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Curly maple, tiger maple, fiddleback maple and quilted maple (various names for different types of figure found in maple lumber) have to be some of the more interesting woods to finish because you can take a board from mild to wild with the simplest of techniques. Here are just a few of them. You can see a full demonstration in the video above, or get the highlights below.

1. Use Dewaxed Shellac for Your Best “Clear” Finish On Curly Maple

Finish 3Beforecurly maple board sanded to 220 grit, just before being finished with dewaxed shellac Finish 3After with 3 coats of dewaxed shellac
Of all the basic clear topcoats you can choose from, dewaxed shellac provides a surprising chatoyance that you just don’t get with other finishes. That’s not to say your favorite solvent based varnish, polyurethane or lacquer does a poor job – they’re just fine. But the shellac has a touch of magic that’s virtually water white in color and yet brings out curly figure you couldn’t see before while also giving the figure a three-dimensional appearance.

Zinseer SealCoat is the dewaxed shellac I used in this tutorial.

Zinseer SealCoat is the dewaxed shellac I used in this tutorial.

So why dewaxed shellac? First, it’s crystal clear in color – for you purists who disapprove of adding color to wood, this is the product for you. Second, since it’s dewaxed, it’s also a universal sealer. Therefore you have the option of applying a more durable topcoat after the shellac dries. For example, if you need the protection that a polyurethane provides, you can apply that on top of dewaxed shellac and get the best of both worlds – the figure pop and the protection.

Shellac is also a very safe finish that’s easy to apply by hand or by spraying. Plus, any rags you use do not pose the same fire danger that oil-soaked rags do.

How to Apply Dewaxed Shellac:

  1. Prep your material by sanding to 220 grit, clean off the dust
  2. Using a cotton pad, brush or a lint-free rag, apply the shellac. It dries fast, so work quickly and try not to overlap any areas that are already tacky
  3. After the coat dries (10 to 15 minutes is often adequate), sand it with fine sandpaper or a synthetic finishing pad
  4. Apply another one or two coats to your satisfaction
  5. Once the last coat is dry and sanded, you can apply a paste wax and buff it to a glassy-smooth surface


2. Try Oil for Popping the Grain and Giving Curly Maple an Aged Amber Color

Beforecurly maple board sanded to 220 grit, just before application of tung oil After with 1 coat of tung oil varnish
Tung Oil Varnish blend is what I used in this tutorial.

Tung Oil Varnish blend is what I used in this tutorial.

While oil finishes do a wonderful job at highlighting the figure in curly maple, they also add a gentle amber color. An oil such as tung oil or boiled linseed oil will also reveal and add punch to figure that may have been difficult to see in the raw board. You can apply numerous coats of these oils to build up a sheen, but that’s a process that takes a long time because it takes 12 hours or more for each coat to dry.

My technique, when using oils, is to apply just one coat, let it dry, hit it with a coat or two of dewaxed shellac, then either wax and buff it, or spray two or three coats of lacquer then wax/buff (depends on the application). The point here is you get the effect of an oil with the first coat; to build a protective coating with a satin, semi-gloss or gloss sheen, it’s quicker to seal it with dewaxed shellac and move on to lacquer rather than build up multiple coats of a drying oil. Of course . . . opinions vary.

How to Apply Tung Oil or Boiled Linseed Oil:

  1. Prep your material by sanding to 220 grit, clean off the dust
  2. Follow the directions on your can of oil. You most likely need to thin the oil with mineral spirits. If so, don’t skip doing so
  3. Work in a well-ventilated area. Use a clean lint-free cotton rag to wipe the oil on your work piece, just apply a thin coating
  4. Allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe it off with a clean rag.
  5. Let your work dry, then make a choice: 1). add another coat, 2). wax/buff, or 3). apply a sealer, then topcoat and wax/buff


3. Use Dye for Bold and Stunning Figure Pop

Finish 4Beforecurly maple board sanded to 220 grit, just before application of brown dye Finish 4After – 3 coats of Solar-Lux Maple Brown dye (each coat sanded off before the next coat), 1 coat of tung oil
Behlen Solar-Lux Dye doesn't raise the grain like water based dye does, and it comes in a wide variety of colors.

Behlen Solar-Lux Dye doesn’t raise the grain like water based dye does, and it comes in a wide variety of colors.

You won’t find a better way to make the figure pop from across a ballroom than you will with aniline dye. Dye is different from your usual oil stains, and it’s just the thing for figured woods like curly maple. While you can just hit curly maple with a single coat of dye and move on to your clear topcoat, I like to do three diluted coats of dye and sand it off between each coat. It might seem counterintuitive to apply it and then sand it off, but if you watch the video above you’ll see why.

The color I used in the sample above (and in the video) is Maple Brown by Behlen Solar-Lux.

How to Apply Alcohol Based Dye on Curly Maple

  1. Prep your material by sanding to 220 grit or finer, clean off the dust
  2. Dilute the dye by 25% to 50% with denatured alcohol
  3. Use a cotton rag or a sponge to apply the dye. It dries fast, so work quickly
  4. Let the coat of dye sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then sand the work piece until the color comes off the surface of the wood. You’ll see that the curls remain colored. That’s perfect
  5. Apply two more coats of dye, sanding it off between each. Do not sand off the last coat.
  6. Soon after applying the last coat, dampen a rag with denatured alcohol and wipe the work piece to even out the color and blend in any lap marks you created

Optional: after the last coat of dye has dried, apply a light coat of tung oil or boiled linseed oil. This will add another small boost to the figure.

Dyes give you a whole rainbow of colors to work with, plus you can make them as diluted or as vivid as you like. Here are some other examples:




Vice President of Operations – Woodworkers Source
We’re a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees.
Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.

Discussion, Questions & Answers

  • SFSpotless

    Thanks so much for sharing this useful information! I’ve refinished more than my share of furniture (I appear to be genetically incapable of just using an item as it was when I purchased it…) and oil-based poly has always been my go-to finish.

    I just purchased an older dresser with a very uninspiring medium-brown stain. When I stripped the finish, it turned out to be solid maple underneath, with some interesting figure in the wood. I wanted a finish that would leave the wood as light as possible, but I wasn’t sure that water-base poly was a good choice. Your page here is the best resource I found! I went with several coats of dewaxed shellac, and it looks amazing. As you said, it really popped the figure I detected when it was raw, as well as revealing additional interesting quirks I hadn’t been able to see, and generally making the grain really shimmer. Thanks so much for providing a level of advice I would never find at any of my local supply stores!

    • Hey, that’s great to hear! Thanks for posting back with your experience. So glad it worked as expected!

  • Nhan Hoang


    Great video. Thanks for putting it out. I was inspired to build some floating bookshelves using curly maple. Being new to this, I used General Finishes water based dye inn steady of the alcohol based dye in your video. I did some samples with pre raising the grain followed by sanding, and then the 3 coat process (sanding after the first and second coats). That part went well.

