Which wood will stain deep black well?

I have a project which is going on a friend’s upright Yamaha piano as a music stand.

The main panel is from some light coloured maple but we want to have the upright supports a deep ebony black to blend in with the black lacquer of the Piano. I am pretty convinced that I’m not good enough at lacquer to get these curved parts up to the Yamaha quality black mirror finish and I’d also like the wood grain to still be visible.

I’ve tried a few stains on the maple and it mostly just shrugs them off, really doesn’t seem very interested in taking a deep colour so I figured maybe I should choose a wood that was more interested in being stained.

So, which wood species would folks suggest to take a really deep black stain well please?

I would use a very open grain wood. White oak will work well. EDIT: You won’t be able to get it perfectly black regardless of the wood when using a stain. Multiple coats with some sort of sealer after will work best.

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I would opt for staining repeatedly (possibly x3) for whatever wood you use after sanding until the surface is completely free of blemishes and is back to the clean wood. Initially using up to 320 grit to leave the wood with an open pore structure and brush an even coat of the stain onto the wood against the raised grain.

Let the stain absorb and dry. Sand the wood smooth to key the surface. Apply the stain again and let it absorb but wipe off any damp stain after letting that coat absorb. Sanding with progressively finer grits until you are happy. I routinely sand things to fine finish with 3000 grit which feels smooth and almost polished. Apply a clear protective coat if you are happy with the finish else, rinse and repeat. You can purchase a variety of exotic woods (including ebony) at the link below:

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In addition to staining, one thing to consider is traditional ebonizing using a mixture of steel (rust) and vinegar — this has the advantage of being an actual chemical change and penetrating the wood — you can then stain over that and apply a suitable finish.

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I’ve had great luck with Poplar using Artist India Ink thinned with Denatured Alcohol. A couple of coats then switch to a natural Danish oil, finish with wax. I have not tried this process on harder woods yet. I’ve also wondered if I could save a step and just add the India Ink to the Danish oil. I made a headboard for my wife many years ago as a novice wood worker (be kind) and the finish has held up very well. After 12+ years it is due for some touchup. The field is Baltic Birch Ply with Watco Cherry Danish oil.

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Been having a dig on YouTube about the chemical ebonising and it seems the thing I missed last time was to give the wood a nice British cup of tea first to provide the tannin to react with. I might go test a sample.

Looks like an Oak is probably a good bet for staining or chemical ebonising, any experience with species?

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Red oak has the most tannin and works well w/o the need for adding tannin.

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This video should be helpful: A Great Way to Ebonize Ash for Woodworking Projects - YouTube

The jist of it is that using a dye AND a stain gives the best results. One goes for the surface and the other deep into the pores. This should work for most wood species out there. I’m actually working on a cabinet right now using this method on some white oak.

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As others pointed out you need repeated coats to approach black. I have used ebony stain, proably MinMax, and it worked well. The oil stains penetrate best. Do not use gel stains because they do not penetrate deeply.

If the required wood is small order some real ebony. Ebony is expensive but not too bad for small amounts.

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We did our stairs with soft maple, ebony black analine dye, and a gel stain with general finishes poly and 10 years later it still looks awesome.

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The key to ebonizing maple is not sanding it to much. I learned this early in my career building a loft ladder for client in Boston. I sanded this ladder to 320 and it felt nice and smooth bit the stain just did not stick. I ended up having to use a glaze stain over the whole thing and it was an awful chore.
This is what works for me.
You want to sand to 150 and stop otherwise you will seal the pores to much. You will want to raise the grain and sand a second time as well. Grain raising can take one or two tries to get but do not go high on the sandpaper grit. Denibbing with 220 is ok.
I use a tannin tea solution that I buy from a lab supply company. Then use a vinegar and “steel wool” solution to blacken it to taste.
Once the ebonizing is to your liking stop. Do not sand at this point. Apply your sealer coat or topcoat over the black until it is thick enough to sand without cutting into the black color. All your sheen and sanding work should be done in the thick clearcoat film. I use a ML Campbell water based pre catalyzed high build lacquer most of the time. Sherwin Williams Kem Aqua is pretty good as well but it is not very forgiving if you apply it wrong. In a pinch I will use General Finishes topcoats.
This will work with many species of wood.

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I’ve had luck with Ash and basic Ebony wood stains (even HD’s Varthane Wood Stains). I’ve arrived at what I call “the overkill method” - which really is overkill, but it works.

  • I Don’t sand too deeply (I stop at 150 or 220)
  • Coat heavily with Ebony stain. Don’t wipe it off so fast. Tip it off, but leave it on
  • Let it dry fully (24 hours or more)
  • Light sanding
  • Coat of Tung Oil, mixed with Ebony Stain
  • Let it dry
  • A second coat of Ebony Stain, not as heavily applied as the first, but not a wipe-off immediately, either
  • More coats of Tung Oil (or Waterlox - or whatever else you want to use). These coats don’t usually need to have stain mixed in, but if you feel it’s stealing the black, put stain in these coats as well (overkill).

I’ve had very good results with this.

The trick is under-sanding (as mentioned above), allowing the stain to fully dry, follow with a tung oil coat and then restain. Then mixing stain in to the final coats.

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Thanks everyone,

That’s given me a great list of things to try out, I’m not wedded to maple for the uprights so I think I’ll try an easier to stain base wood. I think I’m going to try out both the dye & stain and tea & rust methods and see which of them look best against the piano lacquer.

I think I understand better what’s going on with the wood and why my ‘wood stain’ at the moment is just sitting on the surface of the Maple, this particular maple has a very hard smooth surface even after the saw or straight off the Shapeoko which just seems to repel fluids. I shall choose a battle that I have a chance of winning :wink:

One thing no one has mentioned yet is scraping vs sanding. I have been told (but actually have no firsthand experience with) that scraping leaves the pores more open than sanding and will accept stain more readily.

Really looking forward to the post showing us the comparisons between different wood species, various stains/dyes, sanding at various grits, scraping etc. Should only require preparing 60 or so sample boards for a thorough comparison. :grinning:

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Finishing is an art unto itself, and there are volumes written on it:

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Well that gives me some things to read when I’ve finished the current book

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Scraping with a card or cabinet scraper will definitely prepare the surface but will leave the sheen of the wood inconsistent. I use those scraping tools to deal with tear out, knots and highly figured stock. Then sand.
The sanding ensures an even finish coating.
I agree that finishing is an entirely separate trade. The Flexner book is a good start.

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I’ve always been curious about India ink for dying wood. I use other liquid dye and I’m quite happy with the results from those, just haven’t developed a fondness for bright mauve, yet. Try a sample of wood with the ink then cut a section to see the depth of penetration.

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I’d be curious to know how some of these stains / methods hold up to … time. I remember staining some furniture “jet black” a very long time ago, then going to visit and seeing it slowly turning grey.

That’s one of the advantages of ebonizing w/ vinegar/steel wool — it’s an actual chemical change.