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911; How to fix uneven stain on Maple Dining Table


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#1 Cameron McColl

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:14 PM

Need some expert advice before I make things worse.
I have hand built a new dining table using Maple wood.
To finish the table I applied MinWax Wood conditioner to try and prevent uneven staining.
The next day I applied MinWax Stain (Dark Walnut) only to find out that the wood stained very unevenly.
I guess I didn't do my homework very well becuase I know see online that staining Maple is considerably harder that many other woods (Most of my other projcets used Poplar which I've found stains very well after the wood conditioner has been applied).
I applied a couple more coats as the first one was very light but was still very unhappy with the uneven staining.
Tonight I made things even worse by allowing the stain to dry too much before wiping with a cloth and now I've made the stain even more uneven from the wiping.

Attached is a picture of the table in its current state.
I'm very unhappy with the quality of the stain and I'm trying to decide what to do next.

One the one hand I'm almost ready to get the belt sander out and take a solid layer off the wood and start again but using a shallac conditioner and gel based stain (seems to be what is most recommended for Maple).
On the other hand it's taken me so long to getthis far that I'm hoping one of you lovely experts might have a good way to even out the staining I've done thus far.

Any and all recommendations welcome at this point as I'm really frustrated (since I've put some many hours buildling the table from rough cut lumber).
Can I still that beautiful dark wood finish or have I buggered the whole thing up now?

#2 Cameron McColl

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:17 PM

The attachement didn't seem to work so trying to add again...

#3 Cameron McColl

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Posted 10 September 2010 - 10:23 PM

3rd time lucky on the picture, fingers crossed

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#4 Bud

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 12:04 AM

Well if you don't mind obscuring the grain a gel stain will even things up nicely even right on top of your existing stain. Gel stain is more like a paint, it's a surface treatment so you can add more to certain areas to even everything out. Whatever you do, leave the belt sander on the shelf, it will ruin you. An orbital sander will take the stain off surprisingly quickly if that's the route you choose.

If you do go with a gel stain I suggest practicing painting an even coat on a scrap piece first to get the hang of it; thinning the stain a little helps a lot...it's kind of thick.

#5 Gregory Paolini

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 02:33 AM

I have to confess, I havn't had my coffee yet this morning - So my mind isn;t working that well yet - But Inititally, my thoughts are, You could sand, and start over - Most stains, especially the minwax stains, don't penetrate very deep. SO you could sand the top clean with a 6" RO sander in less than an hour. Then, seal the surface with a 1pound cut of dewaxxed shellac; then apply your stain again - The stain will be much more even at that point, but significantly lighter in color, so you may want to bump uup a few stains darker, such as MW's Jacobean stain.

I don't much care for "Wood Conditioners" or "Pre-Stain Conditioners". They never really work the way I'd like, so I always shoot for the dewaxxed shellac.

A second option would be, and this is only if you have spray capabilities, is to add a little pigment to your top coat, and spray on some more color. This method, called toning, will help to even out color, but will also obscure the grain a bit.

A third option is the Gelstain route - Which gives you a little more control, as the gel stain will "float" on what ever's there, so you can move it around and concentrate on color in certain areas.

Hope this helps
-Gregory
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#6 thewoodwhisperer

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 07:23 AM

I agree with Gregory that for best results, you may just want to start over. The only way to even things out is to make the entire top the same color as your darkest blotches. So that usually means piling on so much color that the grain is no longer very visible.

Also, I am curious if you are using oil-based products here. If so, remember that Minwax recommends applying stain while the pre-conditioner is still wet. If you wait until the next day, you no longer have the benefit of pre-conditioner. Not 100% sure which product you are using so double check the instructions.

