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Hi Everybody,

This is my first post here. We are replacing all the doors in our (small) house with vertical grain douglas fir doors from Rogue Valley Doors, both interior and exterior. We would like to stain them to (approximately) match our cherry kitchen cabinets. Currently, I am trying things out on some sample boards.

I have read Bob Flexner's Understanding Wood Finishing, which frankly left me a bit confused. I am still not sure if I should use a dye stain or a pigment stain, or both, or one that is a mixture. I am also not sure if I should use a pre-made wood conditioner, or make my own out of thinned varnish, or use thinned shellac.

After a couple of trips to our local Woodcraft, I first tried (at the recommendation of the shop guy there) a GF oil-base gel stain. That one wasn't the right color, and it also blotched. So I figured I need a wood conditioner.

I went back and bought GF wood conditioner, and their oil-base wipe-on stain in Warm Cherry and Candlelight. I sanded to 220, wiped on the conditioner, wiped off excess, waited 35 min., and wiped on the stain, then wiped it off. Both of the colors I picked seem like they might work, but I still get blotching.

What can I do to further minimize the blotching? Would thinned shellac be better as a pre-sealer? Or would a dye work better than an oil-base stain? After reading Flexner, I was sure I should use dye and then a pigment stain (for greater lightfastness), but the guy in the wood shop said a dye would be too risky to use for a beginner on a big project. These are expensive doors, we have to get it right (or else we have to paint...).

Regarding the final finish, I am currently planning on Arm-R-Seal for the interior doors, and System Three marine spar varnish for the exterior.

I would appreciate any thoughts or advice! Thank you in advance.
 

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Old School
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There's a lot of info on finishing. Some of the methods take some experience with the steps. One of the problems with getting a wood surface to be a good subject for coloring is to have it abraded to a point that it's not too smooth or too rough. If it's too rough, the stain will penetrate and likely get too dark and you can't wipe it off. If you sand too smooth, the grain closes up and won't take the stain.

Using a conditioner can be a feat of luck. It can be too concentrated, and will prevent stain from coloring the wood. Or, it can be too diluted and soft parts of the grain will take stain differently than the hard parts.

So, now you see there are many variables that can affect how well a wood will take a stain. So, here is a basic suggestion. I would sand with 150x - 180x (in the direction of the grain). I would use a penetrating pigmented oil base stain. Wipe it on in the direction of the grain. Leave it on for maybe 30 seconds, and wipe off. The sooner you wipe off the lighter the color will be. Likewise, the longer you leave it on the darker.

This is just one method, that you should try on a sample, or an area that's inconspicuous. It's a very basic method, but it's a starting place.








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Thanks for your response, cabinetman. So basically you are saying that the problem might have been that I sanded with too fine a grit, and that I don't need a wood conditioner at all? The wood seemed to take on the stain reasonably well even after the fine sanding, just not evenly enough. I can't imagine things would get better if I cut out the sealer and just sanded more coarsely, but I will give it a try (I have to buy the coarser sand paper first).

What is your take on dyes? I am still intrigued by the idea of using a dye, but I am not sure if it is indeed to difficult for me to use.
 

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What is your take on dyes? I am still intrigued by the idea of using a dye, but I am not sure if it is indeed to difficult for me to use.
So far I've only suggested an oil base stain. It was meant to be a basic starting place. There are many different methods. For dyes, the basic wood prep is the same. I don't suggest to try conditioners first. Start with the bare wood. A waterbase dye will give you the most open time and has the ability to color gradually either by the concentration of the mix, or the number of applications. It won't be as colorfast as the oil base dye.

Alcohol base (methanol) aniline dye carries more color than the waterbase, and dries very fast, and is more difficult to use. Unlike waterbase dyes and stains, that have the tendency to raise the grain, an NGR (non-grain raising) dye will not. Actually, even with the grain raising, by the time the topcoats go over the applications and sanded in between applications, the raised grain is a non issue.

