Early American Maple Finishes

Copyright 2000 by Jeff Jewitt. All rights reserved. Not reproducible in any form, written or electronic, without permission

lightcurlymapletrayMaple, if left unstained, takes on a yellow tone over time, gradually deepening to a darker yellow-reddish brown. This is the color that you see on maple pieces in museums and is the color most cherished by collectors. Figured maples are the most striking, since the figured areas deepen in color against the lighter wood surrounding it.


Step One – Staining:
This is an easy finish and will introduce you to the basics of using dyes and glazing. Use TransTint Dark Vintage Maple at the ratio of 1 oz liquid dye concentrate to 2 qt water. Before dyeing, sand the wood up to 180 grit and raise the grain by sponging it with distilled water. When dry, sand with 220 grit. This minimizes the raised grain from the application of the dye. The color of the wet wood should be approximately that when finished. If this is too light, add more dye to the mix. If it’s too dark, add more water. Apply the dye by flooding all surfaces with dye by brush, rag or spraying. Let it dry several minutes, then blot up the excess. This is where practicing on sample is important. The goal of the dyeing operation is to establish the primary undertone of color. The color of the wood when dry should be a straw color. Let the dye dry at least 8 hours and then scuff sand the surface very lightly with gray Mirlon synthetic steel wool before proceeding to the next step.

Step Two – Oiling
This step adds depth to the dye and kicks out figure in the wood. On the knife tray pictured, note how it makes the end grain of the dovetails stand out. Apply a small amount of a Boiled Linseed Oil to the surface of the dyed wood. About a thimble full per square foot is all that’s needed. Don’t flood the surface. Wipe the oil on with a rag and let it dry several days before proceeding to the next step.

Caution: Always dispose of an oil-saturated rag by soaking it thoroughly under water, then letting it air dry on the side of a trash can.

Step Three – Sealing
The wood needs to be sealed before glazing. I use one or two applications of a 1 lb. cut shellac made from dry flakes. To keep the color from darkening, I use Homestead “Extra” Pale Shellac. If you use only one coat of sealer, the subsequent glazing step will darken the wood significantly. Two coats of sealer and the glaze has less of a tendency to “take”. You will need to experiment to get the feel for the difference. I usually use two coats when I want a very subtle color change from the glaze and one coat when I want a dark “dirty” look similar to very old pieces. Apply one coat by brush or spray and let it dry 1 hour. Then take some 600 grit (P grade) sandpaper and very lightly scuff sand all surfaces to knock down any raised fibers. Follow up with a light rubbing with gray synthetic steel wool.

Step Four – Glazing
Glazing is simply “floating” more color over the sealed wood. It will darken the overall color a bit, subdue the brightness of the dye stain, and in the case of the knife tray pictured above, the glaze hangs up in corners and crevices and adds contrast. The 3 premixed Behlen Oil Glazing Stains (Burnt Umber, Van Dyke Brown and Black) will produce slightly different effects. Van Dyke Brown is a good general color to use. Instead of buying all the colors, you can simply get some assorted Japan Colors or artist’s oil colors and make some clear glaze base and experiment to get the color if you want.

One recipe for the glaze base is one part General Finishes Poly Gel Topcoat and 1 part boiled linseed oil. To this mixture add the concentrated Japan Colors until you get a color that you like. Glazes are not opaque, they’re transparent, so a little color is all that’s added. For beginners, try adding a tablespoon of colorant for every 2 ounces of clear glaze mixture. Mix the glaze thoroughly and check the color by smearing a small amount on some white paper.

Our Bestt-Liebco Birch series oval brushes work well for glaze application. Wipe the glaze off, leaving only enough on the surface as a thin veil of color. In corners and crevices, you can leave more glaze to simulate an aged appearance. Let the oil glaze dry for 24 hours if using any finish but solvent lacquer, in which case start your lacquer topcoats within a 2-6 hr dry time window.

Note: When using Behlen Glaze you’ll be advised by the directions on the can to topcoat the glaze within a certain window. This is only if you’re spraying solvent based lacquer. If using any other topcoat; water-base, varnish or shellac let the glaze dry 24-48 hours.

Step Five – Topcoats
The glaze must be top coated for protection. Typically I spray 2-3 coats of gloss Behlen Qualalacq. For hand Application consider the General Finishes SealACell or ArmRSeal. For water base, the General Finishes High Performance Poly works well if used with Golden Taklon brush. Once the glaze is dry you can proceed to a shellac or varnish topcoat. If you intend to apply a water base finish seal the oil glaze in with dewaxed shellac.

Step Six – Waxing
darkcurlymapleWhen the final coat of finish is dry, rub it out using 0000 steel wool and dark wax like Antiquax Brown. I usually thin the wax with mineral spirits to make it easier to apply. This cuts down the gloss slightly and imparts a mellow, satiny sheen.

For a darker maple, you can use a slightly different technique. Mix TransTint Dark Mission Brown by putting 10-15 drops in a pint of water. This weak dye is then used to raise the grain. When dry, lightly sand the wood with 220. This has the effect of making the curl a bit darker. Then apply a full strength solution (1 oz. to 1 qt.) of TransTint Brown Mahogany. Apply the dye liberally all over the surface, then blot up the excess.

When dry , apply the oil as directed in the above steps. This dark color doesn’t need a glaze, but you can add it for an aged appearance Finish with your choice of topcoats.