How To Get Dark Cabinet Colors? Use a Dye and Wipe Stain.

By Bernie Bottens | Posted: 08/02/2012 4:19PM


A finishing option helpful in increasing color intensity is the dye and wipe stain. In this system, a dye is applied prior to the wipe stain.

With popular trends in kitchen cabinet colors continuing to lean towards darker, more furniture-like colors, it is frankly hard to reach that look in one step. Depending on the look required and the species of wood involved, a dye and a wipe may be the ticket.

Let’s consider, for a moment, the all-too- often seen case of trying to make maple look like something else. Usually this is mahogany or something towards a walnut look. We all know maple’s inclination towards blotching no matter how “mild” of a wipe stain is applied. Furthermore, it is pretty tough to get it to move in the direction of a dark, intense color with just a wiping stain because its structural hardness makes it reluctant to “take” the stain.

The answer is to strongly “kick” the wood in the direction that you want to go by applying a dye. The functions of the dye are to provide that strong movement, to change that yellow/white background color of the maple to something darker, and to give that follow-on wipe stain the chance to finish that movement to the intensity and richness that we want. But just as important, let’s not forget that dyes do not mark the grain and we will need to wipe stain to accomplish that for us.

Dyes, a spray-applied product, adhere to the same application rules as shaders: they are low-viscosity coatings; they will, undoubtedly, need to be applied in multiple passes; they will create haloing in inside corners, and the need for a good HVLP, compliant, or conventional spray gun for application are a must.

One thing to remember is that the dye can, and will, under most circumstances, be rewetted by the wipe stain. So a certain amount of the dye will be mopped up when wiping the wipe stain. You need to think about this and have a solution included in your finishing system least you realize too late that you are chasing your tail. CWB

Bernie Bottens teaches finishing in industrial woodworking to shop owners, foremen, spray technicians and finishers all over the Pacific Northwest. Reach him at


Search for more articles >

About the Author

Bernie Bottens

Bernie Bottens ( and teaches on the subject of wood and wood finishing in industrial woodworking. He and his wife, Carol, live in Vancouver, WA. Bernie has been teaching wood finishing to shop owners, shop foremen, spray technicians and finishers all over Oregon, southwest Washington, and northern California for the past 9 years. Prior to that, he owned his own cabinet shop. His shop credentials include apprenticing and becoming a journeyman exhibit builder. Before that he taught in the public schools for 20 years. Bernie is the owner of Kapellmeister Enterprises, Inc. and Kap Coatings Consulting. Reach him at

Comments (1) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

Ed Strahota    
Mendota, IL  |  August, 13, 2012 at 01:57 PM

Hi Bernie, I did a lot of finishing in the past, and this was a common technique... you've covered some of the nuance that goes along with this technique, well done! We used a lot of aniline dyes suspended in alcohol, but today there are plenty of water-based dyes to choose from, and they are supposed to perform better! There is nothing like getting that dark mahogany color out of a wipe and stain on top of a birch or alder...


Search our database for woodworking equipment, supplies and services:

Select a category:

Feedback Form
Feedback Form