    I then moved onto applying the same process to my project. However, I decided to do just 2 coats since the the shelves are rather large (they’re more like hutches), and they take quite a bit of work and a lot of time. What I’m noticing is that after each coat, the grain is raised slightly still. I may have applied too much dye? I just finished applying the second coat of dye and had planned to stop there, apply 1 coat is Hope’s 100% tung oil, followed by 3 coats of Zinsser’s dewaxed shellac (sanding in between).

    What should I do about the slightly raised grain with the curly maple? I don’t want to ruin the finish and continue to the next step with applying a coat of tung oil. Should I very gently hand sand off the raised grain with 220 grit sand paper (I was using an orbital sander before after the 1st coat of dye)? I’m afraid the sanding and make the dye look uneven, and again ruin the rest of the finishing applications.

    Thanks for the advice.

    – Nhan

  • Glen Barclay

    I’m using tung oil varnish on my table and forgot to wipe off the excess on the last coat. Now the finish is sticky. Is there a way to correct this mistake?

  • Daniel Cassells

    Hi, I tried the black dye, wiped off with alcohol then added the fruitwood dye but it isn’t looking anywhere near what you have. I feel like I wiped off too much black? Or am reading it wrong and theres more to the process that I missing?

    • It’s been a long time since I did that piece so I don’t remember the details. Can you post a picture of what you have?

  • David Krump

    This is really great information. I have a sort of strange situation. I bought a bowling alley, or more specifically a bunch of the maple flooring from the lane approach area. I would like to use this for a bar top and maybe a few table tops but I’m beating myself up trying to figure out what to do since most of the tutorials don’t show this specific type of maple, like thin strips on a butcher block, or what might bring out their best character. I suppose they are beautiful plan and maybe I should just seal them with poly after a few sanding rounds, but sometimes I think I’m taking the easy way out if I don’t dye them or do something more dramatic to them. They are, I think, select grade. As in there are no knots at all. But it’s also limiting any grain features because the board strips are stacked against one another, thus really cramping the character of each individual piece. Any ideas?


    • I don’t see any reason to dye it unless you want to achieve a different color tone. Maple is so plain (unless it’s figured) that there’s not much character to “bring out” with a more involved finish. 5-8 coats of a wipe on poly is just about the right thing for a bar top. It’ll look great.

  • Jimmy

    Mark– just wanted to say thanks. I’m not working on curly maple, but instead a coarse, edge grain rock maple butcher block with a ton of color variation, and I want it to look as close as possible to the black walnut one I built myself that sits above. I want to enhance that color variation, and the walnut above has that swirling dark-to tan heart & sap tones throughout. (It’s a table top– not a food-contact surface… I should state that for the record.) Regardless, I knew I needed a dye, but your triple dye & sand between techniques have really helped me out here, and given me something to aim toward. Great vid.

  • Jeana

    I have a maple fireplace that my father built for me. He is no longer here and I am trying to finish it. My problem is that he used rather large screws instead of finishing nails and no matter what I do, with stains and puttys there is a halo around the spot. Can anyone tell me the best way to go about hiding the holes completely? I am trying to stain it more of a rich fruitwood color. Thank you!

    • Jimmy

      Jeana, you haven’t really given us enough info here. Are the screws countersunk, as in set under the surface of the wood? If so, how far?

      Anything– and I mean ANYthing you use, will have a different look to this area– even different parts of the same board will stain differently from others. However, if you want to get close, Here’s my best recommendation for you:

      Do you still have any scrap of this maple left? If so, find a piece and DO NOT let it out of your sight

      Go to a decent woodworking store. Not Home Cheapo– Rockler, Woodcraft, etc. … you want good tools for this, especially as a beginner. The better the brand, the better your ‘cut,’ and you want nice, sharp edges for this project. Plus the guys & gals at these stores know what they’re talking about and can walk you through the project in the event that the info I’m giving you isn’t spot on for your situation.

      You need a countersink bit that is at least the size of the “halo”, and you also need a plug-cutter the same width as the countersink bit.

      You may have heard of “putting a dowel in a hole” in the past– that’s exactly what you’re doing here, except what you see in a Dowel is an end grain, which is going to give you a very different finished look than the face grain surface you’re trying to duplicate– a plug cutter will allow you to create “dowels” with the face grain showing and out of the exact same board (assuming you have it) as the stock that the mantel was made from.

      The final TOOL you’ll need is a decent quality, flexible flush cut pull saw. I’ll give you the steps– practice first on scrap (any scrap– save the maple stock for the real project.) Better yet, go buy one more piece of maple, so you get used to how hard it is– if you practice on pine, which is much softer, you’re likely to foul up your final project. Walnut, cherry, ash or oak scraps (esp. white oak) will be fine for practice.

      The other things you’ll need to buy are a decent wood glue (e.g., Titebond 2) and some assorted grit sandpaper. Avoid the gorilla brand, for technical complexities regarding water that I won’t go into here. Titebond 2 is easy to use and generally foolproof.

      1) remove ONE screw.
      2) use the countersink bit to drop the surface of the screw about 1/4″ below the finished surface.
      3) put the screw back in the hole; verify that it’s nice & deep. You should have about 1/4″ above the screwhead to the surface.
      REPEAT for all screws
      4) Use your plug cutter to cut a few plugs of maple for yourself, from areas that look like the areas that you’re working in. I’m assuming you’re using standard 1″ stock (aka, 3/4″ of lumber.) here. Again, if you don’t have any, you can buy it at the aforementioned decent woodworking stores. it’s a little pricey, BUT they’ll also sell you small pieces.
      5) Glue those plugs into your holes with a dollop of the glue, and turn the plug so the grain pattern, if you can see it, ‘reasonably matches’ that of the mantel.
      6) allow the plugs to dry overnight.

      7) in the AM, take your flush cut pull saw, and cut the plugs as close as you can to the surface without marring the surface. Here, you need to promise me you’ll practice first. There’s a certain angle, about 1/32 to 1/16th or so that you want to raise the front edge of that saw, but without letting the back edge mar the wood either– protect the back edge with a piece of thin but tough cardboard or the cover of a poly school folder or something, to avoid scratching the mantel surface.

      8) sand WITH THE GRAIN with medium sandpaper(about 100 grit) until the surface of your plug matches the surface of your finished stock. try to avoid– a little– catching the surface of the mantel around the plug, try to “only sand the plug.” you don’t have to obsess over it, but be conscious of it. This will keep you from creating divots AROUND the plug that will show after you’ve finished the surface. Sometimes, a sanding block or wrapping the paper around a small piece of wood helps to sand only the intended surface.

      9) when you match the plug’s surface to the surrounding stock surface, then you can switch to medium-fine paper (120 or 150 grit), NOW you want to sand WITH THE GRAIN, but not just the plug, but the whole area, about 3-6 linear inches worth. Just until it’s nice and smooth.

      10) finish WITH THE GRAIN with fine paper– 180 or 220, depending on how far (Grit) your Dad went with this. Here you want to go over the 3-4″ and instead do about 8-14″ worth. Finish with nice, long, even sanding strokes.

