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End grain not taking stain at all

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Forum topic by houstonheights72 posted 04-19-2020 10:11 PM 511 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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houstonheights72

7 posts in 87 days


04-19-2020 10:11 PM

Hi, new here.
My partner Anna and I have gotten into doing some small projects and have enjoyed learning something new on each one.

We’ve run into a problem on our most recent project that we thought would be relatively straight forward. It appears to be the exact opposite issue most people have with staining end grain.

This desk was in rough shape when we found it and required a fair amount of repair. It had many coats of paint over the years, and we decided pretty early on to let the “character” show through in the finished product.

The story:
We found a desk on the side of the road, took it home, stripped it of all it’s paint (using a chemical stripper), sanded it down and stained it (Minwax pre-stain conditioner first then Minwax puritan pine color).

The problem:
The rounded edges that are almost cross-grain (pictures included) did not take up any of the stain. We are curious how we can remediate this because the cross-grain edges remain distinctly lighter in color then the rest of the desk. it just looks wonky.

Notes:
-The desk is solid wood through and through
-Flat surfaces are sanded to 220 grit
-Edges are 150 final grit (they were 220, but after not staining, I resanded them starting with 80, then 100, then 150, which is where i left them.
-Please see the attached pictures of the finished desk w/ it’s wonky edges.

Any help would be appreciated.


17 replies so far

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

2762 posts in 1384 days


#1 posted 04-19-2020 10:27 PM

Welcome!

2 possibilities come to mind. I’m thinking it might be solid wood but that doesn’t mean the top layer of solid wood isn’t a thin veneer.

Or…You didn’t sand the rest of the desk down to bare wood. Using 80 grit is pretty aggressive. if you get it so it is all uniform try a sanding sealer before staining.

Edit…Looking more closely I’m leaning towards the old finish has been sanded off of the edges and curves as it looks like the grain pattern from the top continues on the edges. Try sanding more of the top or the front of one of those drawers with 80 grit and see what happens. I’m thinking you just have a lot more sanding to do to remove the original finish off of the rest of the desk. Look at it as an opportunity to make it look really nice.

Also, if the rest of the desk took well to the stain what are those light spots I circled? Seems like that is the real color of the wood? Sand that top back a little further with 80 grit and see what happens.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

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houstonheights72

7 posts in 87 days


#2 posted 04-19-2020 11:15 PM

Those areas are some of the original paint that is left behind in some of the divots. We just stained over the top of those. As I said, the desk was in rough shape when we found it. Leaving some of the paint behind was a conscious decision. I hate the term :shabby chic” but I suppose that’s what it is.

There is definitely not a veneer on it.

Looks like I have more sanding to do on these radiuses.
Any tips on technique? I cut strips, and used sort of a “shoe shine” type maneuver in order to sand with the grain.

View CaptainKlutz's profile

CaptainKlutz

3224 posts in 2275 days


#3 posted 04-19-2020 11:32 PM

Welcome to LumberJocks!

Pictures don’t show enough detail, even when zoomed it, so can only guess what is happening?

Here are my thoughts:
Appears the problems are related to end grain.
Does the white areas or end grain absorb water or solvent?
If NO, then it becomes harder to add color to wood.

Have seen a commercial technique used where the wood grain is completely sealed with acrylic sealers, including end grain; then color added with toner added to top coats. Best analogy is painting on wood color?
This industrial finishing method is much faster than traditional methods, as robots can spray on any color at end of line. The desk design is standard high volume office furniture from 70-80’s, which was when that kind of wood finishing was popular. The process could be setup to ignore variations in wood color or species, as the sealer could have white transparent pigment added, so every item looked same as it left factory.

If my SWAG is true: Only two solutions I can think of:

1) Completely removing the sealer in a commercial refinishing dip tank, and/or extremely aggressive sanding.
Test all surfaces for solvent absorption before staining, keep stripping till it absorbs. Then start over.

2) Add some matching dye as toner to a top coat. Then use an artists air brush to color match the preferred stain color. This same method can be used with dark brown/black dye, pigment stain, or even artist acrylics colors to add fake distress to projects. You might be able to use dark brown color on white edges to show distress and reduce any remaining white from being noticed as defect? You can find all kinds of online posts about distressing using selective painting, if you want to know about how this furniture finish repair method works.

