Spraying TransTint Dyes #1: First Experience with Dyes

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Blog entry by HappyHowie posted 12-27-2016 02:50 AM 1997 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Spraying TransTint Dyes series Part 2: Difficult: Maybe Impossible »

My neighbor damaged the top of this coffee table. He was thinking getting rid of it or just covering the damage top. I told him I thought it could be repaired, refinished. I asked him to give me a chance to refinish it; to restore it. Martin gave his okay.

I began by removing the existing finish with a finish remover I bought at my local big box store. I lightly sanded the top after removing the finish. I also applied a light coat of Shellac sanding sealer to the top’s surface.

I determined that I would spray dye on the sanded surface without wiping it after spraying to color the top to match closely to the stain on the rest of the table. Since I had already purchased some TransTint dyes for use in my shop, I decided to investigate my options by searching the internet for solutions. I found Charles Neil's website and his Color Recipes book. I bought it along with his book Finishing Simply Put. I bought both books plus I joined his website for instructions.

I determined that there were at least four recipes I liked in Charles Neil’s book so I purchased the TransTint dyes that I would need to make those recipes. Charles recommends that each 2 oz TransTint bottle be diluted 1:1. For example, for a 2 oz bottle of Medium Brown will be added 2 oz of distilled water. Before diluting my TransTint dyes, I went out and bought a dozen 4 and 8 ounce squeeze bottles so I could dilute all of my bottles of dye.

Charles recipes are based on parts. An example of this is his New England Maple recipes that specifies so many parts of water, with so many parts of Golden Brown, with so many parts of Orange, and lastly so many parts of Honey Amber. All TransTint recipes assume that the 2 oz bottles of dye have been diluted 1:1 with distilled water.

I bought a quart bottling jar. I determined that I would make 500 ML of Charles’ New England Maple recipe. I created a spreadsheet for every recipe Charles had in his Color Recipe book. I can enter the total volume I want to make. The spreadsheet calculates the amount of water and the combination of dye quantities that I need to measure and pour into the quart glass jar. I did all of that for the New England Maple recipe. After pouring all of mix of dye with distilled water I screwed the lid on tightly and shook the mixture. I had already placed a label on the jar and taped it on securely. On the label I wrote:

New England Maple 500 ML
CN Color Recipes 12/26/2016

The image below shows the equipment along with the syringes and bottles I used to mix this recipe. In my notebook is a printout of the Color Recipes spreadsheet I created. From the total volume I entered that I want to create, I read the quantities in milliliters of dyes to water that I will mix into a glass jar.

I taped the coffee table today even though I will not spray the dye on it until tomorrow.

I have not yet used my new HVLP sprayer system. I went ahead and got the system out and placed it on my wife’s kitchen table where I laid out all the parts. Right now my garage shop is too cold to work in. In the morning I will back out the vehicles, close the doors and turn on my 3 car garage heater. In a few hours the temperature should rise enough so I can spray this dye.

I have taken the HVLP sprayer manual to my office so I can read its instruction this evening. I intend to be prepared to get going tomorrow. I will first practice with just water so I know the controls and test my spraying technique on cardboard. Then I will load my New England Maple dye recipe and spray it on some scrap pieces of wood. I do not have any oak in my shop so I will not know how this dye will look exactly on the oak veneer table top. I will have to trust that I will be close enough to complete the job.

My neighbor has already stated that he would like a polyurethane finish sprayed as this table’s top finish. I have two cans already in my shop for this use.

-- --- Happy Howie

6 comments so far

View AandCstyle's profile


3262 posts in 2861 days

#1 posted 12-27-2016 10:20 PM

I determined that I would spray dye on the sanded surface without wiping it after spraying to color the top to match closely to the stain on the rest of the table.

Howie, spraying dye can be challenging to get an even color application without wiping it. FWIW

-- Art

View Mean_Dean's profile


7017 posts in 3751 days

#2 posted 12-27-2016 11:47 PM

Never thought of spraying dye—looking forward to see how this turns out!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View Mitchy's profile


5 posts in 1120 days

#3 posted 12-28-2016 12:03 AM

Those hvlps have a pressure cup so lots of dye will want to come out . If you turn the material setting al the way tight then back it off 1/4 turn at a time. Good luck.dyes are beautiful

View HappyHowie's profile


473 posts in 2548 days

#4 posted 12-28-2016 03:47 AM

Art, you are right. I discovered that spraying dye is very difficult. There is a probably a reason why I have never seen anyone spray dyes.

