molding stain disaster...

johnmariNovember 11, 2005

I'm just sick about the woodwork for my new bathroom. Thank heavens I posted here and got the go-ahead to do all the finishing before anything was installed, I would probably be scoping out a bridge somewhere if this had all already been installed!

The material in question is stain-grade pine (yes, yes, I know, pine is lowbrow but affordability was a big issue, and it was appropriate to the style of the house): 4" t&g wainscot, cap rail and base cap moldings, and select flat stock as advised by GC for door/window casings & baseboards. Stain was Minwax oil-based, half English Chestnut and half Cherry for a nice red-tinged middlin' brown but less screamingly red than Red Oak, well-mixed and stirred up several times during the application process, preceded by the Minwax conditioner as directed. I sampled it several times on different molding scraps from the bin at Home Depot ;-) and those all came out the same. Manufacturer's instructions were followed to the letter.

Sadly, the result was three different colors! The wainscot came out a pretty decent color, although with a goldish, almost iridescent sheen I wasn't expecting and am not particularly pleased about. The cap rail and base cap moldings came out about two shades darker than the wainscot, a bit darker than the the similar test pieces, and completely lacking the goldish sheen so it's not a nice combination with the wainscot at all. The flat stock is a complete loss - almost chocolate brown, not a trace of red. I don't know how in heck that happened but it's absolutely awful. I could understand it if that was done last and the pigment in the stain had settled to the bottom of the container, but it was done second, before the wainscot! It was also wiped immediately like everything else. I tried scrubbing them down with mineral spirits and that accomplished nothing at all. I can't bear the thought of putting a dark brown stain to match the casings on all the rest (that was the recommendation from the local Woodcraft store), it would be far too much contrast with the beige flooring and shower and just plain too dark. (I'm doing Victorian, not Tudor!)

Priming and painting the whole mess is not an option - the stained wainscot and trim was to be a major design feature, if you'll excuse the pretentious phrase, of the room - but I don't know what to do to salvage this dog's breakfast. I'm not sure buying replacement material would be worth it since the color differential was consistent within each type of material, i.e. ALL the flat stock turned dark brown, ALL the wainscot material got that gold iridescent tinge.

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With pine, you need to pre condition the wood. There are wood conditioners you purchase, wipe them on allow to dry then apply the stain. Also you need to make sure that the wood is all sanded to the same grit. The conditioner helps to seal the wood so that the stain will take evenly. This is the advantage of purchsing supplies at a specialty store where they can help you rather than at a box store. not much you can do at this time except perhaps sand the pine down and then prepare it properly.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2005 at 1:25AM
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I have seen painters stain and finish pine casing with varied results. I have attempted to stain and finish casing and baseboard where my flooring customers have requested it. I learned a lot about how boards and constructions of the same species can stain differently. I certainly can identify with your frustration.

I learned that when it comes to staining wood, especially the soft species, that testing on the actual pieces to be used is the only way to be reasonably confident of final results. I do that on the backs of the pieces after they have been sanded in the same manner as the faces. I too have applied stain to a piece and have had it suck in too much stain or wind up splotchy, even after what I thought was careful application of preconditioner.

All preconditioners are not the same. Some work better (or should I say differently) than others.

With pieces that wind up too light, it is easy to adjust the final result with subsequent applications of staining or finishing products. The products are layered on until an acceptable result is obtained. I have seen painters do this and I devised a schedule of the stains and finishing products I use to get the same results.

As for lightening an overly dark result...that is much more difficult. As Tom999 says, sanding down the pine and starting over may be all you can do there. But, the sanding may remove enough pigment to render the pieces usable. I have done that with overly dark staining results, sanding until I think it's at a point where applying more product of a certain shade gets the color I'm after. The sanding is the time-consuming and tedious part of the job.

Hope some of what I've said here helps.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2005 at 9:47AM
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Tom999, I wrote in the original post: "preceded by the Minwax conditioner as directed". I USED the conditioner. I did not get ANY blotchiness, just the drastically wrong colors and that weird golden iridescence on the wainscot (what on earth is that and what the heck do I do about it?).

