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Davie Jones

Maple floor stain disaster

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Hey all, we hired a contractor to do our hardwood floors as part of remodeling our first house. We chose grade 1 solid maple due to its low-grain uniform look, and DuraSeal Golden Oak stain. After our contractor applied the first stain application though, the floors look very blotchy and non-uniform. (See photo.)

We've since learned that maple blotches very easily (I wish I knew that 2 days ago). Marc Spagnuolo's video, "Coloring/Staining Blotchy Woods", suggests using Shellac Bullseye Seal Coat before staining, along with a gel-based stain, to minimize blotching.

Can we recover from this? Can we start over by sanding and use Marc's method, or are the blotches permanent? What about sanding and switching to a darker color?

Thanks for any advice.

IMG_20190714_194121.jpg

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Yea you can sand it down and start over. The blotchy spots can be toned down a lot with the proper sanding and prep work. If you have any flooring remnants I would sand a few to test staining before re applying to the floor.  

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Personally I disagree your best bet if you wanted minimal grain and uniform color would have been not wood. 2nd best is don't stain then 3rd is spray dye with HVLP. For floors that's hard. After spraying the dye there really is no cure it's just doing your best to minimize the effect.

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3 hours ago, drzaius said:

Of course, I agree with everything you say there. If God wanted us to stain maple, he wouldn't have made it so blotch prone. :) 

...or so beautiful as is.

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I'd question even how much of a recovery staining will bring at this point. Blotchiness, we will recall, is the same thing as figure, just in an unattractive pattern. Sanding at this point would only enhance the fact that parts of the wood have slurped up a triple helping of pigment whereas other parts have taken very little. You'd have to sand quite deeply to get past the blotches at this point.

In essence, you've taken the first step toward popping the grain. I'd call it a lesson learned and go to top coat. Once the floor reflects light evenly, it'll be less of an issue.

Meanwhile, can someone go on CafePress and start ordering up t-shirts that say "Minwax doesn't make wood beautiful"?

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That look is very like sanded barn boards, where some grime persists in the looser grain. Some go for that look. 

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Thank you all so much for your advice.

Our flooring subcontractor insisted on finishing the job, saying that we might like the final result. Unfortunately it ended up looking like a shinier version of the same thing.

If I could ask a petty question: where do you think the blame lies here? I feel that there's some shared responsibility: on one hand, I should have researched staining maple before buying the wood. On the other hand, there are products that prevent blotching (like Charles Neil conditioner), which could have prevented it. The flooring subcontractor claims to be in the business for 20 years, but it seems like they didn't use anything to prevent blotching.

Is this completely our fault for using maple? Would you attribute any fault to the subcontractor's technique? (See finished photos.)

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IMG_20190715_191205.thumb.jpg.ea639242ff62ca3d62994410a092cc6e.jpg

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The contractor could have warned you that maple blotches. There is a fine line to walk between thinking the customer knows what is going to happen and needing to prevent a future complaint.

There is no preventing dye/stain blotching on maple, there is only minimizing the effect. Any wood conditions/bloch preventives have limitations despite the sales pitches their creators claim. They also have a financial and aesthetic cost. Generally they won't allow the wood to pick up as much pigment so the coloring is a lot lighter.  I don't want to be rude but maple is the problem and the blame lies with the wood.

Maple can be a  beautiful wood. With time it will oxidize to a beautiful light caramel color. It's hard to get over how light it is and how yellow it looks originally. If you are brave and can give it time the end result is great. I believe there was a picture on here in another thread about maple that shows the difference between new wood and wood a few years old.

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It’s unfortunate that the contractor didn’t know or didn’t warn you about the splotchy nature of maple.

How did the contractor respond to you being disappointed in the results?

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There was no technique issue.  It's just the nature of the type of wood.  Maybe no one had ever complained before, or even in his 20 years, maybe he'd never stained Maple before.

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I've noticed that even factory stained & finished engineered maple flooring shows a lot of blotchiness.

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All the above is true. If you REALLY can't stand the appearance, a lot of sanding might get you back to square one. Which leaves you with a choice - leave the maple natural, or take another chance on coloring. Maybe the blotch control products help, maybe not. A possible alternative is chemical coloration, essentially speeding up the natural darkening process, without adding pigments that result in blotch. But that method has its downsides as well. Aside from the potentially toxic chemicals, the process depends on tannins that already exist in the wood, and which vary from tree to tree. Unless you somehow obtained flooring from a single tree, you are likely to still have drastic variations from board to board, even if the color of any given board is smooth and even.

My advise would be to stop now, and get on with the rest of your life.

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wtnhighlander is on to something.  You had a preconceived idea of how the floor "should" look.  It looks different.  If you were walking through a model home and it had this floor would you stop in your tracks and say "dear god, what happened here!?!" or would it just be another flavor of flooring?  Enough maple to make a floor is going to result in boards that look different from each other.  Maple itself will look different throughout a board.  I think you will be happier a year from now if you make lemonade out of this lemon by looking at it with fresh eyes versus the unexpected result of what you were after.

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15 hours ago, Davie Jones said:

If I could ask a petty question: where do you think the blame lies here?

The blame lies in decades of prejudice that "finishing" wood involves adding a pigmented stain. Your contractor didn't know any better because he'd never had reason to give it any more thought than this. (Perhaps he will on future jobs? Perhaps he'll take his payment and be happy to see this job in the rearview mirror? We wish him well in the wars to come...) You certainly didn't know any better, either, but now you do.

The lesson for the future is simple: MAKE SAMPLES! On a large job such as this, I would even start finishing samples while laying the floor. It builds natural breaks into the work (i.e. lay boards until you need a rest, then finish some samples for fifteen minutes or so, then back to the nailer) and, by the time the floor is done, you'll know exactly what to do and, more importantly, what not to do.

As for your floor, the photos don't rise to the level of "disaster". It's not what you expected, but it's not grounds for dragging in a sander or tossing up a hail Mary with yet more pigment. Clear coat it, move on with life, and be happy.

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The Wood types like maple, tulip are not that easy to stain because of their tendency. If it has got stained with some markers, it is easy to get rid of them by simply applying the alcohol. Many people do like giving a maple a little bit of brown appearance. If someone asked me about staining the maple, I would suggest them to get an orange tone wood instead of the brown. Last summer, my cousin had a maple flooring installed at his tenant apartment, the contractors from the flooring stores also suggested him to have an orange tone wood instead of the brown.

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