After practicing spraying on cardboard with denatured alcohol I determined that I must turn down the material to almost off. I tested spraying dye on several scrap pieces of wood. I got a good result with the maple plywood scrap piece.

However, leaving the settings where it was and spraying the dye on my table top I was not getting a good even result. I eventually needed to wipe the surface with a rag. I think now that I should have soaked the rag prior to wiping the table top. With some of the very first wipes I got an uneven spread of the dye so that it is evident that I wiped the dye surface.

I will let the surface dry this evening and tomorrow will will lightly sand with 320 grit. I am hoping to get the surface back to an even color. Or, I will have the surface to near a clean wood surface. However, I know that dyes soak into the wood and would require a lot of sanding. I may not get it even because I believe this table top is veneer oak.

I should have read your posts before beginning my application of dye to this table top. Well, experience is teaching what not to do.

-- --- Happy Howie

View ed13's profile


32 posts in 1154 days

#5 posted 07-28-2018 04:30 AM

I’m a bit late to the party, but maybe this will help someone someday. I won’t call myself expert, but I was taught by a good person one on one, and have successfully sprayed dyes, for example on a maple blanket chest. There are a couple things to understand. One thing you could try to do is to try to spray an absolutely perfect, even uniform coat of dye, no zebra stripes. This indeed is hard to do. Even if you succeed, you may end up with a dead piece. Every bit of the surface will have gotten the same amount of dye, so may have a very flat, boring result. It will tend to hide the grain. This is a way to deal with blotch, but on anything but the simplest surface, I for one don’t have the skill to do it.

The other way to think about spraying dye is that the spray gun is a big, fast, inexhaustible rag or paint brush. You use a test piece to figure out a way to dilute the dye and/or hold it back so that, when you flood the wood with dye and wipe it back, you get the color you want. For example, if I am doing maple and using water based dye, I will wipe the surface down with a wet rag, pretty much flooding the surface with water. This greatly reduces how much dye can be taken up and keeps the dye from getting too heavy. I will typically have diluted the dye, too. So, I get everything wet with water quickly, and then grab the spray gun. I’ll keep the fluid down and rapidly go over the piece trying for uniform, but my biggest focus is to not get any runs at this point. Once I’ve rapidly gone over the piece (it’s anything but perfect), I go over it again. As soon as I see that I’ve got dye everywhere, I keep spraying, perhaps opening the fluid, and now am working to flood the thing. Since I flooded the piece with water before starting, dye uptake is inhibited overall. Since I hit everything with dye on the first passes, everything has taken a bit of color. If a run happens now, it is less likely to leave a dark, uneven mark. I get everything really wet, and then wipe the dye back. Get all the fluid off. Have a bucket of water nearby so that, once you get all the extra fluid off you can take a damp rag and go after places where it might be darker than you like, but you should have tuned your dye mixture on your test piece so that flooding gives you the desired result. Still, tweaking may be needed. You may need to put some dye on a rag and darken places, too.

Clearly, you need to experiment on some test pieces. Don’t just do a flat panel. Do something that has insides and outsides, edges and flats, etc., so that you must deal with face-edge transitions. Just as clearly, you must have figured out how to deal with blotch. If you have a blotchy wood and don’t have an effective blotch control, this method is going to kill you. Remember that exposing end grain is equivalent to blotch. For example, on cabriole legs, the vertical surfaces are face grain, but the top of the foot, the top of the knee, and parts of the curves are end grain. You’ll like need to burnish them to a higher grit sandpaper to hold back the dye in those regions.

In short, get a recipe that gives you a good outcome when you flood the piece, then use the sprayer to work up to a flood. To be honest, I’m not sure what I’d have done with this table top. It’s hard to have a test piece. It’s hard to guess what the grain is doing. On the other hand, it has an underside. If it’s not seen, that’s an opportunity to experiment sometimes, but if dye runs over a visible edge or creeps through a frame and panel while experimenting, you won’t be happy.

It’s up to you to do this safely. Any safety steps not mentioned, like a respirator and having a safe place, are your responsibility to know about.

View ed13's profile


32 posts in 1154 days

#6 posted 07-28-2018 09:00 PM

Just to add one thing- I’ll have a rag in my hand while spraying. At any point, even when building the wet application, if I see a run, I’ll immediately wipe or dab it.

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