Hello. New guy here. I'll do the "introduction thing" elsewhere, but just so it makes sense that I'm posting stuff that's long and detailed: yeah, I've done published articles before, in other hobbies. With apologies for the relatively-long (by I'net standards) length of this, I'll jump into my tip's write-up.

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This post is about a specific "recipe" or formula I came up with, over the years, through experimentation. From what I usually experience when I talk to others about staining wooden things, it seems like a lot of people assume (incorrectly) that whatever a stain manufacturer supplies customers with, must be the fullest and most complete range of options available. And that, color-wise, nothing else is possible. Which seems to turn some folks off, on the whole idea of staining bits of wood: since the store-bought colors they tried were, in many cases, not what was expected; too aggressive; and so on.

It is possible to custom-mix different stains (from the same manufacturer) together, to come up with "new colors". The bulk of the idea behind this tip is this: not all stains are equal to one another, in terms of relative darkness. Some are super, super "light". So if you start with the lightest-possible stain that a given manufacturer seems to sell, and if you use that as most of your "base" color, and you "tint" that "base" color with a little bit of one or more of the same manufacturer's darker stains, you can make very nice stain colors that you can't find in any store.

No stain is perfect, and they all look different when applied to different substrates (in this case, different species of wood), and application technique and timing enters into it, blah, blah … but I figured I could come up with something that worked good on the cheapish grades of wood that I was likely to be able to obtain, for most of my projects. (Not all of which have anything to do with making musical instruments.) I stuck with the process of trying one mixture "recipe" after another, and came up with one that I use on "anything" these days. Because it's light enough to look good on cheap woods (which sometimes absorb way too much stain in places, and not enough, in others - all on a single piece of wood) I find that it also works really well on more expensive woods, that "fight" it less.


The recipe I will suggest is simply a mixture of three different off-the-shelf wood stain colors. They are all made by the MinWax company. No, I don't have any connection to that company. I'm naming that brand because it's easily available, even in a town as tiny (population: maybe 5,000) and remote (my town is surrounded on all sides by dozens of miles of nothing but nature) as the place that I currently live in. I'm also suggesting that one specific stain company because I know from long experience that MinWax's stuff is not particularly difficult to obtain; and I feel it's pretty easy on a person's wallet, too.

Eighty percent of my custom mixture is MinWax's "Golden Pecan (#245)" color.

As it comes in the can, that's a very light stain color. I'm using that specific color of stain as an "almost clear" color: sort of to get the "binders" and what not that's in it, while adding the "pigments" from other stains. (Sort of - that's as close as I know how to explain it.) Another name for this principle, as used in other hobbies, might be a "tinting base". I think automotive pin-stripers and/or custom car painters, etc., might use that term, when they're custom-mixing special one-off paints for their projects.

To that "tinting base" I suggest that you add ten percent -- (by volume not by weight, if anyone's wondering) -- of MinWax's "Gunstock (#231)" stain. That adds a much darker brown color, which has a hint of reddishness: just enough to "warm the color up" a bit.

I also add ten percent of MinWax's "Red Oak (#215)" stain. By itself, that's a very dark brownish sort of color: probably too dark on it's own for most highly absorbent (read: cheap!) woods but looks good on fancier stuff. When mixed with the two other stain colors I named, above, I feel this color greatly speeds up the whole "darkening" process, while also balancing out the too-light Golden Pecan; and toning down the Gunstock.

Summing Up

So, to put it in fewer words: my custom stain formula is 80% "Golden Pecan" and 10% "Gunstock" and 10% "Red Oak".

I sometimes mix up a "reduced strength" version, too - usually using leftovers - and the exact formula for that basically depends on what's laying around, that's left over. But I do keep the ratio of "Gunstock" and "Red Oak" the same (that is, a 50/50 mix of those two) and what I'm mainly doing, with that "reduced strength" mix, is adding more of the "Golden Pecan" color.

If anyone wants more tips on staining, or mixing the stuff or whatever, just ask and I'll see what I can write up. (I might be slow -- Carpal Tunnel, etc.) But that should be enough to get some folks into "trying it".

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Being a newbie over here, I'm still learning this system's details ... but hopefully, a photo gets added below (see the attachment) so that you folks can see for yourselves what that custom stain mix can look like. I stained one of C.B. Gitty's "you assemble it" laser-cut boxes a few days ago, so I'll use that as my example.

