Give wood a vivid finish
Use inexpensive finishing materials to brightly color birch, maple, ash, poplar, or other light-toned woods in a rainbow of tints.
Low-cost alternative to dyes
You can colorize wood by using expensive dyes that will fade over time, or you can use this process involving low-cost paint and thinner to achieve a no-fade color burst. Buy the ingredients at any hardware store or home center, and apply it quickly and evenly using common painting pads.
Start with a smooth surface
Begin by sanding your project parts up to 180 grit. Remove all sanding dust with a vacuum and a clean rag. Then use a vacuum or compressed air to remove any loose fibers from the paint applicator pads. We're applying this finish to a bed designed to be disassembled for moving; for projects you'll glue together, mask the joint areas for a better wood-to-wood glue bond.
To make this finish, mix equal amounts of oil-based enamel paint and mineral spirits in a clean container to create a translucent finish called a toner coat. Different paint colors thin to different shades, so lighten or darken the color as you choose by varying the amount of solvent. Then fill the bottom of a paint tray with thinned finish.
Pad on a coat of color
First, use a large applicator pad, brushing with the grain to cover the surface. Avoid leaving overlap marks or excess finish.
Color the edges next
Then use a trim pad to coat the edges without leaving a buildup of finish on the surface. After coating all the edges on a piece, wipe away drips on the underside surface using a clean cloth. Once these edges and the good surface have dried thoroughly, finish the underside of each piece. Allow all surfaces to dry until there's no solvent odor, or you may have problems later with water-based, clear, protective topcoats not sticking to the color finish. Why use water-based over oil? These finishes typically dry clearer than oil-based ones, preserving the original color.
Wrap and freeze the applicator
Oil-based paint dries more slowly than the water-based finish you'll apply next, so save cleanup time between painting sessions by wrapping the applicator and trim pad with plastic sacks sealed with tape around the handles. Then place them in a freezer until about 30 minutes before you're ready to use them again.
Apply a protective finish
Because the toner coat is like a stain, you need to protect it with a clear topcoat. Mix a half-cup of denatured alcohol in one quart of water-based finish to reduce its surface tension and allow bubbles to pop. To avoid overfilling the can, add the alcohol to an empty can and add part of the straight finish. Pour the contents back and forth until they're well mixed. (Never shake a water-based finish to mix it.) Then fill the bottom of a paint tray with finish.
Cover fastener holes
Unlike the thin toner, this finish could collect inside recesses, such as the holes drilled for barrel nuts used to assemble the bed. Before applying the clear finish, cover all the 10mm holes with round adhesive labels available from any office supply store.
Time to add the finish
Working quickly, apply finish to one surface, top photo, of each part and then the edges, bottom photo. After the top surfaces dry, finish the undersides.
Troubleshoot finish flaws
Despite thinning with alcohol and careful application, water-based finishes' quick drying time may leave some unpopped bubbles or dust nibs in the dried finish. Instead of sanding these down at risk of damaging the color coat, slice them off using the sharp edge of a piece of glass with a scrap block attached to one side with double-faced tape. The glass shaves off nibs without marring the surface. Apply one or more coats of clear finish for extra protection.
Time to sand
After the final coat, hand-sand the entire surface with a 320-grit pad. This will dull the surface, but you can bring back a soft sheen by buffing it with a mildly abrasive white Scotch-Brite cleaning pad. To speed up the job, attach an old hook-and-loop sanding disc to the sheet with double-faced tape; then cut it away to create a buffing pad you can attach to a random-orbit sander. For added shine, buff on a coat of paste wax.
Paint pads. Short-nap, 7" paint pads and touch-up pads available at hardware stores and home centers.
3M Scotch-Brite Pads. Light-Duty Cleansing Pads (white, 6x9") no. 07445, Amazon.com.