Oil Based v. Water Based Dye

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John Walkowiak:
Hello All,
This is an interesting subject. As someone above noted, my experience with antique pieces is that while the curl is pronounced, it does not "pop" out like most people today want their curly to do. It seems that today the goal is to get  the most "pop" from the curl, but I think that can look a bit garish on a reproduction.
I have in the past experimented with applying Tung Oil and BLO before a topcoat for more depth, side by side tests.  I have tried it with shellac and oil based varnish. I have found that when the finishing is complete, there is no difference that I could see. FWW did a test about this a couple of years ago, and came to the same conclusion. Also, museums around the country have found that BLO will darken and may turn the wood black. It may take a generation, but it will happen. For that reason, why take a chance with it?

R Bohn:
As you can see, I don't reply to these yarns very often. Mostly do to my lack of typing skills. Your problem was brought to my attention by another member who thought my skills in this area would be some help to you.
First let's start with the oil based vs. the water based dye. I've had better luck with oil based or alcohol based dyes as far as penetration in the wood surface. water based dyes tend to react to the natural resins in the wood and in most cases don't give you the same bite. There are some great (there's one great oil based penetrating stain) left on the market. because of EPA's dealings with high VOC's, most of the chemicals that I studied with in school have been taken off the market. Alcohol dyes will also give you great penetration and bite.
As far as putting a finishing coat on, the rule is anything can go on top of shallac. But shallac cannot go on top of anything. By using BLO as a base coat, you will accelerate the deteriation of the bond between the shallac and the surface of the wood. BLO is no longer used in modern finishes because of it's rate of deterioration (turning black over time). BLO was used to maintain finishes in the past resulting in many antique finishes being destroyed. If it's color that your using BLO for, it would be better to tint the shallac in the early processes of finishing. In short, after you have your color selected, thin shallac to use as a base coat making sure that it soaks into the surface until dry to the touch. Lightly sand with 4/0 steel wool or fine grit finishing paper in between coats. Make sure that your stain, either alcohol or oil, is perfectly dry before the shallac base coat is started; it may take a couple of days to dry. If the stain isn't dry, the base coat would adhere. If the base coat doesn't adhere, neither will anything on top. From here continue adding coats of shallac (roughly 3 lbs. cut) correcting the color you wish to achieve as you go. I don't know if you can french polish but after the second or third color coat, french polishing can be started. In the old days they would brush on one or two coats, then french polish until high gloss and then if the finish was too shiny they would rub out using pumis or rotten stone mixed in an oil or water solution to achieve a satin look. By french polishing theres no need to fill the pores with filler. french polishing using a little bit of pumis will fill the pores as you finish. This finish is not as durable as most modern finshes but is correct to most period pieces that we work on and can be repaired remarkably easy. I'm sure I left some things out and could get into the process of deterioration resulting from the use of BLO if i didn't have to type for means of communication. If you need to hear more email me and i can talk to you on the phone much better.
-R. Bohn (conservator of wooden artifacts)            Thanks nick for typing for me.

Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.:
There is one final test you can do.  Take a TM board and on one half stain it with an oil base stain and the other half water base stain.  Apply your top coats of finish.  In most cases the oil stain will produce a muddy, life-less look as compared to the water base.  I had a test board like this in our store to show customers and everyone was amazed at the dull oil stain finish.  In my opinion, oil stains are just thinned out paints.  If you are paying all that money for a TM board do you really want to apply an oil stain? 

Try the test and see for yourself.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

Rick Yochim:
This thread continues to get more interesting and informative.


Though I'm by no means an expert, I do think your filtered water misting will be fine. The whole point of not using tap water is to cut down on the probability, however slight, of chemicals in the water reacting with the tannins in the wood or the dye stain formuala and having the end result turn out splotchy, uneven or otherwise disappointing.  If the end result on your piece looks good, then it is good. PS. I have no experince with tung oil so I can't speak to it.

As for BLO, everyone is absolutely correct about it darkening the wood over time. I've seen it on some of my old - almost totally black - English molding planes where they were treated (doused, soaked, baptised etc) in linssed oil, in my own woodworking and, of course,  in the documeted reserach of experts.  But I still plan to apply it under the shellac becasue I WANT the darkening, blackish/amber effect over time.  That is why I'm not aging it now. I have settled on letting time get it to the hue I want.

And I plan to stick with a water based dye stain for exactly the reasons Dennis and orthers have stated. TM is a wood with a lot of drama and my piece is not an exact reproduction but an adaptation, so I'm consiously taking a little historical liberty by doing what I can to bring out (instead of hide) the figure in the wood. I think water based dye stain is the best way to do that.

If I read Rob’s original post and question correctly, I think there is a bit of confusion and misinformation in some of the replies. First, I think Rob was referring to water soluble, alcohol soluble, and oil soluble powdered aniline dye stains. Oil soluble dyes are dissolved in mineral spirits, turpentine, paint thinner, and alkyd varnishes. Alcohol soluble dyes are dissolved in alcohols and shellac. Oil soluble dyes are as transparent as alcohol and water soluble dyes and should not be confused with pigmented oil stains. The downside of alcohol soluble and oil soluble powdered aniline dye stains is they are not light fast. Over 30 years ago, I purchased 7 basic colors of each variety, made up 2” x 3” samples from birch, mounted them on a large board, and hung it in my finishing room. With the exception of black, all of the alcohol and oil soluble dyes have faded dramatically, with the oil soluble dye being the worst, fading to the point that most of the samples look to be about the same color. Even the water soluble dyes have faded, but not as much. These samples are not exposed to sunlight, but fluorescent light. Because these dyes are so fugitive, I stopped using them.

About 10 years ago I started using TransTint liquid dye concentrate. These colors also fade with time but not as much as water soluble powdered aniline dyes. You can mix the TransTint liquid colors in a 50/50 mix of water and alcohol, which dries quickly and raises the grain less than straight water. That said, I usually mix Transtint liquid in water. I always raise the grain with distilled water before I stain. When the stain (dye) is dry, I knock off any subsequent raised grain with a gray or maroon Scotch Brite pad. Occasionally, I will tint boiled linseed oil with a darker TransTint color dissolved in MEK or acetone to achieve a more variegated look in curly maple. I’ve run into antique pieces where the striping has very pronounced dark stripes and the dark tinted oil helps to simulate this effect when I’m trying to match an existing piece. For my “standard” curly maple finish, I usually flood the dyed piece with Waterlox and wipe off the excess. When the Waterlox is dry, I go over the piece with a Scotch Brite pad, dust off and apply Behlen’s Van Dyke brown shading and glazing stain and wipe off the excess, allowing a bit to remain in crevices and low areas of carvings. When the glaze is dry, I apply 4 to 6 coats of 1-1/2 pound cut extra dark dewaxed shellac. I rub out with #0000 steel wool and apply a coat of Renaissance wax.

This finish schedule results in a rich, mellow, antique look that I like. In my opinion, many otherwise successful curly maple pieces have anemic finishes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A final word of advice is to always take the time to make sample boards prepared in the same manner as the piece the finish is to be applied to. Record the steps and materials used. Even if you don’t like the final results, save the samples for future reference. It sure beats reinventing the wheel over and over again. I’ve also found it helpful to mask off half of a sample and let it sit in a sunny window for 6 months or so. When you remove the mask, the effects of UV light on the sample can be startling. It’s all part of the education process and knowledge is power.



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