Spirit Stains for Wood & Furniture

Spirit Stains for Wood & Furniture

How to use and make spirit based stains for finishing wood and furniture with preparations and formulas.

Craftsman Style

¶ A rather large part of the stains made by manufacturers and sold ready to brush on to the surface are of the spirit stain group. They are, however, made far better than a finisher can mix them. They possess all of the advantages of the best spirit stains and many of the disadvantages have been overcome by the expert chemists in the employ of manufacturers.

¶ Spirit stains as a class have the advantage of drying quickly. With them a surface can be stained and filled or shellaced and varnished the same day. These characteristics make it a useful class of stain for repair and touch-up work on floors, wood trim and furniture and for all sorts of quick jobs. The spirit stains are mixed with shellac for this touch-up work and the colors nicely blended to match the-old surface. The colors of the spirit stains are brilliant, transparent and beautiful. They, of course, enhance the natural wood grain and color shadings.

¶ This class of stains will penetrate through old varnish on a surface and that is one of the characteristic advantages of it for touch-up and repair work on finished furniture and wood trim. You can mix spirit stains with shellac and spread the coating over a varnished surface, if done deftly and without excessive brushing which lifts the varnish. Thus old finishes can be changed as from red to brown mahogany, without stripping off the old varnish and finish.

¶ The spirit stains do not raise the grain of the wood, as a rule, or not to the same extent as water stains. That saves the labor of sandpapering.

¶ As to the debit or unsatisfactory side of spirit stains. Each kind of stain has its advantages and disadvantages. Each is good for some purposes and not so good as others for other jobs. And within each class of stains some individual colors are more permanent or more fugitive than others.

¶ Spirit stains as a class are not permanent in sunlight or very strong light. Some of the colors are very fugitive and some not so much so. All of them are more permanent when covered immediately with shellac or varnish to exclude the light and air action. Spirit stains are quite useless for light colors since in that case they fade too rapidly to be practical. They are used principally for the medium and dark colors. The reds and greens are especially fugitive in strong light and the black nigrosine is quite permanent. The latter is used considerably for grays and for ebony.

¶ Spirit stains are used by furniture finishers largely for the coloring of interiors of drawers and cabinets where strong light does not penetrate and the air circulation is at a minimum.

¶ The penetration of spirit stains is not great because they dry almost instantly.

¶ The application of spirit stains must be done very skillfully to avoid the showing of laps and joints because they dry so quickly. Some manufacturers add a bit of shellac to the stains to slow up the drying a little and make them easier to brush on evenly. The brushing of these stains must be done in one direction and with a minimum of strokes. Do not rebrush or the color will be darker in some places than in others. Furniture finishers overcome the difficulties of brushing by applying1 spirit stains with the spray gun.

¶ The thin shellac coat usually brushed on over spirit stains should be brushed as little as possible, as the alcohol in the shellac may dissolve and lift the stain, making it bleed into the shellac and cause a cloudy color finish. Apply the shellac with as few strokes as possible and do not rebrush it.

¶ The materials used for making spirit stains are the aniline and other coal tar colors which are soluble in alcohol, called basic colors. They are soluble in hot denatured alcohol and cold wood alcohol. The latter is the more expensive as a rule. Some of the colors are soluble both in alcohol and water, but they too are usually the most fugitive.

¶ When the alcohol is heated to dissolve spirit colors it takes up a larger amount of coloring matter and if the stain is applied while hot no difficulty results. But some finishers find that by making a super-saturated solution (using hot alcohol) the overloaded liquid when used cold is apt to cause "bronzing",that is, the color remains on the surface of the wood while the alcohol penetrates into the wood more than when used cold. Wood alcohol is therefore the most common solvent used and it is used cold.

¶ Spirit stains which have been mixed should be kept in the dark. Also wood finished with them should be kept in the dark until finished with shellac and varnish to protect the color from the air and light. Keep the stain corked up tightly or you will lose some of its strength. A cool place is best for storage.

¶ A gallon of spirit stain will cover about 400 square feet, one coat, on soft wood and about 700 square feet, one coat, on hard woods.

¶ The spirit or alcohol soluble coal tar dye stains and anilines listed by painters' supply dealers commonly in dry form are listed below. Spirit stains are also sold in pint, quart, half-gallon, gallon and barrel lots in liquid form ready to use:

Spirit Soluble Aniline and Coal Tar Stains

¶ Walnut R, Golden Oak, Bismarck Brown (red), Black Nigrosine W. N., Green M X Crystals, Methylene Blue 2 B, Fuchine Magenta R. T., Violet 3 B P N.

¶ There are hundreds more colors, but with these and the water stains the finisher can get along easily and produce practically any color wanted on any wood.

¶ A definite formula for the average spirit stain is as follows:

¶ 1 to 4 ounces spirit-soluble aniline or other coal tar dye stain, dry.

¶ 1 gallon wood alcohol, or hot denatured alcohol (heat it by placing the can in a pail of hot water, away from the fire).

Spirit Aniline Stain Formulas


¶ Formula:

4 ounces Bismarck brown, dry, spirit-soluble.
1 gallon wood or hot denatured alcohol.

The coloring strength of Bismarck brown is subject to considerable variation, also its solubility in alcohol. Do not add to the alcohol more stain powder than will be dissolved. The stain should be clear and transparent. If cloudy and if the color settles to the bottom of the pot in crystallized form, the stain may give you a blotchy, clouded wood color. When an excess of Bismarck brown is used in a stain the shellac coat which follows may lift the stain coat, making the color pile up and spread through the shellac. A cloudy, muddy finish results. So after mixing this color, let it stand several hours, then pour off the clear solution. Do not use what color has settled in the bottom, if any. Use no more dry stain powder than will dissolve in a few hours time. If the stain made with Bismarck brown is not dark enough add a very little spirit soluble nigrosine black.

Early English

¶ Formula:

4 ounces nigrosine, spirit, soluble, dry,
8 drams auramine, spirit-soluble aniline, dry,
2 drams malachite green aniline, spirit-soluble dry,
1 gallon alcohol, wood or denatured.
Brush on, let dry and sandpaper. Apply a very thin coat of orange shellac. Brush the shellac very little and do not rebrush or you will lift the stain coat.

¶ Filler:

Silex (silica) color black with ½ Vandyke brown and ½ drop black ground in oil. It is difficult to produce a good Early English finish with spirit stain because this stain does not open up the pores of the wood as much as water stain does.

¶ Finish:

Shellac, varnish and rub dull; or wax; or flat varnish.

Weathered Oak

¶ Formula:

4 ounces nigrosine black, dry, spirit-soluble,
1 ounce scarlet aniline, dry, spirit-soluble,
1 dram auramine aniline, dry, spirit-soluble,
1 gallon alcohol, wood or hot denatured.
Brush on and let dry. Apply one thin coat of orange shellac brushing as little as possible to avoid lifting the stain. Add enough of the nigrosine black to the shellac to color it.

¶ Filler:

Do not fill. Open pores of the wood are desirable.

¶ Finish:

Shellac and wax.

¶ From the following spirit soluble aniline and other coal tar colors any color stain wanted can be produced by blending and mixing:

¶ Black - nigrosine or naphthalene.
Brown - seal, loutre.
Brown Mahogany - orange and naphthalene black.
Reds - scarlet, carmosine and Bismarck brown.
Orange - orange Y and orange G.
Yellow - naphthalene yellow, auramine yellow.

¶ The above are the principal colors needed and are standard. Each manufacturer, however, markets these colors and modifications of them under private brand names and numbers. If you will order as above the manufacturer or supply house will know what is wanted.

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