I made a commitment to myself a number of years ago to learn about dyes. Looking back on that now, there are a lot of mile markers in that journey that are worthy of note. The ones that I will mention here include the first day-long class in wood finishing that I wrote and presented. That class has probably been presented at least 16 times since then. In the mean time, the introduction of the VB5 spray stain base by M.L. Campbell really made a difference in the flexible use of their dyes. And finally, the flexibility that my job allows has let me explore new ideas and techniques. That experimentation has made it possible for me to come to a much fuller understanding of how dyes can be used to create new colors on wood.

Why use dyes? Because dyes are completely transparent. There is nothing within them to muddy the finish. That’s not true of pigment-based coloring systems. Also, dyes can make certain woods “pop” with an iridescence that is amazing to see.

I’m the “inside guy.” My job is to run the color studio and to create colors and finishing processes for our customers. I am also the technical sales specialist responsible for knowing how to make all the M.L. Campbell products work in harmony. As the M.L. Campbell logo says, we sell wood finishing systems. One component of those systems is a series of dye concentrates and pre-mixed dyes that color wood.

MLC dyes are textile-based dyes. They are not aniline dyes. As such, the same dye that colors the threads in your shirt or jeans is used to color your woodworking project. Textile dyes are much more colorfast than anilines. That’s important because you want the same color in your project next year as you have the day you apply it. I have seen a number of examples with other kinds of dyes where the reds and yellows fade quickly.

M.L. Campbell’s pre-mixed dyes are sold under the brand name Microton. They come in a number of wood tones as well as in red, yellow, orange, and black. The dye is suspended in acetone. These are my “go-to” colors and I use them daily. Used individually or in combination, I can create an almost infinite pallet of colors. I can spray them directly on the wood or on top of a seal coat. I can mix them in a spray stain base. I can mix them in a clear lacquer and apply them as a colored lacquer. I can shade and tone and “tweak” with them.

I always proceed from the same beginning. I start with a small, 100-gram sample of what I think will work. With a gram scale, I can mix any combination or ratio, come up with a small, spray-able amount, and apply it while expending only a few cents if the color is not right. If it’s not, I just discard that in the waste barrel and move on. If it’s right, I can use that 100-gram formula to create whatever quantity I need for the project at hand.

I have, perhaps, 50 small bottles on my bench top. In each is a particular strength of a given Microton mixed into either a VB5 base or a wiping stain base. If I am matching a color, I can just grab that bottle and use a small amount to see if I am on the right track. Again, these are my “go-to” colors that I use daily. Having them pre-mixed on the bench top in 100-gram quantities is very efficient for me. I organize them by the color and almost all of them are mixed in spray stain base. This allows me the ability to use them as a shader or, in a stronger version, as a dye to kick a particular wood in the direction I want to go. For example, if I want to make maple look like walnut, I must start that transformation with a dye applied directly on the wood.

This is enough for today. We will explore more of this in upcoming issues.

Until then…spray on!

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