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Maple- to stain or not to stain?

3210 Views 21 Replies 18 Participants Last post by  SamuraiSaw
A student of mine is building a gun cabinet and used Maple plywood for the main box, with maple hardwood for the face-frame and doors. He is almost done with the build and will soon be moving on to the finishing. I told him to start thinking about color, so he stained a few test pieces but they all came out looking muddied and blotchy.

I know maple takes stain a little different that other hardwoods, but I don't know how the plywood vs. hardwood will turn out. He was originally looking for something darker, but now is thinking straight poly based on the poor results of our test pieces.

Personally, I don't like the "amber-ing" effect Poly has on bare maple. I'm afraid that if he uses Laquer to get a clear finish, by the time he's done he'll be higher than a Georgia Pine. He's really put a lot of time/effort into this, and I'd hate to see him end up with a bad end-result based on poor stain/finish choice.

Does anyone have suggestions as to what to use or past experience finishing Maple?
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I would suggest using the blotch control Charles Neil sells. Lots of info on this site about it. It does work exceptionally well. proper sanding goes a long way towards finishing well also.bob
+1 for a conditioner pre stain
A prestain conditioner, as killerb mentioned, is your best bet for getting maple to stain evenly. It will offer your student the best results with the least amount of drawbacks.

The cabinetmakers way, to get uniform color on blotchy woods like maple and poplar, is tint the topcoat. This will provide the most even color, but requires a bit more finishing skill.

Both will work provide quality results

Get your student to post their finished pics on LJ's! Future craftsmen always motivate seasoned ones.
+ 1 for a conditioner

Another option may be a washcoat of shellac, but may require a little experimentation to get the exact cut needed and not over seal the maple…

A gel stain may help with even penetration as it will sit on the surface (because of the viscosity) and not penetrate as deeply as a wipe on stain. Or avoid a stain all together and try a NGR dye as an alternative. Your student can adjust the color of the dye by increasing or decreasing the concentration. A dye penetrates more evenly than a stain.

Have plenty of sample boards and try the alternatives mentioned above. Prep the sample boards exactly as the cabinet was prepped (for example - sanding the sample boards through all the grits that the cabinet was sanded)
I built a TV shelving unit out of maple, and I had good results with a 1# cut washcoat of shellac, sanded back, then applied an aniline dye (dissolved in water, wipe on, wipe off). Once that was dry, I finished with shellac, but you could really use anything, provided you give the water from the dye plenty of time to dry. It was pretty easy, and the dye came out fairly even.

If the student does use a dye, make sure you stress that it doesn't clean up easily like stain does. Wear nitrile gloves, old clothes, and put down plastic under everything. Dye is probably the hardest, if not near impossible, thing to get out of, well, anything.
Wood Shelf Rectangle Shelving Floor

General dye stain work wonderful on figure maple, good luck…BC


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Depends on what look you're after, but straight Arm-R-Seal does very little yellowing on regular maple and looks quite good, I think.

Oh . . . and I agree that the Charles Neil stuff does wonders if you're staining.
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From my experience, the best way to put striking color in maple is by water soluble analine dye. First choice is medium walnut. See next posting of curly maple cabinets made with maple plywood and solid wood face frames and doors.
The maple plywood and the maple hardwood may take stain differently. Testing samples of both may indicate that you need a pre-stain for the plywood but not the hardwood.

Roger, those are some striking cabinets. Beautiful !
I like your comment about "being higher than a Georgia pine" from lacquer. A good quality respirator and a well ventilated area, or better yet, a spray booth, can help to solve that problem. Is a waterborne finish an option here? If so, waterborne finishes give the best clarity of all, to the point of making darker woods seem "washed out." Another advantage in using either lacquer or a waterborne finish lies in the fact that they can be tinted and sprayed onto the wood to achieve an even colour. Yonak is right about the stain taking differently on plywood vs. the solid maple. Test first, like you've been doing. Finally, based on the youtube videos that I've seen, Charles Neil's pre-stain conditioner might be just the ticket, if you decide that staining is necessary
blotch control Charles Neil then dye---stain has little effect on maple because of the density of the wood

With dye you can get any color you want. I really like antique cherry on maple
2 thoughts here that I have used in the past that turned out great. Woodcraft has a Amber tint that mixes with denatured alcohol that looks great for a lighter finish. Also minwax has a stain called Special Walnut, that is absolutely beautiful. Love using that one, and its not really dark, and would look great for a gun case. I prefer using that on our gun safes that we build. Poly top coat just sets it off. Good luck buddy
I would suggest shellac, impossible to mess up, easy to fix, comes in colors - blond, amber & garnet.
Even after applied, if something darker is desired, it can be applied over the shellac without and problems. From the description, I would suggest garnet shellac, from flakes & mix it yourself.
Of course, testing on a scrap is the best way to make sure of the results being satisfactory.
thanks guys, he should be finishing the big door this week and getting ready to stain in the next few days. I'll let you know and post a link to the project when he's done.
Wood gun cabinets are not theft-proof. Ask me how I know.
Another choice is Gel Stain. I used it on the towel cabinet in my projects and granted it was on red oak but it was a mix of QS red oak hardwood, QS red oak plywood (for the top) and regular red oak ply for the carcase. Gel stain was incredibly easy to apply and it made me feel like I knew what I was doing in the finishing phase which I really don't :)
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