I was told by both the woodworkers' specialty store (Woodcraft) I consulted for information before the project and the high-end millwork company my gc sent me to where I didn't buy anything but got loads of great advice that Minwax products were plenty sufficient for what I needed to do (and easier for the novice than many other products), and to use the products within that line rather than mixing and matching between brands. Unfortunately, when I consulted the woodworkers' specialty store about the problem result, their suggestion was to stain everything to the chocolate brown color.

The casings are not just too dark, they came out drastically the wrong color. There is a significant difference between "a nice red-tinged middlin' brown" and "chocolate brown, not a trace of red". None of the materials are too light, otherwise I'd have just kept on recoating. I tried putting another coat of stain on a strip of the wainscot in hopes of killing that goldy sheen but the wood just got darker (too dark), the iridescence stuck around.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2005 at 1:46PM
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I am not a botanist, or even an expert in any kind of wood "ology", but I have bumped into similar situations. It sounds like you may have encountered issues from two fronts: Different manner of harvesting (cutting) the wood, and possibly even different wood species. How a stain reacts to each of these conditions can be quite unique, even with a pre-conditioner. I have found pre-conditioners to help make stain appearance more consistent across a specific "type" of board, but not as helpful across different types or species.

When cutting wood from a log, different methods are used depending on the type of product they are trying to make.
For wainscot (or plywoods in general), it is desireable to have a wide, flat, thin piece of wood. This can be made by either by joining several flat sawn pieces together at the edge, or by actually peeling the log like an apple skin. The grain created by these two methods are quite different and will take stain quite differently. Peeling can produce large areas of the same layer in the log's growth rings. My guess is that the "goldy" sheen you are referring to is in the harder, summer layer which does not take a stain very well; while the surrounding wood soaks it up like a sponge (very dark).

On the other hand, the moulding pieces and flat stock were likely harvested in the simple flat-sawn manner. The mouldings probably have the grain going perpendicular to the face (works better when routing or cutting contours), while the flat stock has it running mosty flat. Again, these cuts can setup conditions that make the absorbing of stain very different.

Another thing you could be dealing with, is that PINE is not just PINE. There are several species, each with their own characteristics. Sometimes with mouldings they only classify between hardwood and softwood which leaves a lot open to interpretation.

So that might help with how you got here, but doesn't do beans to help with your current problem:-(

You can try sanding the flat stock as others have suggested; that's probably not an option with the mouldings though. You can try a solution of laundry bleach or wood bleach (oxacylic acid) to see if that pulls enough color out. Keep in mind that both of these methods will likely raise the grain so let it dry completely and sand smooth before trying to adjust the color or put on any finish.

If you decide to start over, here are some ideas to avoid the same pitfalls.

- Gel stains. These are much easier to control and do not "soak right in" the way typical oil stains do. You sometimes have to "rub" these in a bit to get the desired look. You can also let a thin layer actually just "dry" right on surface of the wood, if you can't get it to soak or rub into the wood.

- One-coat "varnish stains" (Minwax calls these Polyshades) can give better color control, but has a tendency to hide the grain detail. Use additional coats of the "varnish stain" to get a darker effect. Once you have the color you like, you can add additional topcoats (if needed) of clear varnish without affecting the color. Be careful sanding between coats of varnish stain, as the color is mostly in the varnish coat and not soaked into the wood. I have used this method many times on windows where the casings were made of PINE, but the trim is Oak. I've also used it on woods that don't take stains well like Maple.

- You have probably already realized this, but experiment on the actual woods that you are using. You may very well find that you need to apply a different treatment to each "type" of wood to get the same (or at least acceptable) color. This actually happens to me often when I'm building cabinetry and mixing the use of both solid woods and veneer plywoods. Not as bad with Oak, but with woods like Pine and Maple, I like to steer toward either no stain at all, or toward red/mahogany. The brown/black seems harder to control. I even do this when purposely substituting different wood types for durability reasons.

I hope that helps. I've felt the same frustration as you. Good luck with your project.


    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 1:03PM
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