• Newsletter Volume One Issue Five

Informational Series: Customizing a Finish Part 1


Coloring and Tinting Lacquer Using Dye Stains

Applying dye stains is often viewed as an intimidating task, especially if you read too far into the chemistry side of it. It isn’t something everyone successfully accomplishes the first time around (especially tinting lacquer, as real world experience with the color wheel truly is the best learning method) it’s important to remain patient. At Wood Finisher’s Source we strongly recommend that if you’re unfamiliar with dye stains, practice the process on a sheet of wood specifically for this purpose before venturing out to work for clients. You don’t have to be a professional in a high end shop to produce great custom finishes, but you do need to pay close attention to variables and quantities as even the slightest difference can result in the most significant change.


To begin, remove a healthy amount of lacquer from its container and place it in a pot of your choice. If you’re in a VOC restricted region and using a water based dye, spray the wood lightly with water from a spray bottle and allow to dry for 45 minutes to an hour. This will raise the grain of the wood, which allows you to sand and help prevent excess grain raising during the finishing process. This is less of an issue with alcohol based dyes such as  Mohawk Ultra Penetrating Stain, but the technique is still sometimes used to identify blemishes in the wood before applying a finish. Before opening your Mohawk Ultra Penetrating Stain, put on finisher’s gloves , as the product can and probably will stain the cracks in your hands for days if you don’t. It’s seriously quality stuff. Once you have everything in place, it’s time to start experimenting with the color. You’ll need a dropper, similar to the one that comes with Fish Eye Flowout, because we’re only tinting and this particular penetrating stain packs quite a heavy punch.  Start with a drop (or a few if you’re goal is a heavily pigmented look) and stir the solution. Use your wooden stir stick as a color reference point and apply more as needed, but remember wood type is a huge variable in finishing, so your piece might react differently from your stir stick. If you accidentally use more than desired and need to scale the color intensity back, use  Mohawk’s Ultra Penetrating Stain Reducer  (or add more lacquer if you’re tinting lacquer). Creating a custom tint is a case by case job and this requires some patience. Remember that colors only exist as a result of light, so work in a well lit area and use as much natural light as possible. Use the color theory information below to manipulate your color until you’ve achieved your desired tint. Always write down your formula. Building a custom finish is a lengthy process, so check the next newsletter in a few weeks for the next part of the series, where we discuss applying dye stains, tinted lacquers, and much more.

Color Theory

 Sir Isaac Newton is credited with first placing colors in a circular fashion back in 1666. As a finisher, it’s important to know that colors are subjective. Perfect colors don’t exist in the sense that there is no universal appearance of a color. Two reds can look completely different yet each can be just as absolute of a red. With that in mind, we still have to make things match. It’s a big part of the job description if you refinish for a living, and eventually you’ll wind up in a color bind. Now, Newton’s original wheel had only seven colors, but his ideas come in handy nearly 350 years later. There are many variations of the color wheel, but so long as they present colors in a logical order of hues, there isn’t a  “right” or “wrong” wheel, only preferences. In grade school we learned the primary colors red, yellow, and, blue, as the irreplaceable ones as well as the colors that combine to make every other color. The secondary colors result from mixing primary colors with each other and are known to be green, orange, and purple.Tertiary colors come from the combination of a primary and secondary color, giving them two color names such as “yellow orange” “blue purple” or “blue green”. This matters in finishing when a desired color exists somewhere in between the displayed colors of the color wheel, which is nearly every single time. Since colors (and subsequently finishes) are subjective, the goal when designing a new tone isn’t to create perfection, but harmony by means of a lot of trial and error. When matching an existing piece of furniture the creativity is obviously restricted, but when matching a room or interior without any wood samples to match the color possibilities are endless. When creating a color it’s important to remember what pleases the human brain. Continuity with texture and depth prevent a finish from being perceived as dull and boring, yet too busy of a color can appear confusing, disorganized, and most importantly unsightly. This can be achieved with basic knowledge of color harmony. Harmony is what causes the visual appeal (or lack there of) in colors. The most basic form of harmony, called analogous, exists within each and every quarter of a twelve part color wheel. Simply put, three colors in a row are described as analogous. This type of harmony often appears when pigmented grain filler is used, and in many other situations of overlapping color. It’s the most visually obvious form of color harmony in wood finishing. The second form of color harmony, known as complementary, is the relationship between colors on opposite sides of the wheel. This can be used in finishing for subtle tinting and to create neutralized shades that aren’t manufactured. Using complementary colors and analogous colors makes it significantly less likely for your color to turn into a nasty mess, but remember to always use your best judgment in the shop.


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