      IF you have BIG gaps between the surface and your plug, take a little bit of wood glue and mix a huge amount of maple sawdust into the gap. allow to dry, and re-sand with fine (180-220) again.

      From here, you can remove all the dust and stain/finish as intended. Don’t use water to remove the dust on bare wood. You can get most of it with a brush; knock it to the floor & vacuum it up. For the remainder, Some people like tack cloth; I tend to grab a microfiber towel, and use a couple of tablespoons of whatever clean solvent I have present (Mineral Spirits AKA Paint Thinner, acetone, denatured alcohol…. whatever.) The solvent will allow you to clean like a damp rag would, but then evaporates off the surface almost immediately. Don’t throw away the rags or leave them in a ball! Hang them in a reasonably cool, place for a couple of days.

      You’ll still see the spots, but you won’t have putty halos, and it’s going to be one of those things where “only you” will see the spots. no one else would ever notice.

      No need to go any finer than 220 grit, especially for general finishing. Between coats of poly , that’s a different story. 320 grit is good.

      Finally DO NOT USE WATER BASED FINISHES– for the same reason you’re not cleaning bare wood with water. Oil feeds your wood; water breaks it down, raises the grain, and CAN ruin all the beautiful sanding work you just did.

      Hope that helps.


  • Jim Sharpe

    I am making a mahogany shadow box and the frame will be mahogany with a curly maple inlay. I plan to add some darker stain to the mahogany and want to create a nice contrast with the maple in the frame. Initially, I planned to just add a clear coat to the inlay, but am now questioning whether there is another approach that would provide the same contrast but have a figure that popped a bit more. Essentially, I am debating between the shellac or the maple brown dye. What would you suggest?

    • Hard to say without knowing more about the project design, and the size of that inlay. It’s tricky, but doable, to stain a wood and also include an inlay that’s finished differently. I would *probably* suggest skipping the brown dye out of simplicity, and using the dewaxed shellac on the maple instead.
      So, now. How do you do it? I don’t know…. without knowing or seeing the project. It might be possible to leave the inlay proud, then stain the mahogany. It’ll get on the inlay, but no problem – just trim it flush being very careful as it nears flush with the mahogany. That will clean off the stain from the maple. Then you’ll probably have to do some touch up on the mahogany stain here and there. Then give the whole thing a clear finish.
      That’s one idea.

  • Jim Earel

    How long do you suggest letting the “tung oil” set before applying a top layer? I’m using the Minwax “Tung Oil Finish,” which I realize is not pure tung oil and will have a quicker dry time. I’m planning on putting a few coats of shellac over the tung oil, then a water based poly.

  • First “Truth” Last

    Hi, after you’ve applied the Tung Oil and let it dry, do you need to sand before applying a couple of coats of sanding sealer? I will be applying sanding sealer then going to 8-10 coats of lacquer for a piano-type finish after buffing. Thanks

    • I’m out of town until June 19, 2017. I will reply to your email then.

      Or you can reach customer service at 800-423-2450 or helpdesk@woodworkerssource.com
      Thanks for your patience.

      Mark Stephens

    • I probably would, yes. I hate to say it like this, but your hand will tell you. The purpose of sanding is to remove imperfections, so if you feel anything that isn’t right, you’ll need to take a few swipes with an abrasive to smooth it out. Especially critical when you want a piano finish.

      • First “Truth” Last

        I thought that might be the case but wanted to ask anyway given the fact that you have written such a great and informative article on this. I appreciate your efforts. Thank you.

  • Violet Oman

    Thank you so much for explaining the finishes you would use on the curly maple. I am making a signing bench for my daughters wedding, it’s 18″ high, 15″deeps 5′ long. I need to put some sort of sealer on it before people sign, then put a top coat over the signatures with something that won’t ruin the writing. Do you in your opinion have any advice or experience with this? Thanks so much. Violet

    • Wonderful idea!
      I think what you need to do is make a couple test samples. Because it seems to me it’s better to have people sign the bare wood with a Sharpie or felt marker rather than signing on top of a sealer. Unless you use the right kind of marker, the signatures might rub right off of the sealed surface or dissolve the sealer. (that’s my theory… but depends on the markers and sealer combination).
      I would do this to test:
      1. Grab two left over pieces of wood that you’re using for the bench.
      2. Prep sand them to 180 or 220 grit.
      3. Seal one, leave the other bare.
      4. Sign both with a couple different markers.
      5. Then seal and finish both.
      6. Evaluate. What worked best? Did any markers bleed? Did any markers appear incompatible with the finish?

      I would prep sand the bench before the wedding day so guests are signing a sanded surface, and it’s ready to finish afterward.

      The kind of sealer or finish you use is largely dependent on what you’re comfortable using, how you like to apply finish, etc, etc.

      If you want a recommendation, I suggest either an aerosol lacquer (Deft brand) or a wiping urethane like Watco danish oil, General finishes Arm-R-Seal, Old Masters Tung Oil Varnish. I would probably pick an aerosol lacquer if you’re talking about a bench made with a bunch of slats, as spraying makes it easier to get in between the slats and into the gaps. That’s my opinion. Either way, do at least 3 coats.

      • Another thought.
        Test both fine tip markers and larger tip markers to see what happens. I think a fine tip is the way to go to limit how much it bleeds into the wood. But, again, test.

        • Violet Oman

          Thanks so much for the advice, I’ll be working be finishing the bench in a couple of days, I’ll let you know how it turned out. Really, I appreciate the knowledge, experience and time you took to help with my project.

  • Christopher Santo

    I just finished building a toy chest out of soft maples boards and plywood using some line trim as well. I sanded the line to 220 and the maple to 180 to try an account for the different wood and was thinking of using a dark brown dye with a top coat of watwelox. Should this work ok?

  • Albie

    What grit paper are you using between dye coats. How about a vid on walnut gunstocks? Thanks for this treasure trove of info!!

    • It’s going to be dictated by the grit you left off with before applying the dye. Basically use the same grit or one step finer. If I leave off with 220, I’ll usually go to 320 to sand between coats of dye.

  • Jimmy Weese

    Hi, I’m preparing to do the finishing work on a new set of North American Hard Maple drum shells. I was going to stain and clear coat but I’ve read and heard countless stories of splotchy results. I would just do a protective coat and stick with the plain maple finish but I’ve purchased all brass hardware and I don’t find it visually that appealing. So I went to google land and came accross this page. So much information here and very well presented. So having seen what I have here, the ideal colour (the red mahogany shown above) is gorgeous and would look great with the gold hardware. My questions are first, in a comment below by Rick Grgurich below, he mentions that this was done on a softer maple. Would I be able to get the same, or even a similar result on hard maple? Also I’d like, if possible, to put on as durable a high gloss clear on top as I can. the drums will be in cases for transport but setups, tear downs, and general stage life does take it’s toll on the gear. Any info anyone can provide for any of the above would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, and thank you for providing such an informative and helpful site! Cheers!

