Modern Water Stains
The advantages and disadvantages of using modern type water stains and finishes for woodworking projects.
¶ Considering the aniline, coal tar dye stains and the chemical stains as the modern group, not the pigment and dyewood stains, the following advantages and disadvantages are the important ones to keep in mind concerning water stains.
¶ For the finest kind of finishing on interior wood trim of buildings, cabinets and furniture, water stains are easily the best type, particularly the aniline and coal tar dye group which comes in convenient dry and liquid form. When a finisher is anxious to build up a reputation he will be wise to use water stain as a rule and get a price which will cover the little extra labor of sandpapering the raised wood grain caused by the use of water on it.
¶ The particular virtue of water stains of the modern type is that they are far clearer, more transparent, more brilliant in color hue and more permanent against the fading effects of strong light. These stains show up and enhance the natural color shadings and grain figure of beautiful woods to greater advantage than other stains. Fine finishing calls for coloring the wood fibre, not covering or obscuring the natural beauty of the wood, and water stain has no equal in this respect.
¶ The permanency of water aniline, coal tar dye and chemical stains is far greater than spirit anilines and oil anilines and may be considered absolutely permanent for all practical purposes.
¶ In the matter of available colors the water anilines and coal tar dye stains are far greater In number than all others; they are numbered by the hundreds.
¶ In the matter of penetration of the wood water colors are also superior. Wood in its natural state, in trees, is composed of numerous little cells in the live tree which are filled with water. When the tree is cut down and the wood dried these cells are filled with air. Dry wood absorbs water more evenly than oil or spirit liquids, and the water, being a natural element to the tree, penetrates more deeply into the wood. The water evaporates more slowly than alcohol and other spirits, leaving a more even distribution of the stain on the surface. It is interesting to note, too, that wood at a temperature of about 90 degrees absorbs water better than at lower temperatures, hence water stain penetrates deeper at that temperature.
¶ Water stains are cheaper, especially in the dry form of anilines and coal tar dyes, than oil and spirit stains. And even taking into consideration the extra labor and cost of sanding the raised grain of the wood many finishers consider water stain cheaper, Water stain spreads over and colors more surface per gallon than other stains.
¶ There are certain surfaces like show windows, window sills, frames and casings, sun parlor wood trim, etc,, which are subjected to very strong light, often the direct rays of the sun, which can only be finished permanently as to color when water stain is used. This is especially true of the mahogany reds and browns and the green stains. Oil and spirit stains fade too quickly on such surfaces to be practical.
¶ Water stains are just as permanent and effective generally for light colors as for dark colors. They are necessary for such light stain finishes as the grays, light greens, cherry, Circassian walnut and French walnut. The oil anilines are good only for dark colors, used in light colors they and the spirit anilines fade too rapidly.
¶ Now as to the disadvantages of water stains. The superior finishes which are produced with water stains are not gained without some extra effort and cost. These stains raise the grain of the wood and the rough surface so produced must be sandpapered down smooth to cut off the wood fibres so raised by the water. This raising of the grain of the wood is most evident on gumwood, fir, cypress, bass, poplar and white pine.
¶ The machine finishing of lumber and machine sanding cuts off wood fibres to make the wood smooth, it is true, but these operations also press wood fibres into the open cells, closing them against the entrance of the filler. Sponging the wood with water or the use of water stain of the aniline or chemical groups surely does open the wood grain and make it possible to fill the surface properly. Due credit should be given this fact when the disadvantage of sandpapering the raised grain to smooth the surface again is cited as an objection to water stains.
¶ Some finishers on fine work prefer to sponge the wood with water before staining. When dry the raised grain is sandpapered. When the water stain is then put on it does not raise the grain again so much. When the water coat is not used first it is sometimes necessary to do so much sanding on certain woods on top of the stain that the beauty of the finish is impaired a little by cutting through the stain.
¶ When two coats of water stain are to be used there is no need to sponge the wood with water first. Sandpaper after the first coat of stain.
¶ Water stain is a little more difficult than oil stain to brush on to avoid having laps and joints show, but not more difficult than spirit stain. Some manufacturers add a little shellac to spirit stain to enable the unskilled finisher to brush it out more easily and to avoid laps. A careful workman has no difficulty, however, in producing a good job, using a large brush for the application of the stain. When a surface is particularly difficult to coat with stain without showing laps and joints a coat of water may be brushed on just ahead of the stain. The stain should follow immediately before the water dries.
¶ When water stain appears too dark after brushing it on the wood it can be made lighter in color by wiping it while dry or wet rather deftly with a sponge wet with water. You must be careful, however, not to wipe it lighter in some places unless you are trying to produce an antique or high-lighted effect as when wiping out the center of panels to make them lighter, leaving the corners, mouldings, etc., dark.
¶ In the application of water stain use the brush rather dry, that is, don't load it too much with stain. Use a wide brush, a four or four-and-one-half-inch wall brush or a calcimine brush.
¶ On very thin veneer and delicate wood structures water stain is not practical. It swells the wood and raises the grain too much. On such surfaces spirit and oil stains are best.
¶ The application of water stain is best done with two or more thin, light coats rather than one strong, dark coat. Light coats are easier to brush on without showing laps and joints or streaks. Allow each coat to dry before putting on the next. Then you can judge the color already gained better than when wet. The surface should not be flooded with the stain. That might have a tendency to loosen up veneer on doors and of course the more water you put on the more the grain will be raised.
¶ Hot water stain penetrates hard woods better than cold water stain and it is best to use any water stain hot, or at least warm, never ice cold. Soft ram water makes the best stain.
¶ Some finishers use a sponge to apply water stain, but a large brush is better. The sponge carries more stain and the rubbing with it is likely to raise the grain fuzz more than a brush will do.
¶ A gallon of water stain will cover from 400 to 500 square feet on soft woods. It will cover about 700 square feet on hard woods, one coat.
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