Tips for Coloring Wood

Prepping the wood: Sand to final grit. Raise the grain by moistening the wood with a water-dampened cloth. After it dries, resand starting at 220 grit to knock off the raised fibers. Lighter wood works best. Bleach the wood to lighten. Light coat of shellac or cellulose sand-n'-sealer, both products thinned, will give evenness to the grain. Lightly sand to even out the sealer.


Bleach: Two part solutions (sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide) work on most woods. A second coat of hydrogen peroxide may be used to attempt to further lighten the wood. Be careful not to remove the effect when finish sanding. Also be careful not to breathe the dust. Stubborn stains like mildew can be attacked with laundry bleach or Oxyclean. By lightening the wood, a better palette is created for further coloration.


Water based vs Alcohol based dyes: Water based dyes raise the wood grain and are more penetrating, creating more lightfastness. Alcohol dyes will not raise the grain, dry rapidly, easy to use and provide maximum flexibility in application but are not as lightfast as the water based MX dyes.


Using Fabric Dye: Use Dyelon Fabric Dye, cold water version. They are similar to Procon MX (lightfast) dyes. Mix your own colors or use is sequence to get variations in color. Dilute dye/water mixture with methyl hydrate (methanol or wood alcohol) until reach desired shade. Wet vessel with water before coating with dye. One or more coats until you reach the color on desired. Apply the lightest color first to facilitate adding other colors. Sanding selected areas after a coat of color will let you highlight certain features. Next color will show closer to its own color in the grain, top or bottom of the piece. Lacquer is a good finishing choice. Water-based aniline dyes-as produced by TransFast, Arti may be used but they are not as lightfast.


Alcohol Dye-or solvent-based dyes: Prep wood, sanding to 400 grit. Spray with denatured alcohol to open the pores. Apply darkest to lightest dyes mixed with alcohol. After first color, dry, drop back to 320 grit, then 400 and 600. Sand away dye in areas to be highlighted with other colors. Repeat for succeeding colors, finishing with 800 grit. Spray overall with alcohol to allow colors to blend together for interesting effects. Spray with a fixative such as shellac or Krylon Fixitif spray. If you don't spray on this step, the oil or solvent that you use next might reactivate the dyes (wipe on Polly will not reactivate). Once the color is fixed, finish as desired. Be sure to use a alcohol based dye such as made by TransTint, Mylands, Behlen, Artisan, Mixol, Fiebing's leather dyes (best black dye).


Dye Burst Effect: Apply a light colored solvent dye as the base coat. Take two more colors (max), and use an art brush, placing it in the powdered dye and lightly sprinkle it over the surface. The surface is then sprayed with denatured alcohol, which causes the dye to burst. The darkest color should be applied last. The surface must be textured or the color will only run off and not burst.


CA glue: Avoid using on any surface where coloring is desired if possible. When repairs are necessary, use shellac or final finish product to coat area where the CA glue is applied. This will seal the wood and not let the CA penetrate and stain the area. Shellac is preferable if alcohol dyes are to be used. It will dissolve and allow the dye to take.


Burnt Umber oil paint: Used for great affect to fill open grain areas with a darker accent color and to soften or mute the bright dye colors, adding a nice rich patina to the vessel. Wipe or brush on thickly, then wipe off. Let dry for several days before adding further finishes. Danish oil is a good final finish (several coats). Buff when dry.


Liberon's White Liming Wax and Black Patinating Wax: Fills open grained wood like ash, oak, or walnut to create interesting contrast. Mix the two for age effects. Perform after all other finishing is done. Buff when dry. Black wax can be used to extend and enhance a scorched or ebonized technique. Constantine's past wood filler also fills holes and comes in various colors.


Prismacolor Markers: These are solvent based colorants. Prepare surface and finish as with alcohol dyes. Good for accents in a range of colors.


Ebonizing wood with vinegar and iron: Place ½ of a steel wool pad into a cup of white vinegar and let stand overnight. Strain the contents into a resealable container (this solution will last 6 mo. and maybe more). Brush the mixture on high tannin woods, such as ash, walnut, and mesquite. Try it on the wood you are considering; e.g. maple turns a dull gray. If this process is not satisfactory, use Fiebing's leather dyes (excellent black dye).


Final Finishing Tip
A Metallic finish: Mix a small amount of Pearl EX powder with a clear finish (i.e. poly, lacquer, etc.). Brush or spray on, constantly stirring (powder will settle out). Apply coats until the desired sheen is achieved. Alternative is using Golden Acrylics such as green gold, gold, silver, interference red, green blue. Acrylics may be alternated with poly coats.


* Compiled from various product instructions, ideas and techniques taken from many sources found in woodturning cyberspace.