stains vs dyes

  • Advertise with us

« back to Finishing forum

Forum topic by mporter posted 03-02-2013 11:06 PM 1456 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View mporter's profile


253 posts in 3136 days

03-02-2013 11:06 PM

Ok, so what is the difference? I know it is probably a stupid question, but I have no idea what the answer is. I know that dyes are mixed with either water or alcohol but are you just making a stain?

12 replies so far

View killerb's profile


150 posts in 2957 days

#1 posted 03-02-2013 11:25 PM

Stains are made with a combination of dyes and pigments. That is why you have to stir or shake them is to mix the ingredients. Dry are powders[the kind I use is] or liquids[like transtint]. The dye is mixed in the base you want, oil[mineral spirits], alcohol or water. You can get metal complex dyes which can be mixed in either water or alcohol. Dyes are clear when dry. You see every bit of the grain. Stains with pigments can muddy the surface or if applied very heavy and not wiped, they will obscure the grain. I use dyes as it lets me put great color and still allow all the figure to come out. You can use a combination of both for different effects. There is a whole lot more that could be said, but this is the basic part. Hope it helps. bob

-- Bob

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2920 days

#2 posted 03-03-2013 12:15 AM

Good summary. No more needs to be said.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View ScottinTexas's profile


108 posts in 2507 days

#3 posted 03-03-2013 01:09 AM

Dyes are more prone to fade with sunlight. Pigments are colored particles and can actually protect the wood like a sunblock – like outdoor stains which are “semi-transparent.” Pigment stains are like paint IMO.

View NGK's profile


93 posts in 2469 days

#4 posted 03-04-2013 05:06 AM

Previous posts basically covered the waterfront. Not mentioned was the rapid, almost instantaneous, drying speed of alcohol in particular. With dyes and alcohol you can use a sprayer and/or mister and use multiple LIGHT coats to get the final color desired.

If you mix dyes with water, drying time is longer. With spirit-based stains the wait is intermediate. And then there is the possibility of adding stain to your spirit-based finish such as polyethylene and other varnishes. However in the later case, if you chip the varnish, you tend to remove the stain too, making it harder to repair.

Many prefer lacquer over any of the coloring or staining methods because it dries so quickly and you only need to do much sanding after the FIRST coat. DEFT brand is a popular one and comes in aersol cans with that wonderful “directional” spray tip—about $6 per can at Lowe’s and Menards

View pintodeluxe's profile


6013 posts in 3372 days

#5 posted 03-04-2013 07:59 AM

I hear about these 17 step finishing processes, and have to chuckle to myself. I learned a lot about staining and finishing from my Dad, when I was a teenager. Not much has changed. Although I spray my topcoats now, I still favor oil based stain and two coats of lacquer. That’s three steps. I can handle that.
As far as obscuring the grain, that depends on the brand of stain. Rodda is one of the very best. Varathane is pretty good too. It does not obscure the grain, just brings out the figure in a natural way.

Try some test samples to find your perfect finish. Be sure to topcoat them as well. Adding a topcoat like lacquer, shellac, or poly will add depth to the color and usually changes the color somewhat. Consider things like ease of use, dry time, and repeatability if you plan to build multiple pieces of furniture.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 2651 days

#6 posted 03-04-2013 11:14 AM

Pigments can obscure the grain. Or they can accent it. Dyes will color the piece more or less evenly. Most commercial strains are a mixture of dyes and pigments.

View BBrown626's profile


37 posts in 2519 days

#7 posted 03-06-2013 02:24 AM

Spraying a solvent based dye and not wiping it will avoid blotching in Maple, Pine and other woods with a confused grain. It mutes the grain, though it is still visible.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3717 days

#8 posted 03-06-2013 04:35 AM

There can be a lot of problems with stains, Willie. That’s difficult for beginners to figure out.

And putting some dye in a shellac and spraying with it is a one step process…and it’s accomplished much faster that an oil-based stain because it takes a LONG time to dry.

I’m not sure why people think its so hard. It’s the simplest approach I’ve found.

-- jay,

View pintodeluxe's profile


6013 posts in 3372 days

#9 posted 04-12-2013 11:29 PM

Adding dye or universal colorant to a topcoat finish such as shellac or lacquer is called tinting. Some people refer to it as toning. It is one of the most difficult techniques to master.
It is a spray-only technique. You have to be careful of runs and drips, because the color gets concentrated there.
Tinting is always my last choice, and I only use it for darkening projects that are already finished.

It’s kind of like an Adam Sandler movie: I secretly enjoy it, but wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2669 days

#10 posted 04-13-2013 12:32 AM

Dyes ARE stains… Stains can also use pigments… A “stain” can be anything liquid that colors the wood, including tea, crushed berries, and coffee. Add enough pigment to make it opaque, and it’s “paint”.

Manufacturers of professional finishing products sell dye stains, pigment stains, dye powders and/or concentrates, as well as raw pigment. Home center and paint store “stains” are typically combinations of both dyes and pigments mixed with an oil or water based varnish binder, with the exception of Minwax Natural, which is pretty much a thinned varnish and linseed oil, with no dye or pigment at all. Minwax Red Mahogany may be 100% pigment, as it goes on like a paint.

The main difference to know is that dye soaks in, pigment sits on top. At different times, both properties can be both a plus and a minus, depending on the look you’re trying to achieve. For example… dye “blotches” some woods. Blotching can look horrible on plain sawn birch, but blotching is what causes figure to pop on figured woods, like curly or birdseye maple. Pigment can hide figure on something like curly maple, and wipe off the smooth surface, leaving an ugly, streaky look. On the other hand, pigment will lodge in the pores of open pored woods, like the oaks, ash, etc… accentuating them. Using both can create a complex, multi-layered finish.

The takeaway is to understand what you have as a finishing product, know what look you’re pursuing, and learn through prepared practice panels. A prepared practice panel is simply a piece of wood or plywood that has been sanded or planed to a finish exactly like your work, where you apply every finish step, and keep track of the details. If you’re happy with the look, you exactly follow the steps on the back of the practice panel to duplicate the finish on your project.

View NGK's profile


93 posts in 2469 days

#11 posted 04-13-2013 01:02 AM

And add another natural home-made stain. When you shuck your black walnuts out of their pulpy coating, let the hulls dry, then store them dry for later use. One use is to create a stain or pigment on wood. Just soak some overnight in a solvent of your choice, like water or alcohol or lacquer thinner, etc, etc. and use like you would any other stain or pigment.

For the fisherman there is the unique use my grandfather showed me 60 years ago. Soak the shucks in water, then pour the solution on top of soil where night crawlers or earthworms are known to habitat. Those little (or big) suckers just hate the walnutty solution and will come barreling to the surface for easy picking.

View Fuzzy's profile


298 posts in 4547 days

#12 posted 04-14-2013 03:14 AM

Most “stains” contain “carriers” which are, to some extent a finish/sealer with the actual colorant dispersed in it. With true dyes, you can layer them to obtain your desired color & intensity … with “stains” such as MinWax, you really only get one shot at it, because the carrier seals the surface enough that you don’t get much, if any effect from additional coats. Also, if you use a dye and don’t get your desired result, you can use household bleach to get it out and start over … something you will NEVER do with a stain.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics