May 08 2012

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(Mis)Adventures In Dyeing

After watching this video about staining vs dyeing over at WoodWorkWeb, I decided to give dyeing wood a chance. After making a Peruvian walnut bracelet for my daughter, she wanted me to make her a pink one. I was dammed if I was going to paint something I turned in my shop pink. I had two other options: find a pink/red wood to use or dye a lighter color wood. So trying to increase my chances at success, last time I was at Rockler I picked up some cardinal red dye and some bloodwood as a backup plan. How hard could dying be?

To mix the dye you are supposed to use 1oz. of pigment in 2 quarts of hot water, which basically means dump the whole container into 2 quarts dummy. Since I was just testing, I wanted to use a small amount of the $12 bottle to see how it would turn out. Then I was planning on changing the dilution to make a lighter shade of red. So I tried to weigh out 1/8 oz (to put into 1 cup of water) on our kitchen scale. It turns out that while the scale will read in 1/8oz. increments, it doesn’t start registering on the display until it gets over 1/4 oz. I got about a quarter of the dye out of the bottle and realized that something was wrong. I had to put some of the dye powder back into the bottle, so I made a paper cone and dumped¬† it back in. Then I put my measuring cup back on the scale without taring it and this time was able to get about 1/8oz of dye into the measuring cup. I thought about it later and am wondering if they mean one ounce by weight or by volume, it said oz. not fl oz. so I can only assume they mean weight.

Once I got the dye measured out, I figured that I should clean up before I mixed it with water. So I tried to wipe the powder off the counter dry, but evidently there is enough moisture in the air or on the counters that this didn’t work. I started to smear red all over our white laminate counter top. The problem is that somehow the powder got all over, like it got airborne. I kept finding little specks of dye all over the place. Plus, withoug realizing it, I got some on my shirt so every time I bumped against the counter I’d leave another spot. Somehow too I got it on the floor and into my socks. After about a half an hour of scrubbing I finally got most of it, throwing out my socks, and taking off my shirt in the process. Note: about an hour after this debacle, I blew my nose and red dye came out. I’m wondering if that’s where it kept coming from, it fits with the airborne theory.

Once I finally got the dye mixed and everything cleaned up I was ready to dye. I know at this point I’m supposed to filter the dye, but after my experience with mixing it, I wasn’t about to do anything that could make even more of a mess. I grabbed some scraps from my shop, put down a thick cloth, grabbed half a roll of paper towels, and started dunking pieces into the jar. I know I’m supposed to brush it on, but again I’m not risking any containment issues again for a while.

Here are the results after two dunkings. The leftmost piece is ash, the middle is red oak, and the rightmost is maple. The end of the ash turned almost black, the end of the oak only turned dark in the deeper grain, and the maple is pretty much even on all sides. The dye also made the flecks in this relatively uninteresting piece of maple really stand out.¬† When I get the courage again, or after time passes and I forget this trauma I think I might dilute the dye by half and try the maple again — I think I can get a nice solid pinkish red/light red.

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  1. thenetdog

    Nice test – this reminds me of an interesting episode of the woodsmith shop where they used black printing ink to dye the ends of a jewelry box. I would have never thought of it but the look was pretty cool. Also I feel your pain with the countertops – every time I mix a drink with Blue Curacao I have to be real careful to never set the glass down on the counter or there will be a nice blue ring to scrub out.

  2. kam

    Hahaha…I love the story. I also have a daughter that loves pink. My gpa told me about a fairly new wood dye kit from Keda Dye Inc at kedadyeinc.com where they sell 5 dye colors in a kit for $10 with free S&H. So I ordered this kit and it only has 5 grams per color, but watch out they are very powerful if you try this kit is was literally shocked at the results. Anyway, for some reason it is the only pink color that she likes, and it is the only red I can do this trick with to get the color she likes, but yours may like a different color pink; it is just an option. What I do is I wet the wood first, let it dry, sand it again but with 320 grit paper, dilute the dye powder like a gram of powder to about 20 oz hot water (this will vary on the color you want obviously, plus the wood will make a difference but this really process helps stabilize the absorbtion rate), then apply the diluted dye stain, let dry, and repeat about three times or until you are tickled pink hahaha; this will give you a rosy pink color; at least this is the color my daughter likes. I have tried this with numerous reds, but this one is the only “Pink” she likes. Alright by me it is about the best I have seen, and I can’t find a better price or deal anywhere else.

    Good luck, I hope this helps someone out and gets them to try dyes, they really are the most diverse, cost effective, beautiful finishing option in my eyes; thanks for sharing.

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