Wood Dye Stain Technologies

Finely woven Hopi wicker plaques made from rabbitbrush and sumac stems colored with native and commercial dyes. Using either method (or a spray gun) spray light dye coats avoiding overlaps if possible. On the other hand, if the wood has a nicely finished surface, but the grain can barely be seen, staining it works well. For that reason, dyes are transparent, meaning they let light into the wood and do not obscure natural wood figure and overall character. Extracts are more expensive but much less dye is needed to get beautiful color results! Dye won’t reach down deep into the pores, so you might still see tiny spots of white showing through.

If you do not want black dye on your fingers, use rubber gloves when handling the dyed material or just be careful not to touch the material when taking it out of the final solution. K. J. Yong, I. H. Kim and S.W. Nam, Journal of the Korean Society of Dyes and Finishers, 11, 9 (1999). The Paiute dyed their bracken fern root in a rusty tin can or in a mixture of horse dung.

Using a simple rub-in oil finish or paste wax offers very little resistance for the wood; you’re after a film-building finish. A violet black is produced by adding 2% Stannous Chloride (tin) to the dye bath and continue boiling for 20 minutes. This is a natural chalk/pastel recipe used by many Renaissance artists for drawings. A small point, no so much about safety but about cleanliness: remember, these dyes are DYES!!

Vat dyes are essentially insoluble in water and incapable of dyeing fibres directly. We prefer the water-soluble dyes because they offer maximum clarity and colorfastness and are the easiest to use. So far, I have used Pratt&Lambert Cherry Bark Tonetic Stain (#D7441) – it contains a bit of brown pigment, but not very much, along with a stable red dye. Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands. For crafty folks who like to keep it natural, non-toxic wood stains from coffee, tea, vinegar, walnut hulls and berries are a fun, artistic and wholesome way to decorate.

Mordants are water-soluble chemicals, usually metallic salts, which create a bond between dye and fiber thus increasing the adherence of various dyes to the item being dyed. Indigo and woad are two other plants where, historically, if they had not fermented them they would have had no blue. The wash coat seals the wood pores to give controlled penetration of the stain for a more uniform appearance. This method works particularly well with a black base and coloured topcoat, such as red or any two contrasting colours.

Making a tea of the bark powder to saturate the wood did a lot to increase the tannic acid content. Producing natural dyes can be a long and sometimes difficult process to do yourself but many natural dyes can be bought online and the extraction process has already been done for you. I’ve attached some pics where I’ve used it (all the color you see in all woods is natural). This is achieved by treating a fiber with both diazoic and coupling components With suitable adjustment of dyebath conditions the two components react to produce the required insoluble azo dye.

When using lichens, or fungi, for natural dyeing remember to only take 10%, or less, of any given growth. Let the wood dry and then seal the entire surface with three coats of polyurethane. The water-based dye raises the wood grain, so sand away the fuzz with 320-grit abrasive. This tannin enhanced wood reacts vigorously with iron acetate as described below.