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Aniline Water Stains

posted Apr 26, 2012, 3:20 PM by Michael Dekker   [ updated Apr 26, 2012, 3:43 PM ]

Aniline Water Stains

Dye freshly applied to Baltic birch plywoodMy wife had asked me to make her a quick Christmas-themed display, so I made a Christmas tree on a lazy-Susan base for her. This post is not so much about the tree itself, as it is about the dye I used. It was a forest green aniline dye from Lee Valley Tools, product number 56Z08.06. 

The picture at right is Baltic birch with one coat of forest green aniline dye applied.

Preparing the Dye

To use these dyes, you need to measure then heat (but not boil) some soft, clean water (distilled is best). You then stir in an appropriate amount of dye powder, then let the mixture cool. Once mixed, you can use Mason jars to store your colours until you are ready to use them. Read the instructions that came with your dye! Each mixture is different. You can use less dye (or more water) and achieve a "thinner" cut, allowing you some leeway, without getting too dark or colour the first time.

Preparing the Wood

Before applying the dye, raise the grain on the wood by moistening the surface. Once it has thoroughly dried, lightly sand the wood surface to remove the "fuzz". If you skip this step, the process of applying the dye will leave the surface of the wood fuzzy or rough to the touch, no matter how smoothly you sanded it beforehand.

Applying the Stain

After you have your colour stain prepared, you can apply the stain using a brush, sponge, or rag. Be sure to keep a wet edge, but do not apply too much dye and be sure to spread it thoroughly. You do not want to end up with any pools of dye, or it will leave your wood blotchy.

Protecting the Stain

Wax applied over dyeStain is water-soluble, meaning that any water (including from wet hands) will dissolve the dye. This means you need to protect your project after applying the stain. Ideally, you would use a non-water-based finish over a water-based stain.

Because my wife needed to use this project within a matter of hours, after the stain had dried (with a bit of artificial help), I applied a couple coats of wax. Though this worked fine for the short duration that this project was needed for, it is unsatisfactory for the long-term, as the colour still seems to be able to work through the wax, well after it should have been sealed. The photo at right shows the project after having a carnauba wax applied.

A more optimal barrier coat would have been shellac or even polyurethane, which gives a complete barrier.


Overall, this stain was nice to work with, gave a nice green colour while leaving the grain completely visible, and it relatively quick-and-easy to apply! I'm certainly pleased with it!