For wood workers, maple is one of the most beautiful woods for making furniture, flooring, woodwork, and musical instruments. It has beautiful grains in varied patterns.
There is one problem with maple wood, however. It is very hard, and does not take stain very well. In fact, in many cases, stain when applied tends to soak into some spots and resist others, resulting in a mottled or spotty look that is not at all what the woodworker intended.
The reason maple does not take a stain well is because it has an extremely tight grain, with looser spots. (At least, this is one theory as to why it is so hard to stain. There are others.) It is in the looser spots that the stain soaks in, but the hard parts resist the stain. So, what can you do to improve the results you get when trying to stain maple wood?
Try Using a Dye Instead of a Stain
For better results, try using a fade-resistant (or metallized) dye when working with maple wood. The best way to get an even covering with dye is to spray it on. This can be done in one even coat or in several light coats.
Try both ways on a scrap of wood and see which works better for you. Choose a color of dye that will harmonize with the stain you will be wiping on afterward. The dye will provide a consistent base color.
You don’t want to get too much dye, however. You don’t want to saturate the wood too much, so go easy when you are applying it. If you get too much, you are likely to get an uneven color and more splotching. Then when the dye has dried, you can wipe a stain on it. The stain can be sprayed on lightly and then wiped.
Using a Sealer First
Another way some woodworkers have success when staining maple wood is to first shellac the wood with a blonde shellac. You don’t want to color the wood or seal it too much. The idea is to seal it just enough to keep the would-be blotchy places from soaking up too much stain.
When the wood is shellacked, a gel stain can be used with better results than other types. Gel does not soak into the wood so much but rather colors it from the surface.
Another way to seal the wood first is to water down glue and apply it to the surface of the wood. This is allowed to soak into the wood and dry, and then the wood is sanded before adding a gel stain.
One More Method
Here is one more way that some woodworkers have had success staining maple wood. First they sand the wood with sandpaper (180 grit.) Next, with a damp rag, they wet it down and let it dry thoroughly. This step acts to raise the grain, which is reported to help it resist the splotching tendency.
After the wetting and drying they apply the stain as desired and seal it with a clear sealer. Sand it again, this time with 320 grit. Apply another light coat of the sealer, let it dry, and then do the sanding and sealing one more time.
Hopefully, one of these methods will help you stain your maple item so that it turns out the way you want it to look. Remember to try the staining procedures on small scraps of wood before doing it to a large expensive project.
Photo by Charles Dawley, Creative Commons Attribution License