Wood Dye vs. Stain

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People who work with wood often choose between dying the wood or staining it. The purpose of wood dyes and stains is to color the wood project. Both dyes and stains have certain characteristics that set them apart from each other. When choosing between these two products, you must determine what you want your finished project to look like.

Dyes

  • Woodworkers often choose to dye their projects to achieve a certain color. Dyes are generally sold in a powder or liquid form. The woodworker must mix the powder or liquid with some type of oil, water or alcohol. One liquid woodworkers use for mixing dyes is mineral spirits. When woodworkers use dye stains, the dye tends to penetrate the wood more deeply than with stains, leaving a brighter color on the wood.

Dye Characteristics

  • When you use dye for color on wood projects, it is relatively transparent. It brings out the color changes in the wood, yet allows you to see the natural characteristics of the wood. Dye is made from very small particles and when you mix it with a carrier, such as mineral spirits, it allows light to pass through. Dyes you mix with oil-based products generally fade faster than those you mix with water-based products. When working with dyes, cover the wood's surface quickly to avoid dye overlaps.

Stains

  • Woodworkers sometimes choose to color wood projects with wood stain. Wood stain is very similar to an oil- or water-based paint and is often called pigment stain. When working with wood, many people choose an oil-based stain to cover a project, although they use water-based stains as well. Woodworkers premix stains; the stains contain ground mineral particles.

Stain Characteristics

  • When you use stain on wood, the wood does not actually soak up the stain, instead it rests on the surface. Because of this, the wood's natural characteristics are harder to see because the wood is covered with the colored stain. When using stain, woodworkers apply it, then wipe it off. The stain's pigment is trapped in the small irregularities of the wood. Stains therefore do not work well with extremely smooth pieces of wood.

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