I sure wouldn't use Rit dye to stain any of my wood projects. Then again, I did stain an old garden caddy with some used motor oil once. It actually worked pretty well. Every time I changed the oil, I'd give it another rub down.
Anyway, for me the dyes I would use are TransTint dyes. They can be mixed with water, DNA, lacquer and even some oil varnishes. Dyes tend to work better on softer woods or woods that grab a penetrating stain very un-evenly and get splotchy. Rather than penetrating down into the wood (although they do penetrate down into raw wood), they are more of a surface coat or colorant, which then tend to produce a more even color. However, they can also obscure the grain somewhat. So alot of times they are used in conjuction with penetrating stains. A penetrating stain may be applied first to accentuate and figure or grain in the wood and then a dye applied to "tone" or even out the color. Dye stains are typically spray applied. You really need the proper equipment and expertise to use them IMHO. I've seen a lot of "stripes" when soneone tried to spray a dye stain that didn't know what they were doing. My recommendation is to Google working with TransTint dyes as stains or (other type dyes) and do some reading. There is no cut and dry "short answer" that can be given in 100 words or less.
In my own experience, I tend to use dyes when I'm working with soft woods like Pine and Poplar. Poplar in particular is very splotchy if trying to use a penetrating stain only. So, to try and help that I do a couple of spit coats with a 1# cut of de-waxed shellac to condition the wood. I'll then use a professional grade oil based stain like a Sherwin Williams BAC wiping stain to bring out the grain, and then use some TransTint dye in a 2# cut of de-waxed shellac which I use as a sanding sealer and to really make the grain pop.... and then once I get everything toned just right (I may end up using two different dye coats with different colors even), I finish off with my finish coats of varnish, poly or whatever I'm using as a final finish. An agressive finish schedule for sure, but one that when I use it, I can make Poplar look smooth and clean without the traditional ultra splotchy look of stained Poplar. It would work very similarly on Maple I would think since Maple tends to be very splotchy when stained as well.
So in the end, pure dye stains really need to be sprayed to get a professional result. They can be a lifesaver as toners on woods that tend to be splotchy, but can be very tricky to work with on their own. However, they are quite easy to work with (the TransTints that I like to use anyway) in conjunction with other stains and as toners in sanding sealers or finish coats. Their versatility is what makes them so great IMHO. But, like anything.... there is no one single right way to use them. You will be well served to do some serious Googling and reading. And then before using them on your project piece, doing some practice, practice, practice on some scrap to get a feel for them.
Last edited by JW_in_Indy; 02-13-2010 at 07:16 AM.