    • Before you do anything, go get a few feet of hard maple lumber to runs some tests on, and to get acquainted with the process. To get good color, you need to be sure to flood the dye on fast and heavy, and wipe it off before it dries. This is where it might be really beneficial to add a bit of water to the dye, or use Behlen’s retarder to give the dye more open time to work it.

      Let the dye dry over night. Then you’ll need to sand with a fine grit sanding sponge, a soft sponge. The sanding does lighten the color a bit, but it also evens it out. Then do another coat – repeat until you’re happy.

      You’ll get the best info on high gloss finishes from guitar makers. There is more than one way, but you’ll discover that overwhelmingly the choice is nitrocellulose lacquer for the high-gloss instruments. For durability, it’s really not the best. But no finish will stand up to the abuse instruments go through, so one argument is that you’re better off choosing a finish that can be easily repaired, and that can offer good, high gloss. That’s lacquer.

      Wiping oils like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, or any Tung Oil Varnishes will work too. They’re arguably a little easier to apply, arguably provide a more durable finish.

      Either way, you should know going into it that getting a high gloss sheen has just as much to do with your effort and patience as it does the kind of product you use.

      Conversely, you might want to check into some guitar making shops in your area for a service that does UV cured acrylic finishes — they’re super fast and super durable. They require specialized equipment, so it’s not a consumer-level kind of finish to apply. You might be able to farm out the clear coating process to a pro if that service is available to you. Many instrument makers are using that kind of a finish.

  • Rick Grgurich

    What a great lesson…thank you! I believe you described these techniques to be used on softer maples. Will they work on hard (sugar) maple? Or should a wood conditioner be used before the steps you describe, or what do you recommend? Thank you, again!!!

    • Sure, they’ll work on hard maple. Results can change a bit with dye on hard maple. Be sure to flood it on, and wipe it off before it dries to get good coverage.

      • Rick Grgurich

        I greatly appreciate it! You’re the best.

  • Daniel Haberman

    You mention using tung or linseed oil on top of the last coat of dye…would danish oil suffice or does it have to be pure tung/linseed?



    • Danish oil would be fine too. Danish oil is essentially just a linseed oil (usually) with urethane. The effect would be virtually indiscernible, except when you build up 3+ coats of Danish oil you’ll start to notice a sheen developing on the surface.

    • Doug B

      Would you recommend using Danish oil for a railing and spindle application?

  • David Stroud

    Is it possible to get a tobacco-looking finish by diluting black dye down to a mere tint? I saw a steel guitar with a beautiful tobacco color on curly maple, and to my surprise the builder builder said he only used very thinned-out black stain to achieve that color. I wanted to get a second opinion on how achievable that is. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5995ecba38f8253e36a9b638602ed57d974f128b96f83a21d9e905c1a7510801.jpg

    • Black dye can be anomaly, so tread lightly when toying with it. Sometimes it’ll come out dark purple when you dilute it. Need to ask more questions of that guitar builder who used a thinned black stain. What brand was it? Different brands can be quite different.
      Otherwise, If you want a tobacco color, I’m thinking ultra-dark brown. So, I might suggest going the other direction. Use a dark brown dye and just add additional coats to darken it to what you want.
      As for veneer, use dye.

  • Tom E.

    I’m building a banjo from rosewood and curly maple. What is the best way to fill the open grain of the rosewood without affecting the ability to pop the maple?

    • I would be inclined to use Timbermate wood filler (ebony color) on the rosewood. If possible, use blue painters tape to cover the maple where it meets the rosewood, then apply the filler. That would protect the maple – but even then, the filler will probably sand right off the maple since it virtually has such tight grain that the filler can’t “grab” onto the maple very well anyway.
      Ever used Timbermate? It’s a waterbased filler, easy to use. You scrape off as much of the excess filler as you can while it’s still wet. Then sand the rest off as necessary after it dries.
      I bet that it’ll do the trick really nicely.

  • Douglas Carr

    Awesome video, Mark!

    Would these three methods still apply with curly maple veneer?

    • Yes, they’ll work on veneer too.

      • Keith Etheredge

        Hi Mark, Like Doug, I really appreciate the time and effort you put into your videos. I’m a bit worried about sanding through a veneer when using the dye method. Clearly I’d need to use a light touch, but can you comment on how much wood is removed during a typical sanding like you’ve shown? I tend to use veneer with a 10 thousandths of an inch thick paper backing, so the overall thickness of the product is listed as 0.020″ +/- 0.005″. Am I in danger of ruining my project by doing the sanding method?

        • I don’t think you’re in much danger of sanding through as long as you’re doing it by hand and using at least 320 grit or higher. Of course, it is *possible* to sand through but you’ll be in control.

          • Keith Etheredge

            Thanks Mark! I’ll be sure to use 320 grit and also do some practice pieces first. Keep up the good work!

  • Maxime Primeau

    Hello Mark,

    I have very particular spalter curly maple boards to make a table top. I intend to use White Shellac to pop the figure but I would need a good top coat to protect the wood from water, scratches, etc. I have purchased some water-based oil-modified polyurethane and was wondering if if would work alright. I also have a hybrid water/oil varnish on hand I could use. The water-based oil-modified Poly came out alright alone on a test piece but I really want to make it POP! I went with water-based as I want to keep the natural look of the wood which goes from white to orange to brown (it is really beautiful) What would you recommend for a top coat over shellac for a strong protection without altering the color?


    • That oil modified polyurethane will work just fine over dewaxed shellac.

  • Rob Jerman

    Hi Mark…
    really helpful and nice presentation… lots of work making something from tiger maple so you want the finish to justify the labor… for exposed edges (going to try the dye and shellac on a reproduction pipe box I made…) do I need to worry about different rates of absorption of the dye? don’t want to make the edges stand out, rather I want to make them as invisible as possible… I have edges where the front and back meet the sides, and also edge grain on the bottom piece. any advice would be welcome!

    • The edges should be just fine with the color, but end grain does go much darker. One trick is to sand the end grain 2 or 3 grits finer than the rest of the project to help close the grain a bit.

      • rob jerman

        Thanks Mark… I followed the aniline dye technique using fruitwood dye… I was careful around the end grain and diluted the dye a bit more than for the rest and that seemed to help… next time around (working on a tiger maple handkerchief table) I will try the sanding technique. Someone also suggested a diluted coat of shellac over the end grain to sort of seal it… I worried that would make it too light…

        • Well, the fortunate part of using dye is that if it comes out too light, a subsequent coat will darken it. You don’t have to live with a color lighter-than-desired. However, putting dye right over shellac is tricky because the dye will reactivate the shellac. It can be done, but you must move fast with a light touch.

  • Mitzi Schrag

    Hi, Mark (It appears I am writing to you on the anniversary of your excellent video)

    My husband and I had a wrap around box mantel built from a beautiful, highly figured book-matched pair of myrtlewood pieces. We had to have the natural edge removed to make the mantel, and the carpenter asked us not to do any finish work (except sanding) until after the non-removable mantel was built and attached. The mantel is in now and it’s pretty high up because we have vents above the firebox and we do use the fireplace, so I won’t get to see the top as much as my taller husband will. The front of the box, a vertical piece about 6″ x 74″, is my prime view of the wood.