What's seen here is just one quick (brush it on, even it out, let it sit for maybe ten minutes, then wipe off any excess with a clean paper towel) coat of the stain mix I talked about, above. Here those stained pieces are, with some actual tobacco-industry boxes in the picture, for comparison purposes. One coat is (to my eyes) a hair or two darker, overall, than the Oliva-branded boxes, while being just a bit lighter than the Cohiba-branded boxes. But as you can see, overall, it's "in the ballpark" (in terms of relative darkness or lightness) in both cases. And as stains go, it's very simple to go from bare laser-cut plywood pieces, to something close to "normal" as seen on some common all-wood types of industry-standard boxes.

One coat of unmodified "Golden Pecan," on top of what's shown here, would bring the Gitty-supplied box pieces that much closer to the warmer and more amber look of the Cohiba box.


The pic looks nice.

Staining and final finish can be intimidating to those without experience with the process.

One thing to remember is that different types of wood will have different results. Harder woods will take more stain to achieve a certain shade than a soft wood. So it's good to start off with a light application first to see how everything will turn out, then add what's needed to even out the final color.

Final finish choices can be Polyurethane, Linseed Oil, Tung Oil and Tru-Oil. Some final finishes may add some tinting while others are just clear.

It's always good to test out on a piece of similar scrap.

Good info! 

Thanks much! It's appreciated!

Since that initial info seems to have "gone over okay," here's some more. I had written it all at one time -- but I looked at the length, and decided to just post the main bits, for that first day's post. There's still more notes-to-self that I wrote down ... even after this "Next Installment," which is more or less a random collection of tips; and some notes on how I personally "do things".

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I use a graduated (carefully marked) measuring glass, to get my percentages right.

To get the liquids out of their cans, with minimal fuss, spillage and general mess, I tried a lot of things. What works well for me is that I took a metal cup (that was originally made for measuring coffee grounds), and I bent the handle up, so it's like a small ladle. That cup stays with my stains - I won't use it for anything related to foods, any more.

I tend to buy all three of the stains in 32-ounce containers: not the smaller sizes of cans. I do that partially because time has told me it stores very well (for years) as long as you're reasonable with storage conditions (not letting paints or stains freeze, etc.) and cleaning the rims of the lids is something you do: so that the can's tops can/will still seal well.

Because it lasts so long, and I use it a lot, I tend to keep my emptied-out cans. I re-label empties as I go. (I do that using green-colored "tough job" or "difficult surface" type of masking tape, which my local building supply place carries. I write on the tape with a Sharpie marker, and because the background of the tape is pretty light in color, it's visible. In fact, so is most of the can behind it; so you may want to use multiple tape layers, for opacity. After I have a new label made, I try to remember to "armor" that new label, right away - before it gets covered in messy fluids -- by covering the new label, all the way around the can, with clear packaging tape. That process helps to make sure the labels are still, on the cans, still in one piece, and still read-able, years down the road.)

Over the years I've learned that some cans don't end up back where they belong, after a job gets done - and it's helpful to have a label saying "Really Is" on any can that really contains what the factory's label says it contains. Trust me - that simple trick has avoided all sorts of confusion, whenever I get my shop areas organized, and wonder what's what.

When I'm mixing up new batches of this stuff, I use 20 ounces of Golden Pecan #245 and to that I add 2.5 ounces of Gunstock #231, and I also add 2.5 ounces of Red Oak #215. That gives me 20.0 plus 2.5 plus 2.5 ounces of material, or 25 ounces total. So in other words, I have a lot of left-overs … hence keeping any empty cans, and re-labeling them. I tend to also mark the cans that are still what the factory put in them, and stick "really is" labels on them - just so I don't get mixed up, later on, and forget what's in what can.

Sometimes, when I have enough left-over cans to allow it, I'll make a 50/50 mix of the two darker stains, so that I can just add 5.0 ounces of that, to the 20 ounces of the base.

Sometimes I'll also make a "half-strength mix" - (usually using smaller quantities: such as some of the amount left over, from the 32 ounces of Golden Pecan that I started with) - with that formula being 90% Golden Pecan, to which I add 10% (total) of that 50/50 blend of Gunstock (5%) and Red Oak (5%). For touch-up work, or on woods you aren't yet sure of, it's a nifty thing to have around - but for most uses, the other mix is fine.


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