Show Off Figure with Dye
Quilted maple and other figured woods gain depth as well as brilliant color when you choose this type of stain. Here's everything you need to know for success.
If you've used commonly available, premixed canned stains for years with good success, you may be wondering "Why use dyes? Who needs 'em?" Well, you may. Compared to pigmented stains and pigment/dye mixes -- what you typically find on hardware store shelves -- dye produces a clearer appearance that shows off the grain much better. The difference really stands out when you dye dense wood that doesn't accept stain well or figured wood, such as curly maple. Stain tends to create a bland look on figured wood, while dye gives the surface an attractive undulating appearance. See the photo right for examples, of coloring curly maple.
Stains and dyes produce different looks because they color wood in different ways. Pure pigment stains only partially penetrate the wood, doing most of their coloring by lodging in tiny surface cracks and pores. If the wood is dense and smooth, like maple, pigment particles find few places to rest. Gel stains are thicker than standard stains and form a film on the surface with very little penetration. They prevent blotchiness but also obscure the grain. Dye, however, dissolves completely in its solvent, goes wherever the solvent can penetrate, and actually changes the color of wood cells. It allows the grain to clearly show through. Some stains contain both dye and pigment, but the combination doesn't solve the problems presented by dense woods.