested in different colors of NOT masking the grain of the wood, Aniline or wood Dye might be your answer.
Wood Dye (Aniline Dye)
Wood dyes are created in a variety of different ways, which is why they are available in "wood tones" just like stain, but aniline dyes are also available in red, green and even yellow colors which means you can really mix and match them to suit your own needs. Wood dyes are available as a liquid and as a power and depending on what you get, these can be either mixed with water (most popular mix) or with some spirits and in some cases even mixed directly into a finishing medium.
Selection of water Based Wood Dyes
Mixing with water is often best because it is easier to control and mix the colors to what you want, then coat that mixture onto your wood project with a paint brush. The only down side to water based dyes, it is possible, and more so on large flat surfaces, to get some minor color changes (this can and does happen with wood stains as well). The nice thing with dyes, you can often go back and blend areas to help match colors or even darken colors.
Of course the big plus with aniline dyes mixed with water, they dry very quickly and depending on the environment, dye stain can be applied then a finish coat put applied the same day after the dye has dried.
Don't Water Based Dyes Raise the Grain?
Yes ... they do, and for most experienced woodworkers, this is a bonus, and here's why. Using a water based dye, the action of using water will have a tendency to lift the grain of the wood slightly. This happens as the wood fibers swell when water is introduced to them and as they dry out the wood does not shrink back, but stays slightly thicker.
Birdseye Maple Veneer
Many woodworkers take advantage of this water / wood feature and after the wood (and dye) have dried, they will very lightly re-sand the surface of the wood to take the 'edge off" the raised grain. What this does is make an even BETTER surface for a final finish to be applied and goes a long way to ending up with silky top coat finish on their wood projects.
Accent Table with Birdseye Maple Insert
The big plus with wood dyes is that they soak deeper into the wood and DON'T mask the grain of the wood, which is very important for figured woods like Tiger, Birdseye, Quilting, Fiddle Back, Burl wood and even sometimes Spalting. All of these features and more can be found on almost any type of wood and we pay more for these features of wood, so we really don't want to be masking these features. Often these figured woods are created by the grain growing at different angles so we look for colorants that don't tend to cover the grain, but to enhance the color without affecting the grain.
Where Can you Get Wood Dyes
If you have never used wood dyes, it may be something you want to try. Wood dye is not as readily available as wood stain so you do need to look for it a bit more.
You can purchase a sample pack from the Woodworkweb Amazon store HERE
Or check out some of these fine vendors
Wood Dyes available from (US) STEWMAC ... HERE
Wood Dyes from Lee Valley (US & Canada) - HERE
Wood Dyes from Woodcraft (US) - HERE
Wood Dyes from Rocker (US) - HERE
Wood Dyes from Tools for Woodworking - HERE
Wood Dyes from Wood Essence (excellent selection) (US & Canada) - HERE
These are just a sampling of places to look for wood dyes, there may even be a local supplier in your area or local wood working store.
Copyright Colin Knecht