Oil Stains vs. Alcohol Based Wood Stains

We here at the Passionate Painters are really, really passionate about refinishing entrance doors. After 11 years in this business I still get a thrill looking at a worn out wooden doorway and imagining what it will look like after we’ve transformed it.

And that enthusiasm has intensified since we discovered alcohol-based dye stains that we’re now using as part of the restoration process.

Up until now we’ve been continually frustrated by two challenges when refinishing doorways. The first was customers requesting that we stain doors darker than we’ve been able to do up until now. Dye stains now give us the opportunity to satisfy that request.

Secondly, we’ve been prepping doors by stripping them down to bare wood before staining and varnishing and we’ve been doing that to ensure that the oil stain gives us an even colour. Doing that much prep is really time consuming and the only way to check our work has been to stain the door! You can imagine how exasperating it is to stain a door that we’re confident is prepped correctly only to realise that there is unevenness or a mottled appearance because we’ve missed a spot in a corner or not sanded an area completely. When staining reveals inconsistencies, it has to be stripped down again using Lacquer Thinner and then we have to start over! Keep in mind, these are doors that are for all intents and purposes stripped of all stain and varnish and appear to be completely clean to the naked eye.

So in other words, oil stains aren’t very forgiving and because they don’t penetrate wood very much, I’ve come to the conclusion that these products work well for new projects using new wood, but for us in the refinishing business they aren’t ideal. They do work well when combined with dye stains though.

Alcohol-based dye stains literally dye the wood and can be applied using a rag or sprayed on. They only come in a few colours but are also available in primary colours too so we can do some mixing and matching to get a pretty good base colour on a doorway to start off before moving on to an oil stain for the final stage.

To make our challenge of colour matching more efficient, dye stains can be diluted at well, meaning that we can build up the intensity of colour with added coats of the dye.

By doing a dye stain first it solves both problems just mentioned. Dyes give us the ability to apply a base of colour that gives a wonderful, even colour across all surfaces and if needed, an extra coat of dye before applying an oil stain gives us the chance to create a darker overall effect that oils simply can’t achieve.

In fact we used this new product (for us anyway) on a mahogany door in the summer of 2019 to stain it black! Yes, the customer wanted it black and with dyes and oils we were able to achieve a solid black colour that still showed the grains of the wood because the projects we used didn’t build up the surface the way paint would have. The result was a soft, black finish that still showed the subtle grains of the wood underneath. This project took lots to work and was well worth the effort in the end. Our patient client gave us the opportunity to get the result she wanted and the knowledge we can now use to help other customers.

As we continue to grow and learn we now have another skill to add to our list to help us to satisfy our customers’ needs.