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Woodworking/ebony stain


QUESTION: I have started staining a dresser and wall cabinets with ebony Minwax stain. There are places that have a muddy appearance to them. What can I do about this now that I have gotten this far? I have 3-5 coats of stain on them. I read a post about using a different technique to start with to get an ebony finish but it is too late for that. Any ideas for me now?

ANSWER: Hi Tracy, unfortunately with Minwax oil stains, you cannot put them on that heavily. This is the one most common mistake I see from people, an oil stain needs to be wiped off very well after application, and allowed to dry fully between applications. Really dark colored finishes like the "coffee", Mocha", "espresso", etc are achieved using a multiple step finishing process, and cannot be achieved with Minwax oil stain.Dye stains, sometimes in combination with oil stains, are the root of these colors, followed by 'toning' and clear finishing on top. You will need to remove as much of the stain as possible which should be easy, as it also starts to not dry fully when the film gets that heavy.Rags wet with mineral spirits will remove the excess stain...just keep changing rags until you get the result even, and uniform over the area...then let dry fully (overnight). A fan can help speed drying as well.At that point you will have to re-evaluate your finishing schedule to come up with an alternate method. What were you planning on finishing with over the stain? ...and what woods are you working with?...was the dresser stripped, bare wood?- Post back- Regards- Greg

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QUESTION: Thanks so much for your response. It is an oak dresser and the cabinets are standard unfinished cabinets from box store. I had stripped the dresser with citristrip, and then wiped down with mineral spirits. I have wiped the cabinets in areas with the mineral spirit rag but probably not enough. I noticed it gives it a dull appearance right after. Is that normal? I was planning on a satin polyeurothane for the finish. I have been slow about this process to allow for drying but I think you are right that it is just not drying now. It has been several days since the last coat and it still looks glossy. Just when you think you might know what you are doing this happens! So disappointing. I attached some pictures but I don't know how well you can see the problem in them.

ANSWER: Hi Tracy, it looks just like I imagined...what you're trying to accomplish cannot(should not) be done with Minwax stains.I have seen many people try, and the results look muddied to opaque, and the finish is never a durable one if it dries at all.All stain coats look pretty flat when dry...In order to stain hard woods dark, you will need to investigate other techniques and stains, like Generals Dye stain, available at WoodCraft. These are VERY different than working with oil stains though, so a word of caution is in order. Because they are dye based, they stain very dark, even on hard woods like Oak, Hard Maple, etc...and they always stay transparent because they are not pigment based colorants. They don't get 'muddy', or semi-opaque. The caveat is that they are quite finicky to use, and if you use the wrong color or go too dark, it is very difficult to reverse the error. They are prone to 'lapping' when applied, and if they splash or spill on anything, you cannot remove them.As with all stains, you can mix and match colors to arrive at your chosen hue, but even though these are 'waterborne' chemistry, you only want to thin them with the correct thinner, never water.As I mentioned, these darker "espresso", etc. type finishes are accomplished in multiple steps, and this is pretty advanced finishing. Many, many people think this stuff is easy, when in fact it is very skilled work, and requires a lot of knowledge in materials, color theory, and experience in how to use compatible products to layer a finish to achieve those results. NOT something that is easily taught, especially in a volunteer forum like this.Those finishes are usually done with a dye stain, sometimes followed by a pigmented stain, then a sealer coat, then a toner coat or maybe 2 (a dye colored clear coat), followed by multiple clear coats to achieve the final depth and color.There are also rubbing and sanding stages in between the steps, that can ruin the previous step if done incorrectly. Spray techniques and skill are also a must to achieve these finishes.Many of these beautiful dark cabinet finishes have upwards of 10 individual steps, and again this is pretty advanced finishing, not the realm of the novice.All the products are available to anyone, but knowing what to use, how, when, and where to use it to achieve a deep, lustrous, and durable finish takes years of experience...there are no shortcuts, really.In the industry, these finishes and finish schedules are a closely guarded secret, and no company will tell you how they achieve their finishes, even if you say 'please', because this is what sets them apart from their competitors. Anyone can build a nice cabinet or decent piece of furniture, but the finishing is where they set themselves apart.If I were you I would strip the dresser again...the cabinets are another matter, especially if you have to do several and they need to match...they all need the exact same treatment, and even then, you may need to tweak one or three to make a real match.Have a look at the link...and if there's a WoodCraft near you, pay them a visit and patronize them. They are one of the last 'brick and mortar' stores left for us woodworkers and they need our support. You can also order online from them, of course.I am a big fan of all the General products, especially the General Gel stains and Gel Polyurethane, waterborne Dyes, and their complete line of stains, finishes, is a step above the Consumer, Minwax stuff you're bombarded with everywhere, towards the more Professional end of the product world, but it also needs more attention to details and has a stiffer learning curve....but the results are always far superior.Hope I haven't discouraged you too much, but instead, enlightened you to help you on the way to being a better finisher.I'm here, so please post back- regards- Greg