Now although I have been a big proponent of using shellac as a sealer (I think I need to buy stock in Zinsser), I have found something that truly works better. The problem I have with shellac as a pre-stain blotch-preventer is that its very tricky to nail down the perfect amount of shellac to apply to the surface. If you don't put on enough, you get blotching. If you put on too much, you don't get stain absorption. So I've been playing with Charles Neil's blotch control stuff lately and the results are pretty amazing. Here's a test board on one of the blotchiest woods out there: pine.
DSC01747.JPG

The first thing to look at is the right side of the board. The top panel has a single 2lb cut of shellac followed by a General Finishes water-based dye. The bottom panel has two coats of a 2 lb cut. Notice that once we have two coats of shellac, the blotching goes away. That's great except for the fact that the wood is so sealed at this point that its not taking up much dye. The single shellac coat above clearly lets more dye in, but results in uneven color absorption. The left panels were done exactly the same way, only using Charles Neil's pre-stain conditioner (one coat on top and two coats on the bottom). What's amazing about this stuff is that it is able to prevent the blotching completely, while still allowing the color to penetrate. Frankly, I have never seen results like this before. And like Gregory, I have never been a fan of commercial pre-conditioners.

Now. I do want to mention that if you seal with shellac, for instance, using two coats like in my bottom right panel, you can still get a decent result using an oil-based gel stain. But the color still won't be as intense and vibrant as it would over the Charles Neil formula.

What drives me nuts about controlling blotch with shellac is that its always a tug of war between the different components. And should you get the shellac concentration right, you then have to figure out how much darker to go with your stain so that in the end, the result is the color you actually want. CN's blotch control doesn't seem to have any effect on the color transfer, so what you see is what you get. Pretty cool stuff.

#7 Cameron McColl

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 03:58 PM

The saga continues.
After sleeping on it I decided to go for the start over approach.
I dug around this site looking for more info and found this excellant video:
http://thewoodwhispe...-blotchy-woods/

I sanded the table back down to the white wood and then went out and bought some shellac and gel stain.
The shellac tin although being bullseye didn't say if it was 1lb or 2lb whatever that term really means but I followed the advice of the video and diluted the shillac to 50% using the alcohol.
On a test piece of wood this combination worked just like expected however the table top is a different story...

The gel stain said to wait 3 minutes before wiping off the excess. The problem is that I was worried about doing the stain in sections and getting join lines. The table is almost 4x8ft and os is a really large surface area.
So as I began wiping off I got totally different results. Some areas were very light others had dark streaks that were very hard to rub off.
The net result is I no longer have blotching from the wood but I have streaks from the gel stain (btw, I used MinWax Gel Stain as that's all we have in the shops it seems).

So I've messed it up AGAIN and I'm contemplating sanding again tomorrow and trying a 3rd time if you can beleive it.

But before I do I have some questions:

I did another small experiment with a test block of wood where I gel'd half of it and wiped it off after 3 mins. Then 5 mins later I gel'd the adjacent section and wiped off after 3 mins.
Low and behold I did not see any join lines, it was quite easy to blend the two sections.

So is that the trick to staining a large surface area?
Before I make my third attempt what other advice do folks have for getting the stain applied evenly?

From the advice you guys have already provided it sounds like I need to go find some of this magic Charles Neil wood conditioner instead of the shellac. Just hope I can find it.

Attached is the current state of todays work.

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  • table3.JPG


#8 Paul-Marcel

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 05:21 PM

Charles Neil's conditioner is sold through his site. Someday it will be in Woodcrafts, but that's not today AFAIK.

Better to get 2 quarts so the cost of shipping is reduced. Besides, if you are doing a tabletop, you will likely exhaust the first quart. It requires 2 coats before you would apply your stain.

#9 Cameron McColl

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 09:13 PM

Okay I've ordered 2 cans of Charles's pre stain.
Tomorrow I will sand down the table again.

What grit should I finish the table at before the stain?
Can anyone advise me on what method to use to to apply th stain in such a large table. Clearly apply the whole table doesn't work.
If I do smmall sections at a time am I going to have trouble with the overlaps?

If I keep screwing up like this the darn table will become a piece of paper from all my sanding. :-)

You guys make it so easy, either that or I'm just making it a lot harder.
Looking back I'm beginning to the building of the table was the easy part. :-)

Thanks for all the advice so far. Very much appreciated.

#10 Paul-Marcel

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Posted 11 September 2010 - 11:10 PM

Okay I've ordered 2 cans of Charles's pre stain.
Tomorrow I will sand down the table again.

What grit should I finish the table at before the stain?
Can anyone advise me on what method to use to to apply th stain in such a large table. Clearly apply the whole table doesn't work.
If I do smmall sections at a time am I going to have trouble with the overlaps?