PS – #IAMAKLUTZ, not an expert. Smarter folks might have better ideas.

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View JohnMcClure's profile

JohnMcClure

1022 posts in 1421 days


#4 posted 04-19-2020 11:34 PM

“Shoe shine” is good, but a semi solid backer like a sponge may let you use more pressure.
A sanding sponge is cheap and perfect for this.

-- I'd rather be a hammer than a nail

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

2762 posts in 1384 days


#5 posted 04-19-2020 11:42 PM

So, was the whole desk was the uniform color of the radii after sanding and you stained it the color that it is now and that’s how it turned out?? If anything, the end grain would be darker as it would soak up more stain. Still think sanding the curves more isn’t your main problem. If you tried sealer then maybe a gel stain instead after you resand it.

I’ll let somebody else respond.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View houstonheights72's profile

houstonheights72

7 posts in 87 days


#6 posted 04-20-2020 12:04 AM

Yes, it was uniform when it was bare wood. Looked great until stain. And I like how the rest of the desk took the stain.
I was thinking of a different type of stain or wood dye just for those radius areas might be needed. I just worry about getting the match right.

I have literally no money in this thing, aside from the cost of the stripper, so I may just go ahead and treat this as a test piece to learn some things. Maybe. ha

View bilyo's profile

bilyo

1112 posts in 1883 days


#7 posted 04-20-2020 03:08 AM

I agree with the above comments suggesting that the end grain, in particular, are choked with the original finish and//or paint. Think of a soda straw plugged with mud. I agree with Andy. Get some General Finishes oil based gel stain of what ever color you like.
https://www.amazon.com/General-Finishes-JQ-Stain-Quart/dp/B001DSY50Y/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=gel+stain&qid=1587351579&sr=8-1
Apply it according to instructions. Like any other stain, you leave it on for a while and then wipe off the excess. However, with gel stain, as you wipe, you can leave more in some areas and less in others as you try to blend or even the color. Gel stain tends to stay on the surface and doesn’t depend on soaking into the wood to enhance the color. If the first coat is not dark enough, you can add another coat. If you are still not happy with it, you can add color tint (Transtint is one product) to shellac and use an airbrush to add more color to any area you like.

Once you get the color you want, spray on a coat of dewaxed shellac (look for Zinsser Seal Coat). This will seal the gel stain and prevent the finish coat from streaking it. Sand lightly with 220 grit and then apply your finish of choice.

For future reference, I don’t think you needed the pre-conditioner in this instance. This product is usually used on raw wood. This might be, at least, a partial source of your problem. However, I wouldn’t try to remove it now. Just proceed with the gel stain.

View SMP's profile

SMP

2143 posts in 686 days


#8 posted 04-20-2020 04:45 AM

I don’t always sand with the grain. Especially on end grain like that. I just make sure to step through each grit and give each one enough time to get the scratches out from previous grit.

View tvrgeek's profile

tvrgeek

993 posts in 2430 days


#9 posted 04-20-2020 09:29 AM

Adding to bilyo

I have used a dry-brush technique to basically “paint” stain to even things out.

I think the best answer for that desk is a nice crisp coat of… paint.

View therealSteveN's profile

therealSteveN

5787 posts in 1355 days


#10 posted 04-20-2020 12:59 PM

Not knowing what process was used, you will not have an idea of how deeply you would need to sand to get past it. Keeping in mind end grain is a trees original drinking system. Depending on species, some of them can be quite thirsty.

The only thing I can suggest to try, if simply sanding isn’t helping is to assume the end grain is packed with Shellac. Shellac being the cheapest used sealer, it’s possibly all you need to do is liquefy the shellac again. Prior to application of any more stains, or top coating, first take a heat gun to the end grain, and get it warmed up. sometimes heat alone, or heat and moisture (water only around heat) will do the job of removing shellac. If that does nothing, I’d try some Denatured Alcohol. DA is used to liquefy shellac flakes. If you get nowhere doing that, I’d paint it. Just be real cautious with heat, and Denatured Alcohol, or you may get some unexpected flames/fire. Don’t use them at the same time.

A lot of the Milk paints, are quite nice looking, and you can easily color match your other pieces.

