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Ever have a staining project not turn out how you imagined? Last week, I was working on a little maple dresser. If you have ever worked with maple before, you know it sucks to stain. Like, majorly. Even after using a pre-stain conditioner, I was still left with a splotchy mess. After sanding, and re-staining. I decided to work with what I have, and apply a wood toner. Best. Decision. Ever.
I'm not ready to share the dresser yet, so I mocked up a test board to show you how a wood toner works.
Just like a toner you would get over your highlights in the salon, a wood toner is a translucent coat that lightly deposits color over the surface. It can be used to neutralize unwanted tones (like brassy highlights), even out splotchy color, or darken an existing finish.
If you research wood toners, you will probably end up on a professional wood worker forum, and they will be throwing around terms like "pre-cat", "HVLP" and "TransTint". Its not that complicated, and despite what you might read, it doesn't have to be sprayed. Toner can be applied with a high quality brush. A wood toner is simply pigment, mixed into a "watered down", clear finish. (I say the term "watered-down", but if you decided to use an oil-based finish, make sure to use mineral spirits, or lacquer thinner.) I'll show you how to to mix up your own toner, with products found at your local hardware store.
For easier clean-up, I chose to use a water based, polyurethane by Minwax*. The sheen doesn't really matter.
In addition to the universal tint, I mixed in some pigment powder. This stuff is pretty cool. It can be mixed into poly, paint, wax, and pretty much anything else, without watering down the consistency. Adding powdered pigment is my new favorite to create my own colored wax. I find mine on Ebay and it is pretty cheap. This stuff is SUPER concentrated! A little bit goes a long way.
So like I said, I add the color to the polyurethane and stir it very well.
Now, I thin the poly. As mentioned before, if you are using an oil-based lacquer or polyurethane, use mineral spirits or lacquer thinner. Since I used a water-based product, I added a good deal of water. The ratio should be 2 parts water, 1 part poly.
Now, you can spray or brush on the toner. Caution, it will be VERY thin and easily runs. You will want to apply the toner on a horizontal surface, if possible and remember "less is more". Use multiple, thin coats to get the coverage you want.
This is how my sample board looked after 3 coats. Although I used polyurethane in the toner, you will still need a clear coat to protect the finish.
For reference, here's the "before" again.
Ready for some awesome news?! A wood toner can be used over an existing finish! Yes, that means you can darken that golden oak table top of yours without stripping it to bare wood. I would recommend giving the surface a light sand, and wiping everything clean with some TSP before toning, and remember to seal the toned surface with 2-3 coats of a clear finish, to protect your work.