A good idea would be to go pick up a board of CVG Fir and use it to experiment. I think that would be a smart idea. That way you won't be raising havoc with your doors.






 

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Kate,
I have used the transtint dyes available at Woodcraft on a number of projects. I used the water based. The nice thing about these dyes is you can play around with the strength of them as you mix them. I make up real small samples and count the number of drops of dye going in. When I find the color I want, I just increase the size of the sample to get how much I need. When you get done with your sanding, take a dampened cloth and dampen the wood slightly, causing the grain to raise. Let it dry and then lightly sand it one more time to take off the nibs. When you apply the dye, it won't raise the grain then. I dyed a floor I put in a kitchen that was made of heartland pine, t & g 5" planks. Along with it were some larger thresholds I made from vertical grain doug fir. I didn't have any trouble with blotching. I think you will find the dye a lot easier to use, especially trying to match up with cherry or any darker stains.
Mike Hawkins;)
 

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my front door is doug fir, i used one coat of minwax oil based stain, brushed on, wiped off 2-3 min later. then i used 3 coat of minwax spar urethane. no blotching, looks great, everyone comments on it. gl!
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you all for your responses. Cabinetman, as I said in my initial post, I am experimenting on scrap pieces. I also did try an oil based stain with no conditioner initially, and it blotched a lot. Gel stain worked better, but wasn't the right color, so trying conditioners under penetrating oil stain (which came in a suitable color) was next, and failed.

I went back to Woodcraft today with the intention of looking into the dyes you guys suggested, but was talked out of it again. The guy in the shop thinks it would soak too deeply into the sapwood and turn out uneven. He also thinks the dye colors available look less natural. In all, I talked to three guys at Woodcraft, and all were at a loss how to solve my problem.

I also had the idea trying colored shellac (like garnet or amber), but couldn't get myself to buy the pound bag for an experiment of which I have no idea where it's going to go.

So I ended up with a can of Minwax gel stain in Cherrywood from Home Depot, and I just did a few test applications with and without conditioner. So far (with the conditioner) it looks better than the penetrating stain, but I'm not sure yet if this is the solution. I'll see how it looks after another coat or two.

Thank you all again for your suggestions. Any other thoughts will be much appreciated.
 

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Kate,
Here's a cherry tabletop I made for a buddy to match a dining room set. It is dyed with transtint products to a deep burgundy color. Finish was General Finishes wipe on polyurethane. The floor in this kitchen is heartland pine dyed and finished with several coats of water based polyurethane. Does it look blotchy to you? I think you'd better find another woodcraft store to deal with. Sounds like those guys don't know what they are talking about. For darker colors, dyes are hard to beat. The other nice thing is at first it isn't dark enough, you can add additional coats of dye making it progressively darker.
Mike Hawkins;)
 

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Thanks for posting the pictures, firehawkmph. That looks indeed pretty good.

Today, I tried another shade of GF gel stain, and this time used shellac as a presealer. I did two tests: a 1lb. cut, and the SealCoat straight from the can. I sanded both to 400 grit after they dried. This seems to work, the undiluted SealCoat a bit better. There was virtually no difference in the strength of the color between the two degrees of pre-sealing.

Now I am wondering if it would be better to do two coats of 1lb. cut shellac instead of one coat undiluted. Or would there be no difference? I can't test this now, because I've run out of test boards with sap wood, so please share your insights on this questions if you have any. In any event, I think shellac and this gel stain are going to work in some combination, which is a relief!
 

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Kate,
I don't have too much experience with shellac. I use it on some of my lathe turnings, but that's about it. If you are happy with your samples, then I would say go for it. You've done your homework. Samples when staining are always a good idea.
Reminds me of an old neighbor of mine. We both had new houses and he went to stain his. It was T1-11 siding. He got a 'deal' on his stain. I forgot what color he was actually intending, but it turned out to be like picnic table red. Looked awful. He stained the whole house, then griped about it.
Mike Hawkins;)
 
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