-- Think safe, be safe

View houstonheights72's profile

houstonheights72

7 posts in 87 days


#11 posted 04-20-2020 01:15 PM

Thanks all!
I think I will try the gel stain when I get the opportunity.
We will see what happens.

View houstonheights72's profile

houstonheights72

7 posts in 87 days


#12 posted 04-20-2020 04:08 PM


Not knowing what process was used, you will not have an idea of how deeply you would need to sand to get past it. Keeping in mind end grain is a trees original drinking system. Depending on species, some of them can be quite thirsty.

The only thing I can suggest to try, if simply sanding isn t helping is to assume the end grain is packed with Shellac. Shellac being the cheapest used sealer, it s possibly all you need to do is liquefy the shellac again. Prior to application of any more stains, or top coating, first take a heat gun to the end grain, and get it warmed up. sometimes heat alone, or heat and moisture (water only around heat) will do the job of removing shellac. If that does nothing, I d try some Denatured Alcohol. DA is used to liquefy shellac flakes. If you get nowhere doing that, I d paint it. Just be real cautious with heat, and Denatured Alcohol, or you may get some unexpected flames/fire. Don t use them at the same time.

A lot of the Milk paints, are quite nice looking, and you can easily color match your other pieces.

- therealSteveN

Yeah, I think it’s still thirsty. HA

It will stain somewhat as I apply it, but if you stand there and watch, it will disappear in a matter of seconds. Like it just being pulled into the wood, away from the surface.
That;s why I am assuming I will need to go with a different type of stain.
I think I am going to see this through and not paint it. If nothing else, just to see if I can learn anything from this.

View houstonheights72's profile

houstonheights72

7 posts in 87 days


#13 posted 04-21-2020 02:09 AM



Welcome to LumberJocks!

Pictures don t show enough detail, even when zoomed it, so can only guess what is happening?

Here are my thoughts:
Appears the problems are related to end grain.
Does the white areas or end grain absorb water or solvent?
If NO, then it becomes harder to add color to wood.

Have seen a commercial technique used where the wood grain is completely sealed with acrylic sealers, including end grain; then color added with toner added to top coats. Best analogy is painting on wood color?
This industrial finishing method is much faster than traditional methods, as robots can spray on any color at end of line. The desk design is standard high volume office furniture from 70-80 s, which was when that kind of wood finishing was popular. The process could be setup to ignore variations in wood color or species, as the sealer could have white transparent pigment added, so every item looked same as it left factory.

If my SWAG is true: Only two solutions I can think of:

1) Completely removing the sealer in a commercial refinishing dip tank, and/or extremely aggressive sanding.
Test all surfaces for solvent absorption before staining, keep stripping till it absorbs. Then start over.

2) Add some matching dye as toner to a top coat. Then use an artists air brush to color match the preferred stain color. This same method can be used with dark brown/black dye, pigment stain, or even artist acrylics colors to add fake distress to projects. You might be able to use dark brown color on white edges to show distress and reduce any remaining white from being noticed as defect? You can find all kinds of online posts about distressing using selective painting, if you want to know about how this furniture finish repair method works.

PS – #IAMAKLUTZ, not an expert. Smarter folks might have better ideas.

- CaptainKlutz

Sorry, I had missed your post entirely somehow.
I will get some better pictures tomorrow.

To answer one of your questions, the color goes on to that area, and you can literally watch is disappear as it soaks in. I think I will try some gel stain, and see if that can work. I also wonder if maybe I should try what one would do to avoid over dark end grain and sand it to a higher grit. The hope is that maybe it wouldn’t soak in so much and therefore retain some of the color?

View Robert's profile

Robert

3755 posts in 2262 days


#14 posted 04-21-2020 03:24 PM

Wood structure is like a bundle of straws. The end grain is the cut end of the straw bundle, so it will soak up much more stain/finish. (Remember the dyed water and celery stalk experiment from grade school?)

Sanding the end grain to a higher grit effectively “burnishing” the wood tends to seal up the channels. Typically end grain is sanding up to 400-600 grit.

You can also selectively re-stain the end grain or try a gel stain.

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

View splintergroup's profile

splintergroup

3804 posts in 2003 days


#15 posted 04-21-2020 07:31 PM

Yes, the “sucking” effect makes my initial cause guess (end grain was well sealed) wrong. Gel stain should do the trick or even some dye.

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