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Staining maple and maple plywood

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  • Staining maple and maple plywood

    I am building a piece of furniture similar to an entertainment center. Basically a bookshelf with some front doors. I am building this out of maple. I have used solid maple (I don't know if its hard maple, birds eye maple ; all I know that its maple; is there a default maple??)

    The front frame I am using solid maple and the sides and top I am using 3/4 in maple plywood.(A-1: one side good ) I am trying to stain this and this is how I am staining the pieces:
    (1) First sand the wood/plywood with 220 sandpaper. In the solid wood face, the piece was first passed over a jointer and then sanded.
    (2) Tacked off the surface
    (3) Applied Minwax wood conditioner; wiped off after 5-10 mins and left piece for 30-60 mins
    (4) Applied Minwax Colonial Maple Stain. wiped off
    after 5-10 min.

    The solid wood pieces take very little of the stain compared to the maple plywood. As a result the plywood stains darker than the front face.
    I tried putting another coat of the stain on the front but there seems to still be a color difference between the maple plywood sides and the front.

    Is is normal: that the solid wood / plywood absorb
    stains at different rates. How has one tackled this issue and come up with a consistent stain between the two?

    Thanks in advance


  • #2
    I'll put the bottom-line answer first, so you don't have to read the whole thing if you aren't interested.

    ...that the solid wood / plywood absorb stains at different rates.
    Yes it is. And Maple is a miserable son-of-a-gun to stain anyway. So, it isn't you.
    Your best chance at getting the solid at a similar color is to sand it coarser. Try 180 and stain it. If still too light, try 120. If still a problem, let me know, different technology will need to be employed.

    Other stuff and information:
    is there a default maple?
    Two of them, Soft Maple and Hard Maple (a third is uncommon most places, Big Leaf Maple). These come from different trees. Soft Maple, I find I can reasonably ding with a fingernail, Hard Maple this is very difficult. "Bird's-eye", "curly", "quilted", "fiddleback" (and more) are descriptions of figured grain, which don't affect what actual wood it is.

    The reason plywood takes stain differently than solid.
    Most plywood uses face veneers that are rotary cut. They are sliced from a log, much in the manner a roll of paper towels is unrolled. Then they are smashed flat and glued to plywood. This smashing flat introduces a billion cracks into the face veneer. This leads to...

    Why is Maple hard to stain?
    Maple, Cherry, and other woods of similiar makeup are known to be difficult to stain. The reason is that they are quite non-porous (meaning they don't have many or large pores). Pigment stain is made up of particles of color. Problem is, these non-porous woods don't give much place for the particles to lodge. So, when you wipe the stain, you wipe it nearly all off. Going back to the plywood, those billions of cracks can hold the stain particles, therefore allowing the plywood veneers to stain darker than the solid.

    So, what's a woodworker to do?
    Coloring Maple isn't impossible, or even very difficult. What you do, is use a different colorant. Instead of pigment stain, you use dye stain. The particles in dye are miniscule, molecular in size. So, they can soak into the extremely small pores inherent in all wood. In your circumstance, the door is closed. Dyes cannot easily be applied over previously pigment stained material, as the pigment carrier has sealed the wood.

    But there's always next time. For an idea of a dark color applied to Maple with dye, see this picture:

    Another book from Dave


    • #3
      Thanks Dave for an excellent explanation for the differences on staining.
      You mentioned that I could have used a dye stain instead of a pigment stain. I will look into trying a dye stain next time. Any good brand you know about?




      • #4
        I use TransFast dyes from Homestead Finishing. This is the company owned by author Jeff Jewitt, he knows his stuff.

        Be sure to read up or ask regarding proper techniques on dye. It isn't hard, but it is different.

        You're welcome, best wishes for a great outcome.