A Few Traditional Receipts For Stain
by John T. Kramer
Antiques Doctor & Apothecary
Though I have found these formulae useful there is no
assurance they will work for you. Differences in the way people
mix and apply them can cause very different results. Before
committing any antique to any preparation; you have no personal
experience with; it is strongly suggested that you first conduct
a full range of experiments to be certain it will do what you
need the way you expect it to do it. Know what you are doing some
of this stuff is extremely dangerous to work with!
When working with ancient recipes be advised that the secrets
of a trade were jealously guarded even from a Master's most
trusted apprentices. Though trade journals were published listing
receipts often the exact sequence and technique of preparation
was omitted or key ingredients left out of the published listing.
Test, test and test again before committing any antique or
other valuable work to any formulation new or old. Know what's
going to happen not only now, but, later - much later.
Modern stains are mostly claimed to be aniline dyes soluble in
water. Those who sell just aniline dye say their color is
permanent. Something's wrong somewhere because one feature I've
noticed with modern products is the certainty of fading - fading
quickly when exposed to sunlight. Experiment you'll see what I
mean. They are available in a vast array of colors, their
permanency is suspect, my personal experience has been
Most often stain is used to help inferior wood imitate the
better varieties; less often to bring out the natural colors of
the wood as in using alkanet root and cochineal to highlight
Today the most common use of stain is to impart color to pine
which has had the original finish stripped off. In the past pine,
poplar and magnolia along with other light color plain woods were
considered paint grade. Many times these plain woods were painted
and grained to resemble exotic hardwoods or marble. Seldom was a
plain wood finished except with paint. Seldom was natural wood
stained except to match repairs to original work.
Fumed oak can only be duplicated by the original method;
exposing the wood to an atmosphere of heat and ammonia.
Much old work was painted to blend several different specie of
wood to a contiguous whole; the best examples of this were
Windsor chairs which were built of as many as nine different
woods each chosen for maximum strength, workability or utility of
each part. Modern reproductions of all one particular wood, most
often maple, are shallow imitations of the originals.
For practical purposes here I refer to stain as those things
which establish a physical presence in the wood as opposed to dye
which chemically alters the wood. The words have been used
non-specifically for a very long time.
If we stain a well figured wood the finer grain definition and
multiplicity of color natural to all woods is reduced. This is a
contemporary technique taught to us by people who sell stain. If
the natural colors of the wood are brought out by traditional
natural and compatible products the end result is many magnitudes
richer in depth, color and definition of the grain. And more
Chemically altering the wood does not always offer the same
dulling result. Fuming changes all of the colors throughout the
wood to wonderful effect. Dyeing can flatten the range of color
or enhance the range depending on the materials and techniques
used. Much of what is written about traditional methods of dyeing
wool, linen and cotton can be adapted and applied to dyeing wood.
The French perhaps experimented with the dyeing of wood more than
Stains can be made from a variety of pigments they are applied
to wood prior to finishing with alcohol, water, oil and used to
pigment varnish or shellac. Often they are water based, sometimes
alcohol and occasionally oil.
Traditional pigments most commonly used for staining wood:
(Raw/Burnt Sienna, Raw/Burnt Umber, Yellow/Red Ochre, Van Dyke
Brown, Vermilion, Prussian Blue, Ivory/Lamp Black, White). These
are primarily minerals and will never fade no matter how much
These pigments can be mixed with acids, alkalis water, oil,
varnish, rosin, resins, gums, lacquer, shellac, alcohol, and
more. They can also be used to benefit with Kramer's Best Antique
Improver and Kramer's Best Blemish Clarifier. <Follow this
link to find out how>.
Vermilion and Prussian Blue (as only two examples) are
extremely dangerous and not recommended for use. Traditionally
white lead would have been used - now that we recognize the
hazard titanium white seems the better choice.
White is used for opacity - black for intensity of color.
Staining raises the grain, less with spirit and oil stains
than with water stains. Light sanding is usually necessary after
application. It is always better to apply several thin coats than
to attempt one heavy coat. Each coat must be perfectly dry before
applying the next.
TABLE OF TREE DYE/STAIN
|Chokecherry||inner bark||red dye|
|Red Cedar||" "||mahogany red|
|Black Walnut||nut husks||drk brwn, acidic|
|Hazel||inner bark||black dye|
|Hemlock||" "||red dye|
|White Birch||" "||light red|
|Dogwood||" "||" "|
|Wild Plum||" "||bright red|
|Osier Dogwood||" "||" "|
|Bur Oak||" "||black|
|Butternut||inner bark &root||"|
A FEW OLD RECIEPTS FOR STAIN/DYE
Slake urine with lime and lay on hot.
1/4 lb. madder root
1/8 lb. fustic wood
1/2 gal. water
Make a decoction and apply.
1/2 lb. madder
1/4 lb. buckthorn berries
1 gal. water
Make a decoction and apply
RED SPIRIT STAIN
1 oz. Dragon's Blood
1 pt. Spirits of Wine
Mix and apply.
1 oz. Tumeric root
1 pt. alcohol
PURPLISH - RED
Diluted sulphuric acid
Tincture of Brazil wood
Make two solutions which should be heated before mixing. The (b) solution darkens the shade. 5 parts (a) to 1 part (b) gives a useful color.
(a) 1 oz. verdigris in 10 oz. vinegar
(b) 2 drm. indigo in 15 oz. Vinegar
In a clean earthenware jar place 4 oz. sulphuric acid and 1
oz. indigo (well ground). Place in a basin as it will bubble up
and perhaps boil over. When boiling has ceased add distilled
water to the desired shade. Keeping the solution improves the
40 gr. bichromate of potash
400 gr. Van Dyke brown
200 gr. carbonate of soda
10 oz. water
Mix and boil together all ingredients apply hot or cold with a
80 gr. permanganate of potash
10 oz water
Mix and apply varying the water will vary the color.
1 oz. logwood chips
1 pt. water
Boil together and then add:
30 gr. grain tin
1 oz. dilute nitric acid
Use fresh logwood known by its bright red, not dirty brown
color. Filter and make hot before application.
1/2 oz. catechu (cutch)
120 gr. carbonate of soda
15 oz. water
Bring to solution, boil and apply hot. When dry apply a
solution of bichromate of potassium. The strength of the
bichromate solution will regulate the depth of the color.