    The carpenter we hired had never heard of chatoyance, so, for the front-piece, we went for his advice to use heartwoood, which is still nice and still has some chatoyance in it–and with all the color variations in myrtle, there will still be a lot to look at. However, this piece is much less curly, and has less of the tiger’s eye look. I want to do my homework to learn the best way to honor this beautiful tree. On some other myrtle he finished, my husband followed the directions he was given to use nothing expect a sanding sealer (Deft) followed by several coats of spray lacquer. That method looks good, but the wood did not have that chatoyance. He is a purist who feels the wood should not be dyed, yet I saw the Charles Neil video where he talked about trace coating for tiger maple, and that seemed like the ticket, except that my husband already sanded to 240 and I cannot blame him for wishing to avoid going back down to the 120 grit that Neil recommends. At present the wood is smooth and naked. Where do we go from here?

    Do you think one of your methods would be good for us? We can wait a long as it takes between coats, and cost is not a big concern, but he would rather not do a ton of sanding on a vertical surface and he just took DOWN the dust curtains, so he wants to hand sand from here. Also it seems like tung oil would be better than BLO since this is a mantelpiece and BLO sounds dangerous. If we use a dye, what color should it be? Can we use an amber shellac or lacquer as the final coat? (I like the warm look, but not too orange)

    Sorry for the long inquiry, but this mantel is a long awaited luxury for me, and I am regretting the choice we made to use the heartwood for the front.

    Thanks in advance for your help!!


    • Hmmm…. this isn’t easy to answer, especially without seeing the piece. Unfortunately, you have the added condition that this is a mantle, which means it will probably get pretty warm and that means some choices of finish are not good ones.

      Under other conditions, and if there is indeed some tiger striping or curl figure in this piece of myrtle (and based on your husband’s tastes) I’d recommend you try a crystal clear shellac first. Just on a small section maybe 10-20″ long. If you don’t like it, it’s very easy to sand off. But that routinely provides beautiful pop to the figure without even imparting much warmth to the color. It’s very “natural.”

      However, it’s not a good finish for a project that might get pretty warm. The finish will soften.

      I think you should try the tung oil varnish to strike a balance between 1). adding a touch of warmth to the natural color, 2). enhancing the chatoyance 3). being a finish than can handle being near a fireplace, and 4). offering a very easy wipe-on-wipe off application. But you’ll need good ventilation while it’s wet, about 5 hours for each coat. And I’d recommend at least 3 coats. But it beats spraying indoors, in my opinion.

      • Mitzi Schrag

        Thanks, Mark. Per choice 3 in your video on curly maple, I dyed the myrtle mantel twice, first dark, then sanded, then a lighter color, and sanded again. I then put on 5 coats of polymerized tung oil . I sanded between each coat and waited longer for the later coats (24 hours). The last coat was put on yesterday with 800 grit. The mantel feels and looks great, with lovely iridescent, butterscotch ribbons. I am still debating whether it might be a good idea for heat protection to put a coat of oil poly. Thanks so much for your answer and for video that gave me the inspiration to try the dye. Mitzi

  • Ken dubrowski

    I have a question. I am using curly maple for a bar top. The client likes the look and pop of the grain. I was going to use your first technique of dew axed shellac. Do you have any suggestions for making the grain pop more and also have something durable that will not yellow. I would like to stay away from poly but I am not sure if the shellac is durable enough for a bar top. Any comments would be helpful. Thanks

    • PartikkelWW

      Alcohol is a solvent for shellac and what you would use to thin it (assuming you bought premixed)… putting your piece in a position where people will be dripping alcohol on it daily will be disastrous.

      (DEWAXED) Shellac can still be used, but you’ll need a top coat over it for protection. Also, in regards to “popping the grain”, wood dye will soak deeper into the curl than it will the face grain, allowing you to ‘sand it back’, removing all of the color from the face, but leaving it in the curl.

      YouTube “Charles Neil” and watch his “popping the grain” videos. He’s a master, and about the most plain spoken guy I’ve come across.

      Other nudges in the right direction:
      Zinsser Seal Coat is dewaxed shellac at a 2# cut. You’ll likely want to thin it with denatured alcohol.
      TransTint is phenomenal wood dye made by Jeff Jewitt, another finishing master.

      Good luck, mate.

  • johnny davis

    How well will the tung or boiled linseed oil / dye prcess work on a tiger stripe maple stock for PA. Long rifle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nX-cOL5AkkI&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  • Bobby Buzard

    I’m finishing a very large guitar display cabinet that’s curly maple. It’s about 11′ wide and 8′ tall. Upper display area with cabinets in the lower section. The upper section back portion is roughly 11′ x 4′ and is one big span with no breaks in it. I like the look of BLO with shellac over it but I’m concerned with spraying this much area and the open time of the shellac. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • You’re concerned that it dries too quickly? That’s usually one of the better reasons to spray it. Or did I misunderstand your question?


    Hello Mark ,I need help in how to stain a maple handrail what would look the best
    stain or clear

  • Ramin

    I am just learning these topic and I am wondering why you mention adding a top coat such a varnish or lacquer when you have already been using a Tung Oil Varnish? Isn’t Tung Oil Varnish already a mixture of Tung oil with varnish hence protecting the wood. Do we still need a protecting top coat at the final stage?

    • Sorry, I totally missed this until now! You’re right about the tung oil varnish, so, no, you don’t need to top coat it with something else. I only mention the method of applying a lacquer top coat as a **slightly faster way** to finish off the project when you want to build up a semi-gloss or gloss sheen. It’s neither necessary nor better. It’s just another way.

      As for using different types of oils on top of one another, I wouldn’t do it without testing. There is a small chance the second oil might not adhere. There’s a bigger chance that it’ll be just fine, too. I seriously doubt you’d destroy your project if you did it . . . meaning, applying Watco over a dried linseed or tung oil is *probably* just fine. But test it first, then report back!

  • Frustrated Woodworker!

    Mark – I’m going crazy. I have a great piece of curly maple and I am trying to use due to bring out the curls. I have dark walnut transtint dye and followed your instructions to the letter but my results are coming back cloudy and muddy. The curls aren’t separating, meaning the whole board just looks the same color and kind of bland. I’ve tried planing, sanding, scraping – it just seems the dye isn’t sinking in to the curls. Should I sand lighter? How many drops of dye should I use with the denatured alcohol? Should I never use an automatic planer and stick to sanding at 220? Please help!!

    • Can you attach a picture so I can see? Also, when dyes dry the immediate result is usually not very attractive. You should work through all finishing steps, including the top coat, on a sample to get a good handle on what it’ll look like when it’s all done.

      What are you mixing the transtint into?

  • Tred

    Hello Mark. I recently finished a table top with shellac. I’m going to top coat it with an oil based varnish. How fine should I sand/polish the shellac prior to applying the top coat? I’m going for a high gloss. Thanks for your consideration.

