Wood and stain/dye help

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Forum topic by justwingit posted 05-28-2019 11:01 PM 307 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View justwingit's profile


25 posts in 288 days

05-28-2019 11:01 PM

Hey all I’m starting my first hardwood project tomorrow. Im making a dining room table (round about 48 inch) hopefully closer to 2 inches think as opposed to one.
My goal is to use Walnut though costs/stock at the lumberyard might be prohibitive. As such, they carry the following woods:
Alder, Ash, Birch, Cedar, Cherry, EW Pine, Hard Maple, Hickory, Mahogany, Poplar, Red Birch, Red Oak, Soft Maple, VG Fir, Walnut, White Oak
if I can’t do walnut which one wood take a darker stain well. I like the look of maple but saw some stained maple I was unimpressed with. Any thoughts appreciated.

15 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


2483 posts in 2306 days

#1 posted 05-28-2019 11:18 PM

Terrible idea to try and make a inexpensive wood look like Walnut.
I been asked this from potential customers alot this past year the answer would be written in my face.

-- Aj

View LesB's profile


2201 posts in 3951 days

#2 posted 05-28-2019 11:51 PM

I would suggest you go with Cherry. It is relatively easy to work with and because the natural color can vary a little from board to board I would suggest you stain the whole table with a dark cherry stain to even it out. Over time the cherry will darken more and come close to the dark wood coloring you are looking for.

Alder can be stained as dark as walnut and would be the closest in wood grain patterns to Walnut. It is a softer wood than cherry or walnut.

Now, Cedar, Pine, Popular, Fir, and Maples will not be good choices; first because most of them are rather soft wood and will be easy to damage in use; second most of them are difficult to stain.

Mahogany can be stained darker but depending on the variety is can have a open grain that would need to be filled before you stain and finish it. I don’t think hickory, hard maple, or the oaks will give you the results you want.

-- Les B, Oregon

View CWWoodworking's profile


528 posts in 687 days

#3 posted 05-28-2019 11:53 PM

Pony up the extra money and get what you want. The extra 200$ is well worth it. Look at it this way, your getting a very expensive table at a fraction of the cost if you just figure materials.

If you want to go cheap, I like birch. Needs to be sanded a lot and a multi step, dye stained finish will be required.

View Rich's profile


4983 posts in 1098 days

#4 posted 05-29-2019 12:21 AM

Alder would be a good choice. The other woods you name are either bad choices because the result will be awful (pine), or too nice on their own like cherry or white oak. Those aren’t cheap either. Alder is one of the most affordable woods out there and so it lends itself to coloring nicely.

It takes dye beautifully, although it’s prone to blotching, so you need to deal with that. Do the blotch control right and apply the dye correctly and you’ll have a really nice result. It won’t have the same grain pattern as walnut, but it’ll be nice nonetheless.

Now the hard part starts. You need to research and understand blotch control. You need to research how to apply dye such that you get a perfectly even color without streaking and sharp edges. I’d recommend getting a piece of alder and practice, practice, practice. Then practice some more. Dying alder can yield beautiful results, or it can turn into a blotchy, uneven mess if you screw it up.

BTW, like Aj2, I don’t recommend dying woods to look like other woods to my customers either. Not because you can’t get a good result, but because the cost of my labor to do the dye job will exceed the additional cost of buying the premium wood. I’m doing a job right now in walnut. It would cost more to buy alder and then pay me my hourly rate to dye it than it does just to buy the walnut in the first place.

-- There are 10 types of people—those who understand binary, and those who don’t

View Aj2's profile


2483 posts in 2306 days

#5 posted 05-29-2019 12:31 AM

I agree Rich. Sometimes I will something that looks like walnut I really have to look close to see.
So I know it can be done it just takes lots of Skills or knowledge or both. And then to do a good job that costs less then the wood one is trying to imitate.
Not worth it to me.
Good Luck everyone

-- Aj

View CWWoodworking's profile


528 posts in 687 days

#6 posted 05-29-2019 12:34 AM

Alder would be a good choice.
- Rich

I love the way alder looks. But Unless it’s just for looks, IMO, alder isn’t good for a dining table. Just too soft.

View Rich's profile


4983 posts in 1098 days

#7 posted 05-29-2019 12:56 AM

- CWWoodworking

It is definitely softer than say, cherry or walnut, but none of those woods are going to stand up to much hard use. Besides, the OP was specifically asking about affordable woods that take color well, and alder is an excellent choice given those criteria.

