Stains, Oils, and Washes

Finishing Your Wood Project

By L.S. Irish

Coloring Agents and Stains

The porousness of Basswood can cause problems with any stain or dye that is used on the project. So please note that in each set of instructions I will be pre-moistening the wood with the base media of the stain, dye, or color that I will be using. Pre-moistening allows the Basswood to soak up the base media instead of the color and allows you to apply the coloring agents evenly and thinly. Also, please practice any coloring technique on a scrap carving before going to one of your works of art!

Aniline Dyes

There are three main coloring or staining agents that I prefer. First are the Aniline Water Dyes. These are finely ground dry pigments that are dissolved in hot water. The dyes are easy to use and very easy to store since you need only mix the amount that will be needed for each project.

  1. Make sure the project is dust free.
  2. Have everything you need at hand on your work table before starting the application.
  3. In a small plastic bowl mix the Aniline Water Dye according to the package instructions. You will need to adjust the proportions to accommodate small projects. Mix only a little more than you will need. Aniline Dyes are usually mixed with very hot water to facilitate the dissolving of the pigment.
  4. With a clean soft brush apply one flowing coat of water to the entire surface of the work. Allow this to soak into the wood for about five minutes or until there are no glossy puddles in the details of the carving.
  5. Apply a second coat of clean water. This time I prefer to brush in another direction then the first coat to make sure that every area has become wet. An easy way to insure even coverage is to turn the carving upside down for the second coat. Again allow to dry for about five minutes. Your project should now be evenly damp with no glossy spots.
  6. Apply one coat of Aniline Dye to the piece. With each brush stroke, tap the brush along the side of the pan so that the brush is not dripping with color. As much as possible brush in the direction of the grain.
  7. Check for any dripping that might occur. With Aniline Dyes the coloring agent is, of course, very runny and thin. You may need to gently brush out some areas where the dye may have puddled then dripped down the side.
  8. Allow to set for about five minutes, just until the glossy areas have been absorbed.
  9. At this stage you can take a damp rag and lightly wipe the high areas of the carving. This will leave more color in the deep cuts and less color on the high areas. Wiping gives a more dramatic effect to the dye finish.
  10. Allow for a long drying period now, several hours up to overnight. Although some do suggest using a hair blow dryer to speed the drying process, I do not. It has been my experience that this can increase the possibility of raising the fibers or fuzzing the piece.
  11. A second coat of Aniline Dye coloring can now be applied using the exact same steps as with the first coat (Steps 1 through 10).
Oil Gel Stains

Oil Gel Stains are the second group of colorings that I consistently use. The advantage with Oil Gel Stains is their ability to be moved and smoothed during the coloring session. They have finer ground pigments than the regular oil stains and their thickness eliminates the runs and puddles that thinner stains can cause. I usually use Oil Gels on my larger projects.

  1. Make sure the project is dust free.
  2. Have everything you need at hand on your work table before starting the application.
  3. You will need a small pan or bowl to pour a small amount of the Oil Gel into before work. Do not work directly out of the jar. If by chance you should pick up some dust or dirt during the finishing process this avoids the possibility of contaminating the entire jar.
  4. You are going to pre-moisten the project before staining with a mixture of one part linseed oil and one part turpentine.
  5. Apply one coat of this mixture to the entire piece, be sure to work it well into the deep areas of the carving. Do not be overly generous this this coating. You are trying to evenly moisten the wood not drench it. Allow this coating to set for about five minutes.
  6. Gently wipe off any excess with a clean dry cloth. This keeps the coating evenly spread over your work.
  7. Turn the project upside down and apply a second coating of your oil/turpentine mixture. Again wait about five minutes and wipe off the excess. The Basswood should be damp but not wet at this stage.
  8. Now that the Basswood is pre-moistened you can apply the Oil Gel Stain. Brush the coat as much as possible in the direction of the grain of the wood, do not be overly generous with the coloring. The evenness of the initial coating will determine the evenness of the final finish.
  9. Let the Oil Gel Stain set just long enough to wipe your brush clean, then gently wipe the coloring off with a clean dry rag. This is not the rag that you used to remove the excess pre-moistening oil, that rag is now neither clean nor dry. Grab a new one! I know , I know … the jar instructions probably say to wait fifteen minutes, but we are not working on oak here!
  10. Clean up your brushes with the recommended solvent for the Oil Gel Stain that you are using, usually turpentine or mineral spirits, immediately after this session. All those oily rags and stained papers need to be taken outside the studio and dunked into that coffee can full of water. Don’t wait, do it now!
  11. Allow the Oil Gel Stain to fully dry, at least twenty four hours before going on to your final finish.
Acrylic Wash

One of the fun things about our hobby is our capability to create brand new carvings that look like very old antiques. This is where my third favorite coloring agent comes into play, acrylic washes. Using regular acrylic paints as you might use to paint a detailed caricature you can make an antique style finish that is very close to the white washes and milk paints used long ago. The difference between acrylic paints and acrylic wash is that the grain lines of the wood clearly show through the wash, just like on a white washed fence.

  1. Make sure the project is dust free.
  2. Have everything you need at hand on your work table before starting the application.
  3. You will need three small pans or bowls this time. One to hold clean water, one in which to mix your Acrylic Wash coloring, and you will need one in which to clean your brush. Do not let the brush begin to dry with color on it when using this technique.
  4. Pour a small amount of Acrylic paint into your pan. Add just a tiny amount of water and stir well. Add just a bit more water and stir again. Continue to slowly add the water until you have a thinned mixture of color. Adding a small amount of water at a time makes the mixing process must easier and avoid ‘clumps’ of color during the application of the wash. I always try to mix a fair amount more of Acrylic Wash then I think I will be using. I always end up using more than I ever expected.
  5. Check the color on a pre-moistened scrap board before using to be sure the consistency is thin enough and that you have the coloring you want.. I also will check by brushing a coat across an old newspaper. I should still be able to read the print but the paper itself should have a strong color tone.
  6. With a clean soft brush apply one flowing coat of water to the entire surface of the work. Allow this to soak in to the wood for about five minutes or until there are no glossy puddles in the details of the carving.
  7. Apply a second coat of clean water. Turn the carving upside down for this coat. Again allow to dry for about five minutes. Your project should now be evenly damp with no glossy puddles.
  8. Apply one coat of Acrylic Wash to the piece. With each brush stroke, tap the brush along the side of the pan so that the brush is not dripping with color. As much as possible brush in the direction of the grain.
  9. Check for any puddles and smooth out any drips that might occur. Again Acrylic Washes as with Aniline Dyes are very thin colorings and need that extra attention.
  10. Let dry overnight.
  11. Do your brush clean up right away! Any acrylic that dries in a brush becomes permanent!

Goto:
Preparing the Work for Finishing
Coloring Agents and Stains
Oil, Wax, and Urethane Top Coats