tips on staining ash wood cabinets

calisamcnMay 27, 2006

Hi all,

My dh is building our kitchen cabinets with ash wood. Some of the wood is solid ash and the other parts are ash wood with plywood in the middle. We are now trying to decide on a stain. What type of stains would work best on ash wood? Is ash wood easy or difficult to work with? My biggest fear is ending up with a blotchy or uneven stain.



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Here's the best finishing advice you will ever receive: make up sample boards, including boards that are both solid wood and the plywood (solid and ply often finish quite differently). Practice whatever finish you are thinking about on the sample boards, completely. To get a good idea of how the finish will look, make the sample boards sizable (I use 10" x 12" boards).

Here's the 2nd best finishing advice: Read and study "Understanding Wood Finishing" by Bob Flexner. It would be very difficult for anybody to tell you what the best stain would be on ash (first, maybe you'd really rather have a dye than a stain. Second, their taste could dramatically differ from yours). The more educated you are about the finishing process, the better your decisions will be in how to finish it. But still practice on the sample boards.

Having said all of that, ash is an open pored wood like red oak. You may or may not want to consider filling the pores (either with a pore filler or with finish itself. If finish itself, that can be a long process). Also, being an open pored and what I consider a "grainy" type wood, using a true stain (vs a dye) is going to tend to highlight the grain (as would pore filling the unsealed wood). This may or may not be the look that you are going for. Hence, try it on a sample board and see.

Also, since these are kitchen cabinets, you're going to need to use a more durable finish than if they were going in another room. Some people use regular nitrocellulose lacquer in kitchens and say it holds up fine. One advantage of nc lacquer is that it is quite easy to repair (and damage). Something like a precat lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, etc would be more durable and less likely to need the repair. I guess the real question is how much abuse do you put your cabinets through (got any kids?)?

I hope this helps, and remember...make up sample boards first!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 8:53AM
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Ash is a really hard wood. If you are trying for a dark stain, don't sand too fine. 220 would be the right place to stop. If it's a light or natural finish, sand to 320 grit.
Ash, AFAIK, isn't very prone to blotchy staining. It's nearly blotch-free.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 1:45PM
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Wow, Thanks so much. Thanks for the tip on the sandpaper. I will tell DH.
We have made up sample boards of various stains on both the ash wood with the plywood and the solid ash. I do like the grain, but would prefer less grain to show. What is dye? Where can one find that? I am not sure about pore filling. Is that usually done with open grained woods?


    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 3:14PM
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Get that book by Bob---it will answer all of your questions and some you do not realize you have to ask.

Often plywood stains differently than solid wood. This is due to the way some plywood layers are cut from the logs. If the ply tends to stain darker than the solid---there are things you can do to even the color. Sanding the solid wood to 150 grit will allow the solid wood to absorb more stain. Sanding the ply to 320 causes the ply to absorb less stain.

Making a pretreatment with 1 pound cut shellac will help eliminate blotching and make a more even color between ply and solid. The shellac you buy in a store is usually 3 pound cut---to make 1 pound, simply add 2 parts alcohol(denatured) to 1 part shellac. That mix is more easily applied by using a soft lint free rag and wiping on the wood.

Get the book---the $20 will be well worth the cost for just the cabinet job---and a bonus for any other job.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 7:21PM
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swhle1 was making a distinction between dye stains and pigment stains. From Flexner, "dye is molecular." Dye stains saturate the wood fibers wheras pigment is larger particles of ground earth, and pigment stain "colors wood by lodging in depressions such as pores, scratches, and gouges." The result is that dyes tend to color the whole surface fairly evenly, while pigments accentuate porous grain.

I have to leave it to others to suggest sources for dyes. Googling for "aniline dyes" might get you somewhere. My understanding is that almost all hardware-store variety stains are pigment stains, and dyes are usually sold in powdered form to be dissolved in one solvent or another. It's not a typical homeowner / DIY sort of choice.

Pore filling is unusual for kitchen cabinets; it would add a fair bit of labor to your project. When you notice the "grain" of the wood, what you're seeing is a combination of the color variations between different parts of the wood's cellular structure and also areas of reflection and shadow as light glances across the textured surface. Filling pores reduces the texture of the surface so it looks glossier and smoother in glancing light, but since the filler has its own color that may contrast with the color of the wood, it may also accentuate the grain in terms of color variation. It will help you to figure out what part of the "grain" you're tuning into and want to reduce; is it the color, or is it the way the light bounces across the surface texture?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2006 at 8:31AM
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For aniline dyes (which really aren't aniline these days), I've found Woodworker's Supply has a good, wide selection, as does Klingspor's Woodworking Shop.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2006 at 6:03AM
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I am building a new home and we did ash cabinets, trim,columns and encased windows. After reading your recent conversations I may be in a bind. My columns and encased windows are quite a bit lighter than my cabinets. After reading I now know its because of the ply ash. My painter says there is nothing he can do it's the wood. He says it will not stain any darker, that's as good as it gets. Now I know he doesn't want to redo it, but it is worth trying or will it always look noticeably different.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 4:43PM
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We stained our new ash cabinets with a dye stain from TransTint and had wonderful results. When I tried using an oil-based pigmented stain, it came out much too light and the striations in the grain were very pronounced. The dye stain evened things out and we ended up with a rich and uniform color. I'm not sure if there is an advantage to mixing the dye with water or denatured alcohol, but mixing with water worked great. BTW, my experience with pigmented water-based stains always left me wishing I had gone with an oil-based product. The dye stain mixed with water is a completely different animal.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2011 at 8:07PM
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