If I keep screwing up like this the darn table will become a piece of paper from all my sanding. :-)

You guys make it so easy, either that or I'm just making it a lot harder.
Looking back I'm beginning to the building of the table was the easy part. :-)

Thanks for all the advice so far. Very much appreciated.


One thing about sanding... without a blotch control product on the wood, you can somewhat limit blotching by sanding to higher and higher grits; you're giving the stain fewer recesses to hide in while burnishing the surface making absorption more limited, but equally limited over the surface (that's the definition of a blotch control).

CN's BC has instructions on the can for how high to sand. Also, you apply 2 coats. It is water-based so it will raise the grain so you will have to knock the grain down after each coat with a light sanding (I used P320 for this). Do what the can says as, unlike "Do not thin" finishes, his instructions don't assume you'll break the rules :)

Since you want a jump start on this, I just went down to read the can (usually I read in the can, so this was different ;)). Before application, you should sand to P180/P220. I say that since you had such problems so far, go for P220.

Last tip; I don't know if you were planning on staining the underside or not (I can't tell if the top is off the table in the pics, sorry). Since this is a water-based product, apply the conditioner to both sides to avoid having to start a thread titled "911: how to fix a cupped dining table top" :)

Definitely post your results, please.

#11 thewoodwhisperer

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 07:46 AM

When I use gel stain on a large surface, I like to hit it all at once. So I will get one of those terry cloth sponge applicators (harbor freight has these for cheap), and I dump the stain into a larger container. I then add a little mineral spirits (about 10%). This will loosen up the gel stain enough to allow easy spreading. Basically, its a messy process. Work quickly spreading the stain on the entire surface. While its still wet, begin going back over it with a clean cloth. Have two of them ready so if one gets loaded with stain you can switch to the second one. Gel stain can be temperamental if you stain a small section at a time over a large wide surface. So this method gets around that.

#12 Cameron McColl

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 09:25 AM

Paul: You're comment on the cupped table has me worried now as I currently have the underside unfinished. I can't find the article you mention. Has it been deleted from the forums?

WoodWhisperer: Wow, that wasn't what I was expecting to hear. I do like the idea of the thinner and I had thought about that yesterday but didn't know what to use to thin it and how much. I think I'll have a friend or two come y and help with the application of the gel and hopefully that way I can get it off before any of it starts to dry.

I noticed in the video that the stain wasn't on for very long before it was wiped off. Is the time the stain is left on important or is it just important ot get the stain applied consistently across all parts of the wood?

#13 Cameron McColl

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 09:58 AM

Darn just typed up a post and somehow it didn't show up.

I'm about to go sand down the table again to remove the gel stain.
The first time I prep'd the table I used an orbital sander but I noticed that left small spiral marks even after hand sanding down to p220.
Yesterday I used a belt sander and then hand sanded but this time saw small perpendicular lines caused from uneven pressure with the belt sander.

So any adive on how to remove the gel stain without repeating either of these problems.
I'm thinking the orbital might work so long as I use less pressure or perhaps I should just hand sand the whole thing (worried that might take forever).

#14 Paul-Marcel

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 12:12 PM

Paul: You're comment on the cupped table has me worried now as I currently have the underside unfinished. I can't find the article you mention. Has it been deleted from the forums?

WoodWhisperer: Wow, that wasn't what I was expecting to hear. I do like the idea of the thinner and I had thought about that yesterday but didn't know what to use to thin it and how much. I think I'll have a friend or two come y and help with the application of the gel and hopefully that way I can get it off before any of it starts to dry.

I noticed in the video that the stain wasn't on for very long before it was wiped off. Is the time the stain is left on important or is it just important ot get the stain applied consistently across all parts of the wood?


Not sure which article you thought I mentioned. I just mentioned CN's instructions on the can.

For the cup, I'm sure you will put a top coat on both sides as you should to have both sides absorb and lose moisture at the same rate; keeps things flat. If you were putting on a solvent-based stain (something thinned with mineral spirits), you'd be okay at this staining stage to put stain on just one side. However, even though the gel stains are usually solvent based and that is what you are putting down, you will first be putting down Charles Neil's blotch control, which is water based. If you apply the 2 coats to just one side of that table top, that side will absorb more moisture than the other side and expand cupping the underside. You'll want to apply it to both sides so both sides get the same amount of moisture and neither side cups.

