Q. I am planning to build some natural wood cabinets for my living room. Is it better to use a stain or a dye on the wood?
The answer depends upon the type of wood you are using and type of finish you desire. In some situations, using both can create the most attractive finish. Also, the application procedure has a significant impact upon the final appearance of the wood surface.
Dyes are generally used to change the color of the wood or to create a surface effect. Some dyes can create a weathered or antique appearance. The entire surface of the wood changes color, so the grain is neither enhanced or diminished.
Dyes are made of microscopic particles that attach themselves to the wood fibers. Dyes are available as liquids or powders that are mixed with alcohol, water or oil-based chemicals. They are basically transparent, so the wood surface details show.
Stains are made of colored pigments that stick in the grains and pores on the wood surface. A binder, such as oil or acrylic, is used to hold them in place. Unlike dyes, the pigment particles in the stain build up in the grain, so it is enhanced. For this reason, stains create the greatest change in the appearance of open-grain woods such as ash and oak.
If you are satisfied with the grain definition in the wood and just want to darken the color, then a dye is your best choice. Also, if the wood surface has some scratches that are difficult to remove, dye is effective.
If the grain can barely be seen, staining works well. Use a dark stain instead of several coats of a lighter stain.
Always practice first on a sample piece of the same wood to determine how much to dilute the dye to produce the color you desire. Prepare the wood surface with sandpaper.