    • It doesn’t need to be very fine. 220 would work. It’s your top coat varnish that will need to go white a bit finer to get the gloss.

      • Tred

        Thank you.

  • maxzap

    Hi Mark. I have a curly maple board 3/4 X 10 1/2 inches that I would
    like to use for the flat dash of a 1930 Ford model A. I was told the sun
    diminishes the figuring (true or false?); if true is there a finish I
    could use to negate the suns effect or if false what finish would be
    best in this environment? A satin finish would be my favorite but a
    gloss would easily be acceptable. Thank you for your time.

    • How did I miss this question? Very sorry for my delay. Strictly speaking, no the sun won’t diminish the figure – it’ll diminish the color or the contrast in the color and/or finish. The catch is color is what helps bring out the curly figure. So in a sense sun expose will wash out the wood eventually but you can rejuvenate it. It’ll take some years for the dash to get to the point where it needs to be refinished, though.

      No finish will withstand the harmful effect of the sun as well as shade will. Do your best to keep it out of the sunshine, and it’ll last a good long time. You can get a satin finish with any top coat, yes, and I like to recommend a scuffing treatment between coats using synthetic finishing pads (green, red, gray & white in descending order of coarseness), and that will produce a nice, even satin sheen.

  • Nick

    This may be a dumb question, but you are waiting for the dye to dry completely before sanding, correct?

  • Don Mccoy

    You have a deep red Mahogany dye in the 3rd option. I’m not able to find that dye color. Is it medium red or blood red?

    • Ah! Sorry about that. It’s the “medium red mahogany” color. You could probably make the “blood red” come to a similar shade by diluting it.

  • Mark,

    This is amazing compilation ! Thanks for the tutorial as well !

  • Jonathon

    Trying to stay away from polyurethane if I can help. I don’t want the yellowing over the years. Not much heat just minimal. I only use gas logs when power is out or Christmas party.

  • Jonathon

    I’m working on a Maple mantle for my rock fire place. Which method would be best? Looking for a finish durable and can withstand heat from gas logs. I have been researching with no results. Thanks

    • Without knowing more, I’d simply steer you toward a good polyurethane varnish. It has pretty high heat resistance. But that’s assuming you will be applying by hand and not spraying. Some more factors can play a role in the right finish, too. Do you expect this mantel to be exposed to a lot of heat? Or maybe rephrase it. How much heat to you expect this finish needs to withstand?

  • Jess

    Mark – great video. How do you think this method would work longleaf pine? I tried Waterlox on a test piece but I was not pleased, as it turned the sappier parts very dark, and darkened the wood overall without much grain distinction (as compared to its effect on mesquite or walnut, which I love). I am trying to bring out the grain without turning it orangey but still make it pop. I came across this video in search of good way to finish long leaf. Any thoughts?

    • Sadly, I don’t have any idea. Never tried it.

    • S

      Try using an aniline dye that’s very diluted (like 1/4 of the suggested strength) and use multiple coats.

  • Elizabeth perrin

    Good morning. I bought a vintage piece at a yard sale it looked as if it was in a fire I have stripped it down I tried washing it but the water just beads up and will not absorb into the wood it is curly maple not sure how old it is. My question is does maple wood have its own natural oil in it? I liked the video it was very helpful I want the colors to pop in the wood work and the video helped me decide what I really want to do with my piece of furniture thank you

    • No, maple is not an oily wood. I can’t think of why the water would bead up – other than there must be something left in/on the wood such as wax or oil. Hard to say without seeing it in person.

      • Elizabeth Perrin

        Thank you I have cleaned it with some stripper and its absorbing now I will try to send a pic, I know that its not the same as in person

  • Margaret

    Hi, Mark – I’m interested in doing some bath cabinetry and want it to have the whitest, palest of looks. I have been looking at using baltic birch ply, but a friend says maple may have a somewhat classier look. I do not like the yellowing effect that so much maple has, but that may be a factor of the finish used. Can you guide me in wood choice? I am thinking that whichever wood I select, the dewaxed shellac provides the clearest finish. Will it yellow over time? Thanks! Margaret

    • If you don’t like the yellowing of maple, birch isn’t any better. I agree with your friend, maple has a classier look. It’s also less yellowish. While the clear dewaxed shellac imparts very little color, that alone is a poor finish in a bath environment. Even though the cabinets will probably not get splashed with much water, they will be subject to shower steam if they’re near the shower. Even that much can be troublesome for a shellac finish.

      We’re at a fork in the road. You could 1). use the dewaxed shellac, then top coat that with something more suited to a bath environment, or 2). use a water white finish that would handle a lifetime in the bathroom. This second choice is easier said than done if you’re an occasional or amateur wood finisher without spray equipment — if not, look to a pre-cat lacquer or conversion varnish.

      Otherwise you can use the dewaxed shellac to “lock” in the natural pale color, then apply a different and more durable finish on top that more suited to a retail user. A water based polyurethane or acrylic lacquer for example. These are still not the most ideal choice in a bath, as they will eventually wear out from exposure to water and steam, but they don’t really amber with age (or only do so very slightly). Your usual oil based polyurethanes and lacquers typically impart some amber or yellow over time, with oil based polyurethane being the most severe offender of the bunch. Not so with a waterbased version. But it might not be such a big deal that they have a shorter life in a bath environment anyway. Refinishing in 5 or 6 years may be reasonable to you. Or perhaps this bath gets occasional use?

      For what it’s worth, I finished a hard white maple bathroom mirror frame using dewaxed shellac and spray Deft lacquer (solvent based, not water), aiming like you to keep the color as pale as possible. It’s been 4 years, and I still like the appearance – admittedly, I can’t say one way or the other if it has yellowed much at all, but it sure doesn’t look like it has to me. I chose to do that because it’s a finish that’s very easy to refresh with a new application.

      Every finish seems to come with a trade off.

      Any of that help?

    • margaret

      Thanks so much – I’m now prepared to talk with the cabinet maker! Just what I needed.

  • Andrew J

    Hey Mark, just wanted to give you an update on our table. I ended up getting the Transtint dark walnut dye. I mixed it with denatured alcohol (5 drops to 1 oz of alcohol ratio). Applied two coats and actually sanded back both coats with 150 grit followed by 220 grit. We decided we liked the look of the final coat sanded back versus leaving it on there.

    Although we didn’t sand the live edge which gave it the appearance that it had bark remaining since we picked up with wood with most of the bark missing. After the dye and sanding it back, we went with the epoxy resin top. After it cured, it looks amazing!

    I think next time we are going to use a little lighter of a dye and do more coats. It was quite a lot of sanding back the dark dye. The table measures 70″x43″. I just wanted to say that your video definitely inspired me to use the dye for the finish. Here are some pictures. Although they don’t do it justice compared to in person. Thanks again for your expertise!

    • Impressive table! You can really tell that’s a high gloss finish in the first two shots, but that last one really shows the figure. That’s quite a table. Beautiful. Thanks for the photos!

