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TIP: Use Dye to Match New Parts

Jun 30, 2016 | Expert's Corner | 0 comments

A common situation in furniture restoration is matching a newly made part to the color of the rest of the object. Water-soluble dyes are much more effective for doing this than commercial store-bought stains.

The water-soluble dyes I’m referring to are those made by WD Lockwood. They are also sold by Woodworker’s Supply under the name Moser.

Metalized dyes like those sold as NGR stains or Transtint aren’t nearly as effective because they are difficult to lighten. Trying to tweak the color usually results in it getting darker as the two colors blend and there’s no easy way to lighten it.

On this panel I stained the entire surface with the red dye shown in the middle section. Then I wiped the left section with a yellow dye and changed the color to orange. I wiped the right section with a black dye and changed the color to brown. This sample shows an extreme example of how much control you have of the color.
The water-soluble dyes from Lockwood, which are sold as powders for you to dissolve yourself, are easy to lighten simply by wiping with a wet cloth after the dye has dried. They are also easy to tweak or even change the color entirely, as shown in the accompanying picture.

The usual way to match the color of a new part is to practice on scrap wood of the same species until you get it right. Then apply the color to the part. But if you’ve tried this you know that it rarely works to your satisfaction. Somehow, the color that seemed good on the scrap often looks wrong on the new part.

With water-soluble dyes you can practice right on the part. Go ahead and glue it into the furniture, then apply a dye color you think is close to a match. Because the color you’re going to get with the finish applied is the same as the color of the part with the dye still damp, you can see right away what adjustment you need to make. It’s usually adding a little red to warm the color, a little green to cool the color, or a very little black to dull the color.
A big advantage of using a water-soluble dye is that you don’t have to worry about damaging an adjoining finish if you get some of the dye on it. Just wipe it off.