Using Wipe Stains to Add Color to Wood Projects

By Bernie Bottens | Posted: 05/25/2012 11:45AM

 

• Spray and Wipe Stains

• No-wipe stains

• Wiping Stains

• Spray-only stains

• “Fogging on” a wipe stain

All of the above are phrases we hear in the finishing shops as well as around my color studio and classroom. Today we are going to walk out on a very slippery slope and try to get you all safely back where you need to be. Misuse of these application techniques can be disastrous.

I have five different phrases for color application in my list. There is one word that is common to four of the five.

To wipe or not to wipe: That is the question. If it says wipe on the can, you better wipe off the excess stain with a rag. The slope gets really slippery when you ignore that edict.

Last week I ended my article on blotching by saying that we were going to take a look at what to do if you apply a wiping stain and, for whatever reason, the intensity of color is not enough. Here we go!

I began the way that I did today because I wanted to focus on those five phrases. Then, I want to leave no doubt in your mind that if you are using a wipe stain then you need to thoroughly wipe off the residue. It matters not if you applied the stain with a spray gun, a rag, a brush, or by any other means. Failure to adequately wipe off the excess can cause disastrous results down the road. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about finishers “fogging on” wipe stains to increase the color intensity of their stain job. It makes my blood run cold!

Wiping stains usually (but not always) contain some form of a mild binder to help the pigment attach itself to the wood. But, unlike a film-forming finish such as lacquer, urethane, polyurethane, etc., the binder involved is not designed to stand up to the serious abuse of day-to-day life as a wood coating.

What so often happens to inadequately wiped stain in a lacquer-based system is that the excess will appear to have survived the first seal coat put on top of it. But what actually occurs is that the lacquer rewets that stain binder, which allows the lacquer and the binder to “mingle.” Now the lacquer loses some of its chemical characteristics that give it durability and resistance due to an influx of an overabundance of soft and easy binders, pigment and whatever. Perhaps the lacquer undergoes an identity crisis. It doesn’t know if it’s a lacquer or a stain. When the second clear coat is applied, that seal coat reaches a tipping point. It can’t stand up to the chemical onslaught and the seal coat/stain wrinkles.

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If you’ve never seen this before, you are lucky. If you have experienced this then you know what ugly really looks like. That feeling in the pit of your stomach signals the beginning of a very bad day for you. There is not much left for you to do at that point except to strip and start over.

Another alternative to the immediate wrinkling is a more durable seal coat scenario in which the second coat dries uneventfully. Then, a year or so down the road your client calls you one day saying that the finish is falling off their cabinets. The binder in the stain let go because there was too much of it and it was never designed to provide inter-coat adhesion.

If fogging on is not the answer. Then, what is the answer?

It’s not the fogging on that’s the bad thing. It’s WHAT you fog on that is the issue. For many shops stepping out onto this slippery slope often seems the only alternative. There’s the pressure to get the job done and out the door and all of that. Usually your finish guy opens a can of stain and sprays it on and wipes it back off and then clear coats it. All is well until some monkey wrench gets thrown in the direction of your smooth operation and the stain job doesn’t turn out correctly. Where things really get slippery is when your finisher really feels hehas no other options than to try to fog on some stain in an effort to quickly and cheaply fix the problem.

I spend a lot of my day making custom stains for people. In addition, I represent a line of products that include 55 stock stains for which I have the formulas. I am able to reproduce them in all of our stain bases. Those are the keys to the magic kingdom!

So many times the parameters set up don’t allow me to be able to accomplish what the shop wants to accomplish in one step. They may have a control sample that I am to match that defies their usual means of application. If the control is obviously a dye and a wipe stain combination or a wipe stain with a shader over the top, there are often good reasons for that combination having been used. As much as you might like to believe that you can achieve that color in one step, it may actually take two steps…or more.

I said last week that knowing the formula for the wipe stain can be a great help to you. Shop owners, go ally yourself with a distributor who has a full-service tint facility available. Then, go have them make your stains. The day will come when you need that dye and a wipe or wipe and a shader. You will appreciate my encouragement.

There is such a thing as a shader. It is a spray-on color coat that is designed to “shade in” the color intensity that you want. If you know the stain formula, you know the recipe for that shader.

Shaders are mixed either in a special spray stain base or in a diluted clear coat formulation. They have the binders and the chemical resistance and sticking power needed to be applied between clear coats. They can save you a lot of heartache. You should ally yourself with someone who knows the ins and outs of shading and learn this advanced finishing technique so that you can successfully alter a wipe stain that is not intense enough for you needs. Just remember this. If it says wipe stain…then wipe off the excess.

Until next time…spray on!

 

About the Author

Bernie Bottens

Bernie Bottens (WoodworkingNetwork.com/blogs)writes 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 kapenterprises@msn.com.

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