Make sense?

#15 Paul-Marcel

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 12:18 PM

Darn just typed up a post and somehow it didn't show up.

I'm about to go sand down the table again to remove the gel stain.
The first time I prep'd the table I used an orbital sander but I noticed that left small spiral marks even after hand sanding down to p220.
Yesterday I used a belt sander and then hand sanded but this time saw small perpendicular lines caused from uneven pressure with the belt sander.

So any adive on how to remove the gel stain without repeating either of these problems.
I'm thinking the orbital might work so long as I use less pressure or perhaps I should just hand sand the whole thing (worried that might take forever).


Likely those spirals are from lesser grits. If you used P120, didn't sand away those marks with P180 then went to P220, you'll have a long tough time getting rid of the remaining P120 swirls with P220. Use a raking light to see the swirls better as you go. That is, get a spot or task light and set it a little above the table at one end; you look at the surface from the other end. It will greatly highlight the swirls, missed spots, sometimes even dishing. I have a task light on an articulating arm mounted to my table. When I sand, I use that and turn off the other lights in the shop.

Belt and hand sanders don't make random marks, they make lines. Your eye can catch that more easily than random swirls of a ROS. Linear sanders must go with the grain to 'hide' their scratches. I often use a ROS to get to my highest grit then use a linear sander of the same grit to go over the surface with the grain.

#16 Don Trust

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Posted 12 September 2010 - 12:25 PM

I've been following this thread with interest, since my next project is a wastebasket holder that will be stained. I think I'll make it out of pine, so the stain hints will help.

Anyway, as to your sanding line problems. If by 'orbital sander' you mean a random orbit sander, it's hard to believe that any lines remain. I've never had that problem. Strange. The belt sander though, that one is tough to use for any sort of final sanding, since it can be extremely difficult to finesse. I would suggest that the belt sander be left to only the ruffest of sanding. (is ruffest a word?)

One suggestion I could offer, and this works very well for me, is to hand sand with this:
http://www.amazon.co...84322781&sr=8-2

(the Preppin Weapon) It may seem expensive, but it's worth ever penny.

I use these all the time. Great tool for sanding flat surfaces. Sand with the grain as a final step and it really flattens the surface with little effort. The thing is very stiff so no bending, but with a forgiving foam surface for the sandpaper to rest on. Rockler sells them, and probably others, but you can't find anything like it at HD or Lowes. (at least not the stores near me)

#17 Cameron McColl

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 08:02 PM

Time for an update.

In prep for my 3rd attempt I hand sanded the table with 60 then 100 then 150 then 180 and finally 220. No spirals and no gauges this time. Beautifully flat surface.
I ordered the Neals Wood Conditioner and applied 2 coats to the underside and top side of the table. Then I thinned some gel stain with around 10% of the denatured alcohol.
I had bought some of the pad applicators as you had recommended to make it easy and quicker to apply in one pass.
I applied the gel stain all over the table and then began to wipe off.
This produced the best result so far. No blotching although I noticed that one side was marginally darker than the other. The darker side being the side that had the stain on just a minute or two longer.
However the stain was very light even though I'm using Dark Walnut. I was not expecting based on what I saw in the video that posted at the start of this thread.

The next day I repeated the 10% diluted stain mixture for a second coat and this is where things started to go wrong again. Even with the 10% dilution the gel stain started drying too fast and I started getting the streaking I had seen before. I basically couldn't get the stain rubbed off quick enough. The table now looked disasterous.
I then added a bunch more alcohol to thin the mixture even further and applied a fresh coat of gel stain. I had learned this trick from my previous adventures. By applying a new coat when the previous coat wasn't cured I knew that the new coat would take off the old coat and sure enough I was able to get back to the stain as it was after the first coat.

