If it comes to finishing cabinetry, woodwork and furniture, most people consider three basic options straight away: Paint, stain or varnish. But lesser-known aniline dye deserves its turn in the spotlight.

Like so many fantastic things throughout history, aniline dye has been discovered by accident. About a century and a half ago, a British chemist conducted a failed experiment which produced an unexpected result: He noticed that yarn pigments had much more staying power when mixed with aniline, a transparent, oily fluid found in coal tar.

Homeowners and pros in the know have employed aniline dye for a long time to put in a rich, luminous layer of colour to wood without masking its natural beauty. Is it for you? Read on to decide.

Jacobson, Silverstein, Winslow / Degenhardt

The Basics

The distinction between a dye and blot: A blot is essentially a thin, lightened form of paint — it coats the surface of the timber but doesn’t penetrate it. Dyes, on the other hand, soak into the wood and create a deep layer of colour. They are generally transparent, so they’re a fantastic choice if you don’t wish to cover up a gorgeous grain or other features.

If you opt for a dye colour, remember that the natural hue of the timber will show through, so make sure you take into account. By way of example, a pale blue dye applied to yellow pine could bring about a slight green cast. Bleaching wood until you dye it will offer a more neutral backdrop.


How to Use It

Aniline dye is sold in powder form, to be mixed with alcohol, water or both for application. Many specialists use water-soluble dyes for total colour, since they go on evenly and maintain their ethics well; alcohol-based models dry faster but do not maintain their colour as reliably. Dye powders come with instructions for blending quantities and methods. You can tinker with the color by adding a little more to intensify it or a little less to lighten it.

Employ the dye to unsealed wood using a brush, a foam applicator or a sponge. You’ll probably want two to three coats unless you want the colour to be very sheer. Allow at least 12 hours for drying between coats. Employ a transparent sealer as a finish coat to preserve the dye and add glow.

Tip: Wear latex or rubber gloves to prevent dyed hands as you work.

Michael FitzSimmons Decorative Arts

What It Costs

Expect to spend $5 to $6 per ounce for a jar of dye powder, available at specialty timber retailers and some paint and blot suppliers.

Perhaps you have used aniline dye on your woodwork? Tell us more in the Comments!

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