now, are we going to stain?

Generally, I would say you often don’t have too….and please don’t, unless you really have too.

Believe me, stains are a pain in the posterior. They are hard to apply, generally complicate and compromise all further work on the wood and believe me….best avoided. Problem is, sometimes we just can’t avoid using them. UV can make some mahoganies darken, but in general it makes them fade. This is especially true for the light toned gaboon faced plywood that is used so much for old and new dinghy decking. So after a few years of steady use, you think about redoing the varnish, a proper back to the wood job. First thing you do is pull off the fittings and straight away notice that the decks under the fittings are beautiful dark tones of golden mahogany, but outside the fitting where the UV has been doing its work, the colour is by comparison just shaded of grey. OK ….you have got a problem and how do we fix it?

The hardest, most annoying fact is…..the best way to fix it…..if you can be bothered and if there is enough wood (check the thickness of the veneer used on the ply) is to just sand the discoloured wood off. This is hard work and although easier and possible on solid wood parts, often is just not feasible on a cheaper thin faced ply (also remember you might want to do it again in the boat’s life). OK, so that might work for the mahogany superstructure, but what about the decks and other ply bits.

The next tool in your armoury is one of the proprietary wood cleaners. These are based on mixtures of Oxalic acid (which is a teensy weensy bit poisonous – so don’t mix the can of cleaner for your tea now) I have used two and the name of both escapes me ( I will try and add them later). They can help….I don’t know why they don’t do more really. They work just brilliantly at cleaning un-protected UV damaged wood. Bits of old weathered wood come up a treat….but UV damaged wood that has lived under varnish, seems to be largely unaffected by the cleaner…..Damn and Blast. I keep trying….it keeps working – a bit…..but unfortunately chemical cleaners/bleaches/restorers just don’t seem to work (for me) on wood that has been varnished (of course you have to take the varnish off first – Doh).

So……you pull off the varnish… sand it a bit….get bored and frustrated…..try using a wood restorer… but just bleach your hands, make a mess and its a little better, but still really grey…so now what….well the only thing left is to stain it!

Of course there might be other reasons to use a stain. The Gaboon faced ply used by Fairey Marine was really golden coloured, really beautiful and nothing like the pink faced ply we get now. A little yellow dye, or even a little bleaching followed by some yellow dye can make it much more original. I should warn you up front that there is a big problem about staining new ply…….it changes colour in the first few months anyway. It’s bad enough seeing your perfect coloured stain job change colour by the end of the summer, but spare a thought for the daft bleeder who spends hours, bleaching and dyeing a perfectly inserted piece of new ply into the middle of an old piece of ply. Finally it is perfect, it’s all varnished….you can hardly see the difference. Then the UV gets to it and within a couple of weeks….it is a completely new colour….at which point you realise that if you had not stained it…..the wood would of faded (or sometimes darkened – it does happen) to exactly the same colour anyway……mmmmmm…..My friends….I was that soldier! But as I said at the beginning of this…..Don’t stain unless you really feel that you have to!

But OK….despite all my warnings….you know you just have to stain this knackered old ply (I know, that’s what I always think too).

So what do you need to know?
Well there are three kind of stains: those based on pigments, those based on dyes….and some chemical ones too. But OK I admit it I don’t know sweet FA about the chemical ones and there aren’t any available for the home boat-builder like us so lets concentrate on the others. But before we get two technical lets think about it another way, in practice we find there are two types of stain: Those that get right into the grain of the wood, and those that sit on the top. The ones that get right into the wood are based on dyes and the ones that sit on top use pigments that are in a thin emulsion.

I am going to stick my nose out here, because plenty of people will disagree…..but in my exceedingly humble opinion the pigment stains just look like someone has smeared dog-poo under the varnish…..I (again very personally) think they just look crap. Stains should stain the wood….not hang about on top…it just isn’t the idea……so……DON’T DO IT. I know someone will disagree, but if you want to know how to use these stains, ask them how to (but look at their boat first <G>)

OK… this is my little bit about using ‘dye-based’ stains….

1. You can only use them on bare wood, there is no point in using them on varnished or sealed woods, it just won’t be absorbed by the wood.
2. Make absolutely and totally sure you have done ALL the wood preparation, sanding, cleaning etc. before you start to stain. Once you have put stain on the wood, you can not sand the wood as it will just take off the stain and leave original wood underneath.
3. Stained wood changes colour as it dries….and then again when it is varnished. To have any chance of getting the colour that you want….you will need to take some scraps of similar wood and stain them, varnish them and then let them dry….before you make any decisions at all.
4. Dye-stains are normally based on a carrier of solvent or spirit, as long as they are, they can be mixed and diluted with a spirit solvent (I have used white spirit with no problems).
5. Applying dye stains is easy enough. The wood can only absorb so much dye, if you try and apply less, then it will be blotchy, but if you apply more then it won’t make any difference at all. So you just take a rag, soak it in the dye and then apply liberally onto the wood. Once it is on, just rub as much of it off again as you can. What can stay in the wood….will and what can’t you will rub off. If you want less colour, you can try diluting the dye, if you want more, use a darker stain. You can let the first dry and apply it again, but really once the wood is saturated with that colour, you can’t get in any more colour….sorry.
6. You can get some interesting effects by applying one colour over another, some dyes seem to get into the grain more than others which get more into the flesh of the wood. So by playing you can get some groovy effects.
7. Bare in mind that anything you do….might need to be re-done at a later date. Make a note of the wood used…..the dye used and how you applied it so you have got half a chance of doing it again on a patch if you need too.
8. Once it is on, you have got to really let it dry before you attempt to apply any varnish or clear primer. If you have not used this dye with this primer, it is highly advisable to test how they work together first. But of course you will of done this when you made up your colour checks…..wouldn’t you.
9. If you want to apply in very small areas then you can always use a modelling brush…..and go gently….followed by lots and lots of rubbing.
10. If you go too far, or you don’t like it……you can sand it back….but success is varied. sometimes it works….and sometimes not.

What makes of dye do I use? Well I have used the Ronseal and the Colron stains and they both do exactly what they say on the tin. Liberon amongst others make the Pigment dyes… if you like that just smeared on the prison wall look….you know what to buy.

Well that is stains for you… you wish you never asked now….
If you do want to know more (really?) then you could look at: