Help with Waterbased Stain Over Dye Disaster!

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Forum topic by memichael posted 02-02-2017 06:48 PM 1872 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 1936 days

02-02-2017 06:48 PM

Topic tags/keywords: stain dye water based general finishes blotchy streaks problem help


This is my first post and I would like to thank anyone in advance who takes the time to read and respond. I am having some serious issues applying a finish to table tops made from red oak veneer plywood with hardwood trim. I was hired by a restaurant to build a few additional tables to match ones they already have. Through a process of trial and error I reached a finish schedule (stains are all general finishes products) consisting of: Empire Red Water Based Dye, then a mixture of Ebony and Black Cherry Water Based Wood Stain, Zinnser Seal Coat, Java Gel Stain, topcoat. I went through this on smaller sample size pieces so they could select one and they all turned out great. Yesterday I began the process on the table tops, starting with the dye. Today I mixed the stain and applied it. The result was nowhere near what I had achieved on the samples. There are dark patches, streaks, spots that took no stain, you name it. I don’t understand what could have happened to create such disappointing results. I haven’t moved beyond the staining phase yet, as it looks like garbage and I obviously need to figure it out first. I really have no prior experience with water based dyes and stains, but felt confident enough after my sample pieces turn out so well. If anyone can offer some advice that does not involve me scrapping what I have and starting over please share. As I mentioned, the dye is already on all of the table tops and I have only stained the one so far. I will say that the dye wasn’t completely uniform and thus may be causing or contributing to the poor stain job. Should I try to bleach the dye back out? Will sanding help? I know that the oak veneer layer of the plywood is very thin, so sanding isn’t a good choice. Is there a technique to work with the subpar dye job and still make it turn out ok? I know photos would be helpful, but I am not currently at my shop. I’ll try to get something uploaded soon. Any advice in the meantime is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

6 replies so far

View OSU55's profile


3037 posts in 3446 days

#1 posted 02-04-2017 05:28 AM

Very possible the wb stain is lifting the wb dye, for one thing. Don’t say how big your sample pieces were – if small they may not have had the variation present in the table sized veneer. The veneer glue may have seeped into the thin veneer affecting absorption. I would use transtint dye in a 1/2-3/4# cut of shellac to even out the dye, then whatever color in the same cut shellac on top to get what you are after.

View Lazyman's profile


9591 posts in 2844 days

#2 posted 02-04-2017 02:43 PM

You might check the General Finishes website. They have several video tutorials related applying their finishes. I seem to remember that they had some on mixing and matching different colors at least an maybe even something similar to what you are attempting. You might be able to mix the dye and water base stain for example to prevent one from lifting the other? Also, my local Woodcraft store (or was it Rockler) has a GF display for mixing their WB stains to achieve custom color combinations. The GF website might have similar information.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Aj2's profile


4448 posts in 3255 days

#3 posted 02-04-2017 03:12 PM

My first thought was you did testing on solid wood and not plywood.
Staining with that many colors is not something I would want to face.I agree with Osu55 your probably going to have to add shellac to your mix to control your dye.
Good luck


-- Aj

View JBrow's profile


1368 posts in 2377 days

#4 posted 02-04-2017 03:43 PM


I am unable to offer any advice regarding the dying/staining process since I have next to no experience in this domain. However, it seems that since this is a refinishing job and the sample board (presumably red oak plywood) turned out well, I wonder how well the surfaces on the tables were prepared before the dye was applied. If the original finish was not completely removed, I suspect you could observe the results you are now seeing. If the original finish was removed by sanding, the pores of the red oak could still contain some finish that would interfere with dye and stain uptake.

I would expect that restaurant table tops would have originally had a thick coat of the durable finish to protect the wood veneer. If the original finish had worn through in places, there could also be surface contaminates that have soaked into the veneer. If my guess is correct, then chemically removing the original finish would be the best way to go. Unfortunately I cannot advise of the chemical method(s) for completely removing the original finish. As you mention, there is probably an insufficient amount of veneer to sand the original finish completely away.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

7481 posts in 3950 days

#5 posted 02-04-2017 05:13 PM

It sounds to me like the stain is lifting the dye. If you put a water borne something on top of another waterborne something it seldom plays nice. Dewaxed shellac (Seal Coat) between them usually solves the problem. Maybe you should add a layer of Seal coat (or move the one you do apply) between the dye and stain. That said, i agree the stuff said above. If you sample was small (and/or solid wood) you won’t get the full effect of the appearance. I would have probably asked the paint store to custom mix a color to get the effect you need; a good one can come really close with their stains.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View CreativeControl904's profile


6 posts in 1938 days

#6 posted 02-04-2017 06:13 PM

OK so I could write an entire book on what you could/need to do but to keep it short and simple, essentially what you are doing is the same as mixing all the above stains in a cup and not mixing it… there would be separation of different colors in the cup right? The same is happening on your wood because there is no sealer in-between your layers so they’re gonna absorb at different rates and your gonna get a blotchy result. GF sells a Sand and Sealer that you can use between layers. Spay 2 very light coats and sand lightly with 400g and then spray 1 more med coat. Much more compatible with water based than shellac.

As far as removing the colors from the veneer, its gonna be tough getting ALL of the dye out of a veneer without sanding. Hood Finishing sells a product called “purge all” that will take most of the stain out but will be messy so keep that in mind.

IMHO you need to ditch the gel stain all together. Gel stain is intended to revive a colored table of similar color and will burn right though the top coat to penetrate the wood. That could cause the colors to kinda mix and I guarantee thats not what your looking for.

Hope I helped a little bit

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