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Aniline Dyes

Aniline dyes offer another approach for your finishing. Whether in wood tones or bright hues, these transparent dyes impart rich color without obscuring the grain.

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Changing or enhancing the color of wood while letting its grain show through has been a favorite finishing technique for centuries. Today we often accomplish this with pigmented stains. But before the 1950s, most wood coloring was done with dyes. Dyeing wood became popular early in the 19th century. The natural dyes available then, extracted from roots, berries, bark, and even insects, yielded beautiful, clear colors. But they weren't lightfast, so the dyed wood faded or changed color over time. In the 1850s, a British chemist accidentally produced a strong purple dye while working with aniline, a clear, oily, poisonous liquid. Subsequently, scientists synthesized other dye colors. These synthetic dyes delivered the same sparkling colors as the natural ones and were lightfast to boot. They were cheaper, too. Derived mainly from coal tar, synthetic dyes in general came to be known as aniline dyes, and a new chemical dyemaking industry sprang up around them.

The dyes are fine powders. When mixed with water, the ones shown at left become (from left) lemon yellow, brilliant scarlet, bright green, pink, nigrosine black, dark forest green (yes, the brown-looking one), and dark wine cherry. Aniline dyes offer an attractive finishing choice today. Pigmented stains, which some people characterize as thinned paints, may mask the wood's figure and can lend wood a muddy look. But transparent dye colors, even dark ones, can bring out the grain and add depth. Here's how to dye wood.


Fixin' to dye Aniline dye comes as a powder that you dissolve in water, alcohol, or petroleum solvents, depending on the formulation. We prefer the water-soluble dyes because they offer maximum clarity and colorfastness and are the easiest to use. The J.E. Moser water-soluble aniline dyes used here come in more than six dozen colors from wood tones to bright primary shades and cost around $4 to $6 per ounce (which makes a quart of liquid dye). We got our dyes from Woodworker's Supply, Inc., 800/645-9292.

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Comments (7)
maranathatds wrote:

I discovered that when using Solarez UV Finish, if you first use Alcohol/Acetone Soluble Aniline dyes, and then apply their sealer, that when wiping off the excess sealer, (as recommended) most of the Dye will come off with it. No problem whatsoever when first using W/B anilines, be warned. Gb bg

11/13/2015 08:45:30 PM Report Abuse
jspector3 wrote:

When I used to have to match a finish on an antique, I'd start with an aniline dye dissolved in alcohol. Then I would apply oil with or without pigment. Then I would sometimes add pigment to a sealer or finish coat. But I like the way wood and finishes age. It takes practice to avoid really screwing up your finishes, but if you're successful, you get a richer look.

2/3/2011 04:06:19 PM Report Abuse
gbnorby wrote:

I was given a grandfather clock kit partially finished. The stain is on it and it has been there a long time. I tried stripper and it is lighter, but is still there.

7/2/2010 11:46:16 AM Report Abuse
eddydcmail-shop wrote:

If you wiped off the excess pretty soon, you should be able to sand it out without much trouble.

7/1/2010 06:51:54 PM Report Abuse
gbnorby wrote:

Some dye got spilled on a project. how do I get it off?

7/1/2010 02:58:34 PM Report Abuse
sololupo wrote:

You have to be careful with the finish you use over the dye. Do not use a finish with the same base that you mixed the dye with. For example, if using the dye mixed with alcohol, then use a water based finish.

7/1/2010 11:20:45 AM Report Abuse
guang_rui wrote:

I've completely left stains for dyes. Not mentioned in the above article is that dyes have smaller colorant particles than stains so they work better with difficult to stain woods like poplar or maple. I mix my dyes with alcohol which dries faster and raises the grain less though I also spray rather than brushing.

1/7/2010 05:56:49 AM Report Abuse

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