I have had a bunch of clients over the years ask me about “putting some color” in their clear lacquer. The idea is, perhaps, to not have to stain the wood, to put the color and the finish on at the same time, and to “kill two birds with one stone.” I have resisted. There are issues here.

First would be failing to get the desired intensity of color before you get to too many mils of coating and second, always needing to scuff between coats for good inter-coat adhesion. When you sand a tinted lacquer, you are removing color. The third is that, down the road, if you happen to scratch the finish accidently and the clear coat comes off, so does the color. Also, I would want to experiment further to check haloing issues in inside corners.

Enough said. Those are the big issues. Recently, I faced a small job that required that I color some birch plywood a very dark color, I decided to give this concept a try just to see what became of it. You see, I had an unfinished framework under a bed that called for my attention. The egg crate-style framework supports the mattress. The framework shows. I wanted to make it disappear. My thought was to use a black dye to quickly make that white birch into nothing more than a shadow.

I started by taking a rag and folding it up into a ball and created a sort of giant felt tip marker. Then, I poured black dye on the rag. I spread the dye on all of the external surfaces of the frame. It goes quickly, gets really black in a hurry, and if you work fast, lap marks are not noticeable. I used M.L. Campbell Black Microton Dye.

Then, I took 6 oz of dye and put it into a gallon of clear and applied that to rotary-cut birch. This not only sealed in the dye but sealed all of the other surfaces not visible from the outside. WOW!!! What it did to the un-dyed portions of the wood was spectacular. Goodbye inexpensive birch. Hello wow factor! It also made the black more intense.

Dyes make the grain “pop.” That is especially true with a grain such as rotary birch where the grain rises and falls like a stormy sea. I was using a 32% solids post-cat so two coats did the trick. It turned that birch a graphite gray color that was really neat.

You could do this with any color. It is quick and easy. But remember the drawbacks I mentioned above. In addition, here’s another issue to deal with if this surface is going to be seen. Lacquers raise the grain and make some fibers stick up. Lacquer always “piles up” next to that fiber and creates kind of a bump. That bump is usually scuffed off during inter-coat sanding. But, now it’s a colored bump and it’s tough to get rid of that darker spot. If this surface is going to be seen up close, I’d put a light sanding seal coat on first and scuff that smooth to get rid of those pesky grain fibers before applying the color.

Until next time…spray on!

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