    • Tred

      Very nice.

  • Ben Ulferd

    Hi Mark, I’m building a wood slab dining table (silver maple) and have been struggling with what type of finish to put on it (reading endless forums and everyone having a different opinion). I was thinking of using your 2nd approach of Tung Oil Varnish, followed by a couple of coats of dewaxed shellac, and then topcoated with Arm-R-Seal. Would this be a sufficient method for a dining table (kids, moisture, heat, etc.) or is there anything else or in addition to that you would recommend? Thanks in advance!

    • Yep, that would be a great way to do it. Just for clarity, you could do it without the dewaxed shellac, but I think it’s still a good idea to use it. It probably won’t add much to the appearance, but as long as you put down about two coats and sand them flat (or use a synthetic abrasive pad instead of sandpaper) that will really help give the arm-r-seal a very smooth surface. Ultimately making it easier to keep that flat and polish it nicely.

      • Ben Ulferd

        Mark, I can’t seem to find any of the Tung Oil Varnish in stock anywhere. Is there anything else you would recommend that’s similar or how to make my own?

        • That’s odd. If you can find pure tung oil, you really don’t need it mixed with varnish since you’re going to top coat it. Pure tung oil needs to be thinned with mineral spirits – fyi. It Waterlox is another brand of tung oil varnish. Ther are other kinds of oil garnishes but they use boiled linseed oil instead of tung. Boiled linseed is more amber in color. Its not a problem if you like the warmer color. Clear danish oil by watco is one brand that you’ll even find at home depot.

  • Jeff Krayenvenger

    I used mutliple layers of dye separated by dewaxed shellac. After applying the last coat of dye, should I seal with dewaxed shellac before applying Boiled Linseed Oil? Also, was planning on using Arm-R Seal as a topcoat for protection. Any problems with this method?

    • To answer your first question, no. Sadly, the boiled linseed oil will not work on top of dewaxed shellac. Oil needs to penetrate into the wood. Dye doesn’t interfere with the oil, but dewaxed shellac puts a coating over the wood that will prevent the oil from penetrating the wood. So hold off on a coat of sealer until after the oil dries.

      Arm-R-Seal will be a fine topcoat.

      Not sure I understand one thing, though. Did you put dewaxed shellac between each coat of dye? I’m reading that, but I can’t imagine that would have worked well. Dye should simply be applied one on top of the other. If you did use dewaxed shellac between each, my same commentary about the oil still stands. It won’t be able to pass through the shellac.

      The general order of events should go like this: dye as described above with numerous coats, boiled linseed oil, dewaxed shellac, Arm-R-Seal. The dewaxed shellac is optional, but I like it and tend to use it as a sealer just before the top coating process.

      • Jeff Krayenvenger

        I thought that might be the case with the BLO before the Arm-R-Seal but wanted to double check first.

        As far as the dye, I did put the dewaxed shellac on between dye colors. It was recommended so to prevent the subsequent layers of dye bleeding into the previous and getting muddy. I started with a dark mission brown dye, sanded back almost completely, applied dewaxed shellac, scuffed and then applied a golden amber dye, sanded back again, thin coat of the dewaxed shellac, and after a scuff as before, applied the last coat of dye, reddish brown.

        Tomorrow I plan on coating with a very thin coat of BLO, let it soak in for 15 min or so, then wipe off any excess that has not soaked. Figure I will wait 3 or 4 days before applying the Arm-R-Seal. Plan on doing 4 coats, and then buff out the last coat.

        Hopefully the pictures show what I am doing. Building a set of hifi loudspeakers. Solid curly maple cabs, with 3/4 maple ply cabs.

        • Jeff Krayenvenger

          What I am wanting is a finish that replicates that “wet” look that the BLO provided, something that will allow plenty of light to really show off the grain and colors of the finish. If Arm-R-Seal is not the best product to use, I have no problem with using something else. Appreciate the help!

          • I’d say you should just skip the linseed oil at this point. I don’t think it’s going to work well on top of the dewaxed shellac coats. But the Arm-R-Seal will fine, it’s great stuff. I haven’t used it in a long time in favor of faster drying lacquer, but at its core it’s just a wiping varnish – nothing especially proprietary about the look you’ll get with it. Therefore, it’s a fine choice for what you’re doing, and to get that “wet” look.

            • Jeff Krayenvenger

              Really appreciate the input. Plan on starting the top coat tomorrow night. I figure 5 wipe on coats with give me plenty of protection, and then will finish with coat of paste wax and buff. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel Thanks again for your help

        • On another note, I’d say your project is looking beautiful! Very nice.

          • Jeff Krayenvenger

            Thanks very much. Was a bit nervous going down this road, but have been pretty pleased replicating the finish of an older cello as close as I seem to have done without going the crazy grounds and custom varnish finish. Those luthiers have an art all to themselves.

  • Mr_Rick

    After using De-waxed Shellac can you apply a water based polyurethane like Flecto’s or Enduro-Var’s on top of it?

  • 11

    Excellent.. I was looking for. I also fancy myself lot of internet jabber. I found Potassium Dichromate as a dangerous, but very kick ass stainer. Although people mention that the application is a dangerous process and precaution is necessary, I am not sure of long term use of such a wood, say for example, as a dining table where you eat food that can come in contact with the wood surface. Let me know what you think!

  • Andrew J

    At the beginning of your video (thank you for the great video) you held up a grayish-pewter colored plate. How did you achieve that color? I love it and want to use that color for a live edge dining table I am in the process of making. Thanks!

    • Sure thing. It’s a pretty straight forward. Use H. Behlen Black Dye Powder, and dissolve it in warm water according to the instructions on the side of the canister. That should make it full strength black. From there, dilute it with more water then perform some tests until you get the gray intensity you want. That platter was dyed, then sprayed with clear lacquer.

      Other brands might work, but some black dyes go more blue as you dilute. The black dye powder from Behlen produced gray.

      • Andrew J

        Thank you for the quick reply! That sounds great though. Did you use the dye then sanding method for that? We’ll be using an epoxy resin for the table top. Will that make the color darker?

        • No, did not sand. But that’s definitely another fine way to do it! The epoxy resin might make it darker, just a touch. It should go without saying, but just in case, plan on testing the process from beginning to end on a small spare piece or two. Figure out how much you need to dilute the dye and see how it looks with the epoxy.

          • Andrew J

            Thank you for all the information Mark. I’ll keep you updated on our live edge maple dining table to let you know how it Is progressing and what route we took. Cheers!

  • seth

    Does tiger maple react the same way to dye? Also I am looking at doing your option #3 and using ting oil to help with the color, after 24hr period of letting the tung oil dry, can I finish my good with spar urethane? Thanks for the help!

    • Yes, expect the same thing to happen with tiger maple and dye. As for the spar urethane, it’s most likely fine. You’ll have to test it for adhesion. That kind of finish generally prefers to adhere to bare wood. Any reason you need to use the spar?