So what to do next. I had switched to the gel stain on the basis that it would give a deeper darker stain than the oil based stain. But given my inability to get it wiped off without streaking I decided to try the next coat with the oil based stain which I've had more experience with.
So I applied the oil stain using the same pad applicator which made it go on really quick. I then took a fresh pad applicator and began to wipe off following the grain.(with the help of my neighbor as well)
This worked to some degree but it appears that I wiped too lightly and left too much stain on the table or at least I think so. I'm afraid that what I've done now is leave a layer of stain on top of the wood and not in the wood.
It's been over 24hrs and the table is still sticky hence my worry.
The pads also dropped small fibers onto the stain which I hope will come off with a light sanding.
The color is better but still not dark enough according to my wife. :-)
Also I'm still not sure I'm happy with the stain overall as the lines you see are not from the grain of the wood but are the lines from the pad as it was wiped along the wood. I want the stain to show off the grain of the wood not some artificial lines from the stain applicator - seems like I might as well paint the wood if that's all I'm getting from the stain.

I've attached a couple more pictures that try to show how it currently looks (in it's sticky statee).

Questions:
Will the stain eventually dry out?
Should I be happy with the way it currently looks?
Will another coat make things worse?

Since this is the 3rd time I've tried to stain this table I'm honestly very close to hiring a cabinet finisher to do it the final time (and hopefully train/teach me on how to do this thing right). But I'd love to hear the experts (that's you) opinions.

I haven't even got to the polyurethane stage yet. And I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear I'm nervous. :-)

Attached Thumbnails

  • table4.JPG
  • table5.JPG


#18 Paul-Marcel

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Posted 03 October 2010 - 09:28 PM

I'm curious why you thinned with denatured alcohol instead of mineral spirits. Gel stains are typically solvent-based (was the "clean up" on the can mineral spirits or water?) Not sure what DNA would do in it. Certainly it would flash off in a hurry. Mineral spirits (IF it is solvent based) flashes considerably slower.

Lastly, I use those staining pads often. They are terry cloth over foam. The Internet rumor is that foam and DNA don't mix well, but I've never confirmed it and I'm too lazy to go test it out right now. :) If it is true that some of the foam dissolves in DNA, that might be an issue as well.

Edited by Paul-Marcel, 03 October 2010 - 09:37 PM.
Added the part about foam


#19 Ace

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 03:59 AM

What manufactures finishing products are you using? Are they water-based or oil-based.
Do you have a sample of what color you are trying to achieve.

-Ace-

#20 went_postal

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Posted 04 October 2010 - 04:23 PM

Holy crap man... I feel your pain.

So... I have done projects over the years and stained poplar a ton of times and my recent project is the first time that the Blotch Monster popped up and bit me right in the bum. So... I have been wrestling with a lot of what you have.

Not sure what the directions for the CN pre-stain stuff is... but when you talked about the Zinnser product and doing a 50%... I knew you were in trouble. I, probably just like you, read the back of the can. That was our first mistake. If you go to Zinnser's site... they have DIFFERENT directions for the product listed there than what is on the can. For the Bullseye Seal Coat it says to do a 1:1 mix... Yeah... NO. It also says to use one of those acrylic pads... Yeah... NO. The website say do a 3:2 mix on the seal coat. So... I took out a board of wood from the stock I was making my product out of and did some tests. 1:1, 3:2, 2:1, and 5:2. In the long run... 2:1 is what I went with. And screw that acrylic pad garbage... 400 Wet/Dry Sandpaper is the shiznit.

I mention all that... because I didn't see any mention that you sanded between the washcoat and the stain.

Another thing that I have done with gel stains that I am sure is a cardinal sin (but it works for me) is to sand it lightly with 400 grit. Before the next coat I would use a tack cloth to clean it up.

One other thing that appears to have made a difference for me and it may for you now that you have added so much stuff to your table... When the wood was bare (before even putting on the washcoat) I wiped the entire thing down with Mineral Spirits. Didn't go nuts... just a paper towel with a bit of the stuff... cleaned up all the loose sawdust and whatever else and then I did my washcoat and stain. So far so good.

I have never cut my gel stains... Never thought to. I have used the minwax gel on parawood and our table is something ridiculous like 12' long did it all at once. I went over with the gel and the wife followed behind mopping up the goop. =) I personally prefer to buy another can of the stuff and do multiple coats to get where I need to be than try and get it to "set in" in one to two coats.





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