Woodworking Tips
Woodworking Tips Index
Aniline Dyes and Woodworking
Last week, I talked about gel stains, and that inspired one subscriber of this group to ask if I had any experience with aniline dyes. Well, quite honestly I don't, so I turned to the guys at ShopNotes magazine for their thoughts.

The biggest difference between stains and dyes is the color -- many stains look muddy, sort of like looking through a window with the screen on. Remove the screen and you get an idea of the clear colors produced by aniline dyes.

The reason is simple. Most stains leave tiny colored particles (pigments) on the surface of the wood. But dyes penetrate the wood fibers. This emphasizes the figure of the wood instead of partially obscuring it.

Aniline dyes also color the wood more evenly than pigmented stains. Unlike stains that concentrate in the areas of the wood that have large pores (like end grain), dyes penetrate all parts equally.

Another nice thing about aniline dyes is the wide range of colors. There are even bright primary colors, like what you might want to use on kids' projects.

Regardless of the color, most dyes are sold as a dry powder that needs to be dissolved in a solvent, either water, alcohol, or oil. Of the three, the guys at ShopNotes have found that the water-soluble dyes are the easiest to apply. And they produce deep, rich colors.

But they do have one drawback. The water in the dye raises the grain of the wood and produces a rough surface. Since sanding the wood after it dries removes some of the color, you need to wipe down the project with a damp rag before applying the dye. This raises "whiskers" that are easy to remove with sandpaper (use one grit finer than the final grit used to sand the project).

When mixing the dye, dissolve the powder in hot water like you're making a cup of instant coffee. Although the recommended ratio is one ounce of dye powder to a quart of water, you can create lighter or darker color by using more or less water.

As with most stains, you can use a rag or brush to apply the dye. To avoid lap marks, the trick is the keep the surface wet and wipe off the excess dye before it dries.

And beware that dye will appear chalky or dull when it dries. But applying a finish is all it takes to restore a clear, bright color. Just be sure to use an oil-based finish, since water will re-dissolve the dye.

Aniline dyes are available at some woodworking stores and in many woodworking catalogs.

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