Tips on Staining Maple, Pine, Alder, and Cherry

Staining Maple, Pine, Alder, or Cherry… How to avoid Blotches.

Staining tight-grained woods like Hard Maple is a real problem for even experienced finishers.
For amateurs the problem gets even worse.
Understand that staining–without blotches–is difficult. Not impossible, just difficult.
Now, if you still want to get a darker finish on your Maple Cabinet Doors, here are some tips.
I strongly recommend against using any kind of wood stain on Maple, Alder, Pine, and Cherry unless you are familiar with various seal-coat techniques.

This post will refer to Maple but Alder, Pine, and Cherry all exhibit the same properties regarding stain.
While the grain may appear to be uniform, it will almost never be the case. With Maple, for instance, the new cabinet door will appear to your eyes to be perfect. It may have even color, perfect grain match, and exceptional sanding. These properties will produce a superior cabinet door when lacquered, but when stained this same door qualities will result in darker stain in the less dense areas and liter stain in the dense areas. And the darker the stain, the darker the blotches will be.
This is not the fault of the wood, it’s the NATURE of the wood. And having variations in density throughout the wood is the nature of Maple, Alder, Pine, and Cherry.

Many other woods, Oak and Poplar for example, are very uniform in density and, because they are uniform, take stain very evenly without blotching.

There are dozens of websites addressing the problem of blotchy stain on Maple as well as several Youtube Videos, and I’ve linked several of those sites below.

So how do you reduce the blotching from dark stains on Maple?
If you are going to use a wood stain you will need to pre-treat the wood with something to limit the penetration of the stain. The first step should be to sand the doors to a grit well beyond what the cabinet industry uses. Sand the frames and panels to 220 grit and the endgrain to 300+ grit. This will limit the stain penetration.
The doors will need to be treated with a sealer to limit stain penetration. Minwax Pre-Stain wood conditioner is one, another is dewaxed Zinsser Sanding Sealer cut 50% with Denatured Alcohol.
Also treat the endgrain with a cote of Gluesize made by mixing white or yellow glue with water at a rate of 10 parts water to one part glue. Allow the Gluesize to dry for several hours and sand with 400 grit paper. This will seal the endgrain which, being very open, will absorb stain at a higher rate and darken noticeably without treatment.

Staining Maple is more art that science and even experts struggle with obtaining an even finish.

The best solution for the do-it-yourself finisher is to avoid using stains on the problem woods and use a Wood Dye instead.

Because maple has such tight grain, pigment type stains don’t soak into the wood, except where there is a spot with more open grain. Try using dyes, such as TransTint or Transfast. There are other brands as well often marketed as aniline dyes. You should always make a habit of trying finishes on scrap left over from your project before tackling your project.
If you are planning on using a dark finish on your new Maple cabinet doors please request in the Additional Instructions box on our order page that you would like some scrap wood samples, and we will include samples in the wood you ordered for your stain experienced; free of charge.

Some links to useful sites for tips on staining problem woods are listed below.

Staining Maple Doors

Understanding and using Dyes

Coloring/Staining Blotchy Woods

If you have any questions about staining please email us at or call 800-342-1010 and we will be happy to help.

Another article we published is How to overcome staining problems on Hard Maple.

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