ColorTone stain: alcohol vs water

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Graeck, Jun 25, 2019.

  1. Graeck


    Jan 24, 2009
    I’m just about to stain a roasted alder body with StewMac’s ColorTone stain. It’s my first time using stain in a loooong time. They recommend if you are just starting out to dissolve it in water rather than alcohol.

    1. Is alcohol really that much more difficult to use? I assume it’s just faster drying time, thus harder to fix goofs.

    2. If I go with with water, I know it’ll lift the grain slightly. What grit sandpaper is recommended to smooth the surface after staining?

    (I dissolved some in water and stained a scrap piece of alder and it went on really smoothly and even, but did notice the slight grain lift after it dried. I assume alcohol would apply similarly but just dry faster?)

    I’ll be applying General Finishes High Performance Satin Topcoat over it (which is water based)
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2019
  2. Rôckhewer

    Rôckhewer Commercial User

    Feb 28, 2015
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Owner/Builder- RockHewer Custom Guitars LLC
    You should raise the grain *first* with clear water anyway.
    (Spray bottle...wipe excess)
    Let dry
    Then sand... 240 ish... grit
    Do it again...

    then stain.

    I like alcohol personally.
    .. (no not to drink :woot:)
    I find it super easy to get good consistency...OR a blend (burst)... with a rag.
    I don't find it as easy with water.
    I use denatured w/ TransTint.
    Especially for doing multi stage dye jobs on quilted maple etc...

    Have fun
  3. +1^ Raise the grain first. I usually thin those or leather dyes with alcohol, just my preference. However, if you are doing a burst or something similar, the alcohol thinned due seems to “pull” the other colors in a little more which is usually what you want when blending the edges.
  4. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Before you apply the stain, here's an alternative that you should consider:

    Stain by itself is very thin, especially if you thin it even more with alcohol. As soon as you touch it to bare wood, it soaks way down in deep. It can almost instantly get patchy and uneven, and make dark blotches on end grain around the perimeter. And it's a one-shot deal. Once the stain is on there, you can't lighten it up or sand it off. It's in the wood forever. You can do it, but it's risky.

    The alternative is to use the stain as a dye in a finish. Thicken it up and make it slower and easier to work with. Take a little cup of your General finish, and mix a small amount of the stain into it. Now you have a transparent color finish, thicker than the stain by itself. When you apply it to the wood, it soaks in, but just a little bit. Much more controllable. You can build up the color gradually, right to where you like it, by adding additional coats. And if you go too far, you can always sand it off and try again.

    The tinted finish can be wiped, brushed, or sprayed on. When the color is right, top coat it with clear.
  5. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    I'm planning to try this method with Varathane WB next time I do a burst. No more futzing about with lacquer.
  6. mrperkolator


    Jan 4, 2020
    What kind of stain/dye would work best for this transparent finish using a wipe on water poly?
  7. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    The Trans-Tint series of transparent dyes are a long time favorite. They are specifically mixed to do transparent finishes; a tiny amount of pigment in a clear base. You can make transparent finishes with other pigments like Mixol, but it can be tricky to mix in a small enough amount to do transparent colors.

    Trans-Tint can be used as a stain, applied directly to the wood. But I don't recommend it, for the reasons I described above. It's best to use Trans-Tint as a dye, mixing it into a clear finish (like Varathane Ultimate or General) and then applying the tinted finish to the wood.,aps,240&sr=8-12

    Stew-Mac's ColorTone Concentrated Liquid Stain is repackaged Trans-Tint:,aps,240&sr=8-20