If the question had been what’s an excellent wood to build a beautiful table that my great great grandkids can inherit, I’d say mesquite. But that wasn’t the question.

-- There are 10 types of people—those who understand binary, and those who don’t

View justwingit's profile


25 posts in 288 days

#8 posted 05-29-2019 01:34 AM

Thank you all, my heart is def in the dark walnut and while it aint cheap I have enough on hand to do it. The idea of learning the art of blotch reduction to get something that MIGHT look close probably isn’t worth it. In a decade the 200$ probably won’t matter. I like cherry too, I’ll have to see if the boss (my wife) chooses more $ for the darker look she likes or less $ for the cherry. I have a feeling walnut it is ;)

View LittleShaver's profile


586 posts in 1128 days

#9 posted 05-29-2019 12:35 PM

Personally, I try to avoid dyes and stains. If I want a dark finish, I buy a dark wood. That being the case, I usually plan for as much time for finishing as I do for building. Finishing is at least half of the project’s look and feel. Expend effort accordingly.

-- Sawdust Maker

View HokieKen's profile


10914 posts in 1647 days

#10 posted 05-29-2019 12:42 PM

No offense meant but, making a Walnut dining room table for your “first hardwood project” is not advisable. There are lots of issues to tackle between here and finish. Just my $.02 ;-)

Aside from that, as advised above, trying to make one wood look like another wood rarely, if ever, results in an attractive piece. I would either buy the Walnut or buy another wood and expect the finished piece to look like that.

Best of luck to you! Hope it comes out great :-)

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View Robert's profile


3537 posts in 1989 days

#11 posted 05-29-2019 01:31 PM

My recommendation on the walnut is to seal it with a couple coats of thinned dewaxed shellac (Zinsser Sealcoat) then apply a durable top coat. Finishing is going to be your biggest challenge as a beginner. You really want a durable surface. Spraying is really the best way to go. I recently used the conversion varnish by Target and love it. (EM8000CV)

I love working with walnut!!

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View JADobson's profile


1445 posts in 2619 days

#12 posted 05-29-2019 02:35 PM

This is alder stained with a miniwax “special walnut”. Wasn’t trying to replicate walnut but the client wanted something unspecifically “dark”. Haven’t quite finished filling the recesses with maple inserts yet.

-- No craft is very far from the line beyond which is magic. -- Lord Dunsany — Instagram @grailwoodworks

View OSU55's profile


2404 posts in 2498 days

#13 posted 05-30-2019 12:04 AM

I agree that making your 1st project out of the walnut you have on hand is probably not for the best.

1) you may not have enough to get thru the mistakes of a first timer
2) you will most likely realize all kinds of mistakes you didnt catch after you have had it for a while

You might think about saving the walnut and subbing in a cheaper wood for practice. Think about how you could use the table later on when you do make one with walnut.

Lots of varying opinions on whether to color wood. I hate painting furniture but I have no issues with coloring the wood. While some think staining a light wood like alder or something dark is an attempt to fool lookers into thinking its walnut or ebony or whatever, they dont seem to comprehend that someone may want wood that is dark because they want dark color furniture to fit their desired decor. I dont see anything wrong with it. Hell I’ve got oak kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities done in dark wine (golden oak rehab) – people love it. Nobody asks what wood it is, they just like the way it looks. Since you are just getting started it would be a good time to start on learning finishing, read here.

View justwingit's profile


25 posts in 288 days

#14 posted 05-30-2019 01:34 AM

A couple things, Rich, if you felt your time was wasted Im sorry, but no, I didn’t have my mind made up. Sometimes it helps to have other people put things (especially things costing 800+$) into perspective.

Its far from my first hardwood project, I wrote poorly. Its my first hardwood project that I don’t have wood on hand for or haven’t made in a class. Ive done tables in poplar, mahogany, built in oak, and worked in plenty of different woods. This would be the first project where im prepping the wood.

Im also not against learning more finishing techniques, but rather feel that the risk of blotchiness out weighs the risks of working in a more challenging wood.

Thanks all

View justwingit's profile


25 posts in 288 days

#15 posted 05-30-2019 01:34 AM

that stain on alder look really good. Might have to try that on a project soon

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