Thoughts on Using Aniline Dye to “Pop” Curly Maple Veneer

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Blog entry by HillbillyShooter posted 03-08-2014 01:04 AM 11886 reads 8 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

“Popping” curly maple is something I’ve wanted to try for some time, so I decided to test it on drawer fronts for a slant cabinet I built last year. My buddies at O-P Hardwood were out of curly maple so I ended up using curly maple veneer.

The aniline dye I chose was W.D. Lockwood Early American Maple Yellow from Tools for Working Wood. There are great instructions for the preparation and use of this dye on the web site. The main two things I’d emphasize are: (1) use hot, distilled water to mix the dye powder; and, (2) be sure to make test strips on the same material upon which you’ll actually be using the dye.

First, I mixed the dye as instructed in a quart jar, labeling it “1:0” for full strength. The second mix was to fill a pint jar half full with the “1:0” mix and add distilled water for the other half, labeling it “1:1” for half strength. The last mix was to fill another pint jar half full with the “1:1” mix and add distilled water for the other half, labeling it “1:3” for one-quarter strength.

The next photograph is the unfinished veneer panel before dying. I prepared a second, identical panel so that I could leave it un-dyed as a control to see the actual difference the dye would make:

After dampening the veneer and gluing it to a substrate, there were what appeared to be mold spots in the veneer when it dried (which you can see if you look close at the above photograph and left of center). Therefore, I treated the surfaces of both the control and test strips with hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide bleached the wood and removed the mold discoloration. Below, you can see the difference in the color of the hydrogen peroxide treated control sample (top) and the color of a strip of untreated veneer (bottom):

Next, I tested three different dye strength samples on hard maple. The test strength is marked on each of the samples. These samples use veneer in the top and bottom panels and a plain hard maple strip in the middle. All of these samples are shown after being finished (I used Minwax Fast Drying Satin Polyurethane):

Finally, the next photograph presents the comparison between a finished, treated (hydrogen peroxide), unstained control panel (top), an unfinished, untreated (no hydrogen peroxide) strip of veneer (middle), and the finished, treated (hydrogen peroxide) strip as tested with the aniline dye mixes indicated on the sample (bottom):

The curly maple pops on both the un-dyed, treated and finished (top) control strip and the dyed, treated and finished test strip (bottom). However, to my eye there was a difference with the aniline dye providing greater contrast and a more pleasing “pop” to the grain than found in the un-dyed strip. I used one application (identified as “1×1:3”) of 25% dye for my drawer fronts.

The big take away from my experiment was that test strips with the actual wood and technique being used in the final product are absolutely mandatory if you want to know what your final product is going to look like. Also, the use of hydrogen peroxide bleaches the wood so that when it is finished, the hard maple remains light and not yellowed as it otherwise turns out.

As a side note, in the mid 1980s I recall talking with an well seasoned, finish carpenter who used a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and rubbed it into the wood with steel wool (OOOO) to bleach walnut paneling before he stained it to a consistent and uniform color. His contention was that the process resulted in a more stable color that didn’t fade or change color with age. In looking at that paneling after some 30-years, it appears his contention has merit.

Hopefully, these observations will be of some assistance to anyone considering the use of aniline dye. I used water because it was recommended for hand application, but you can also use denatured alcohol that is recommended for spray application.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

10 comments so far

View doubleDD's profile


11374 posts in 3534 days

#1 posted 03-08-2014 02:23 AM

Thanks for doing a lot of footwork on this John. Hope this can improve my finishing.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View WhoMe's profile


1568 posts in 4735 days

#2 posted 03-08-2014 05:13 AM

Yes, thank you for the great and informative lesson.
I’m getting ready to dye some curly maple to enhance the grain in the near future and this helps a lot.

-- I'm not clumsy.. It's just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies, the wall gets in the way AAANNNDDD table saws BITE my fingers!!!.. - Mike -

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 3784 days

#3 posted 03-08-2014 05:21 AM

Thanks guys and I hope this gives you some insight. I really like the analine dyes as they don’t cloud or cover the wood grain like some stains I’ve used. Also, if you get the wood too dark you can wash as much of the dye off as you want by using the same solvent you mixed it with. One other thing I should mention is that I sanded the surface to be stained using 220 grit and 320 grit after the surface dried overnight from the hydrogene peroxide treatment and before applying any dye. Best wishes and it’s really pretty easy as long as you keep a few points in mind.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View Picklehead's profile


1055 posts in 3421 days

#4 posted 03-08-2014 12:09 PM

Good science and documentation. Thanks for all the info. I’m sure your projects turn out great since you obviously think them through well!

-- Quote from ebay tool listing: " Has nicks and dings wear and tear dust and dirt rust and pitting but in good working condition"

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4295 days

#5 posted 03-08-2014 12:23 PM

Gr8 information John. Thnx for your input/output on this subject.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30679 posts in 3829 days

#6 posted 03-08-2014 01:16 PM

Check out the work of LJ Trifern. Very awesome work.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 3784 days

#7 posted 03-08-2014 01:31 PM

Monte—thank you for sharing the reference to that work and the heads up. Trifern crafts some truly amazing and beautiful turnings. For everyone’s convenience, here is the link to trifern’s blog (“2 DYE 4”) on his technique for using analine dye: .

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View JeremyPringle's profile


321 posts in 3965 days

#8 posted 03-10-2014 01:55 AM

Are you going to further the ‘pop’ by putting on a coat of boiled linseed oil? I use aniline as my go-to finish, then BLO and shellac. On a fine woodworking pod cast they interviewed Jeff Jewitt, He explained that certain oils have almost the same refractive number as the wood, which is why it increases the chatoyancy.

View robert triplett's profile

robert triplett

1566 posts in 4596 days

#9 posted 03-10-2014 03:47 AM

I am trying some alcohol dyes right now in a less controlled experiment. I have a friend who did this to the grain on Tiger and Quilted Maple for some guitars. He used a purple color with just a light wash. Then Shellac as a sealer.
thanks for the write-up. It sure is fun to see how you did it.

-- Robert, so much inspiration here, and now time to work!!!

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

27798 posts in 4597 days

#10 posted 07-14-2014 12:58 AM

Thanks for the info, John. I have some maple I want to color when I get the table done and I was jut going to use stain, but dye may be the way to go.

Thanks, Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

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