How do I prevent stain from bleeding?

Q:

I’m making a keepsake box with a lid featuring an inlay of a contrasting, lighter wood. I want to stain the lid’s primary wood to even out its color variations, but how can I do this without stain getting onto the inlaid wood? 
—Bill Kidder, Overland Park, Kan.

A:

That’s tough to do, Bill, whether you’re inlaying veneers or solid wood. Dyes and stains, especially penetrating ones, seek out pores in the wood and travel through them, even horizontally along the grain [Photo A]. It’s such a risk after doing delicate inlay work that we just don’t recommend staining around the inlay. (But, as with the bookcase inlay, shown below, you can stain over an inlay—whether the inlay is darker or lighter than the primary wood—after installation, if that suits your taste.)

Send your woodworking questions to askwood@woodmagazine.comInstead of staining, we suggest you select workpieces that don’t need additional coloring. Using wood with interesting grain or figure brings more impact and appeal to your project than stained wood. And when you coat an inlaid workpiece or project with a penetrating clear-oil finish, the grain will pop even more [Photos B and C].

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