      • seth

        Need a water proof finish, it is for a rifle stock. Any better ideas? Thanks for the response!

        • Ah, I see. Sure, that would be a fine top coat when you need it to be water proof.

  • Andre

    When using the the dye method (#3), after adding the thin coat of tung oil, do you need to use dewaxed shellac before adding lacquer and waxing/buffing?

  • Arthur Swander

    Just finished doing a Curley Maple Shadow Box for a friend who just got out of the Air Force. Since he was going to use it to store a flag and his medals, I used the very same technique with the Alcohol based stain, then finished with several coats of poly. It came out beautiful enough, that I am doing another for myself. Along the edge, I laser engraved an inlay, and used gold inlace in the inlay. When it was presented to my friend, he about passed out. Several friends who were around the shop while I worked on it are now asking me if I can build them one.

  • bill

    Would these same techniques work on Myrtle?

    • Oregon myrtle? Probably, yes. That wood can have some very interesting parts, aside from figure. Mostly the mix of color from light tan to streaks of darker brown. So I might be inclined to use a coat of the tung oil varnish or shellac (or both! Oil first, then shellac…) to keep the color contrast.

      • Bill

        General Finishes Arm-r-seal would work the same as the oil varnish wouldn’t it? How about the aniline dye on the myrtle? I liked the maple brown you used in the video. I have already tried two coats of dewed shellac followed by a coat of amber shellac. Just finished sanding that all off, way to yellow/orange. I want to keep the figure and add just a pinch of brown color. Thanks Great videos. Bill

        • I believe Arm-r-Seal has a touch more yellow color than the tung oil varnish does. Otherwise they’ll perform similarly. If you want just a touch of brown color, try that brown maple dye, but dilute it waaay down, perhaps 1:5 (dye:water and/or denatured alcohol). If it’s not enough color, either apply more coats and sneak up on the color, or mix it a little bit stronger. Dyes look flat and downright uninteresting when they dry, but do not be alarmed. When you apply a topcoat over the dye, you’ll see a drastic change.

          • Bill

            Thanks Mark
            I put a coat of waterlox followed by the arm-r-seal gloss. ( I had both at home )Not bad, but would still like a little brown tint. How about the dye layer now diluted with the alcohol, then dewed shellac layer, followed by lacquer?

            • You bet Bill, I’m happy to help.

              However, no, don’t put the dye on top of the arm-r-seal. Do it first. But there’s another way to skin the cat if you’ve already applied the waterlox and arm-r-seal.

              First, let them dry. Second, seal with a thin coat of dewaxed shellac, let it dry then scuff sand it or hit it with a red or gray synthetic finishing pad to knock down dust nibs or high spots.

              Now, instead of the dye, take a brown gel stain (oil based) and wipe it on, then wipe it off. (I know, sounds crazy, but trust me…) Use a paper towel and let it kind of “load up” with the gel as you wipe it off. You’ll need to use a bit of an artist’s touch as you wipe off to just leave a thin layer of color. If you do wipe off too much, no problem, just add more. It’s a very forgiving process. The oil based gel stains give you a lot of time to work and make it just right. You can also use a technique called dry brushing to help blend it, but I usually get away with a shop towel. Hopefully you have a gel stain in your shop that will work for this test, just to gauge it. In the end, that gel will put a kiss of brown on top of the sealer without killing the figure or contrast in the wood.

              Then once it dries, top coat it how ever you please, buff it, polish it, etc.

            • Now that I’m thinking about it more, Arm-R-Seal is meant to be a top coat but it also needs to penetrate into the wood. So let me re-tool my advice.

              First, you can try what I wrote above with the gel stain. It’ll work fine but the Arm-R-Seal might not adhere well if you pick that for the final topcoat. But I’d also probably test it one more time by skipping the Arm-R-Seal immediately on top of Waterlox because I’m not sure that’s adding much of to the equation at that step. So, do a coat of Waterlox, then a coat of dewaxed shellac sealer, then gel stain, then seal it with dewaxed shellac. Then pick a different topcoat (lacquer, varnish, polyurethane or shellac) for the whole enchilada rather than the Arm-R-Seal. It’s a fine product, but going on top of all these layers is probably not the right place to use Arm-R-Seal.

              However, it’ll be spectacular to go like this on a raw board of Myrtle:

              1. Diluted brown dye
              2. Three or four coats of Arm-R-Seal
              3. Buff and polish

              Putting a coat of Waterlox between the dye and Arm-R-Seal might also give you some more beautiful contrast.

            • Craig

              You had responded to a question from my client Lisa about her antique mahogany table that she wants brown. You had suggested using a dye stain to change the red to brown. When I wipe the sanded wood with thinner it comes up dark red mahogany. How can I change it from red to brown without making it any darker? Or is that even possible?
              If so what color dye would you recommend?
              Remember it’s an antique and I don’t have any other similar wood to practice on. Lisa is a high maintenance customer who we would like to please but I am not sure that’s possible.

            • Hi Craig,
              I sure don’t envy your current dilemma, but hopefully I can help with some ideas here. First, is testing on the bottom of the table a possibility? If not, fortunately dyes can be sanded off pretty easily.

              Try the dye. I can’t see how red the sanded table is, so there are a few routes to take here. Try a brown dye — but dilute it maybe as much as 75% (if using an NGR dye, I’d still use a little water in the dilution . . . are you spraying?). One or two coats like that MIGHT do the trick. It’s worth trying, just in case. If it goes too dark, you may need to use a yellow dye (also diluted), and then a medium brown. I’ve been rather surprised at how the color of the dye takes over the color of the wood. It might work.

              If all else fails, the thing to do is bleach the entire table. You can get wood bleach at paint stores usually. This is exactly the situation for wood bleach (not household bleach), and you’ll be in control. Then hit it with brown dye doing two or more coats of a diluted mix until you’ve built up to the just the right tone. Then you can seal and glaze it or tone it.

              If the table was previously faded from the sun anyway, the wood bleach application is arguably the same thing, and a pretty good way to arrive at the color she wants. It’ll be many steps, yes, unfortunately.

            • Chad Hill

              Hi Mark. I really enjoy watching and learning from your tutorials.
              I’m planning on using some curly maple and walnut for knife handles using your methods for dying the wood covered in the videos. I was wanting to use minwax wood hardener to increase durability. When in the process should it be used? Also should I still use the shellac and or lacquer even with the hardener?

            • Hmmm. Fair question, but I am not acquainted with wood hardener so I can’t answer with certainty. I believe it’ll change how dye behaves on the wood, but who knows? If I were in your shoes, I’d start with a 3 tests for the dye and hardener. One with the dye first, a second with the hardener first, a third with the dye mixed into the hardener. How do they compare?
              As for shellac and lacquer, that was simply my preferred top coat here. I think tool handles just get an oil finish of some type. Lacquer will wear off with use. But I don’t know what will work with the hardener or if it should be used by itself.

            • Chad Hill

              Thank you! Sounds like a good plan. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

            • Bill

              Thanks so much. Will do. If it turns out will send a photo. Bill