P.s.- I am also in a fight with Squamous Cell Carcinoma right now, so my answers may take longer than usual to come through. I have been assured that my Cancer is highly curable, and NOT related to woodworking, which I've been doing for more than 30 years.So in an attempt to, not be too tacky, I am asking everyone to consider the PayPal 'donation' link on my page, in an effort to help handle the costs of this battle.I would be so, extremely grateful for any little bit towards the fight, as it is SO expensive, and has impacted my ability to work, greatly.Thanks in advance for your consideration.

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QUESTION: So I am thinkiing I don't have enough knowledge about how to continue so maybe I should just paint them. Do I need to use an oil based primer first? Do you think a good brush would be ok to use?

Thanks for all your help. Sorry to hear about your illness. I hope you recover fully.

I'm not sure I'd give up so easily...but yes you can always paint. I would strip off what you've done down to bare wood to be sure you get the best adhesion. Oil primers and almost all oil paint is gone from what I in the northeast you cannot by them anymore.A good brush and a good paint will give you a decent finish especially if you use a paint additive like Floetrol.Don't skimp on either, my favorite is Benjamin Moore Satin Imervo,Kitchen and Bath, Sherwin Williams or similar high quality paints for generally get what you pay for. The new breed of small trim rollers are also good for larger areas, just practice the best technique you can, paint in very good light,in a dust free environment with NO moving air (until you're done applying), and work deliberately and methodically. Paint has limited durability on something like kitchen cabinets, however...which are subjected to a difficult environment. If you want to do the kitchen cabinets in something more durable, I would steer you towards the Rustoleum Transformations system to at least have a look at the site and video here:

The quality of any finish is a direct result as to the prep and quality of the finishing job....and a Professional looking and wearing job takes a little skill and a lot of work..Hope that helps-Greg


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Greg Scholl


Questions on Woodworking, wood finishing and refinishing of all kinds, repairing furniture and wooden objects,Architectural details, Woodturning, carving, tool usage, product usage, some chemistry as it applies to woodworking and related interests,cabinet making and furniture construction/design, etc. I have experience with all manners of colorants, finishes, paints, stains, dyes, glazes, and coatings,wood species recognition,usage,etc.


Fine furniture restorer and cabinet maker for over 30 years,serving high end Antique dealers, Interior designers, Collectors in the CT area. Sold, built, serviced, setup Home,Industrial and Commercial stationary woodworking tools for a major tool retailer in CT. for three years, sold hand and power tools, and offered instruction on use and care as well.I even have some Trade show Demo experience.

none at this time.

Published in Fine Woodworking Magazine (12/97), included on Fine Woodworkings first "Best of Fine Woodworking" CD-ROM (2002)-("27 year compilation of expert know-how"),Multiple times in Family Handyman Magazine, local newspapers as well.

Art School at Silvermine Guild in Norwalk, CT., 9 year apprenticeship in a European run Cabinet and Restoration shop in CT., various classes on subjects having to do with the field. Seminars by Major tool manufacturers, Delta, Powermatic, Performax, Porter Cable, Skil/Bosch to name a few.

Past/Present Clients
Many varied clients including work on Martha Stewarts' Westport, CT. show house, many fine Antique dealers and private collectors in and around Fairfield County and in Woodbury, CT.(the Antiques capital of CT.)
Consulting for area Painting/Decorating and Building contractors on non painting issues..(staining, wood prep.,clear finishing, floor restoration and architectural detail restoration and repair, etc.), local Museums and Historical Societies.For the last two years I have been employed with Schwenke Auctioneers Inc.- Woodbury Auction LLC., as a staff photographer,IT tech,and doing restoration and repair work as well.

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