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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dye another day: Hardwood table tops get pop with trans-tint dye

Last week I was asked to make a companion table for a piece commissioned by Five Horses Tavern in Davis Square, Somerville.  Rather than try and make an exact copy (which wasn't a paragon of table top design, anyway), we decided to re-interpret the existing table's themes and wood species.  I saw it as a chance to
improve upon the first table. 

For reasons out of my control, both tables include maple in the species mix, even though the client specified deep, dark colors in a striped table, "like a Wine Wing, but random".  Rather than use stain to darken the maple, I chose to use Trans-Tint water borne dye.

This time around, I used American Black Walnut, the same beautiful quilted cherry I used in the original table, and some nice hard white maple.  I darkened the whole table with a fairly strong mix of Golden Brown dye, which darkened the maple, but really just changed the tint of the walnut and cherry.  Once this had dried, I was confronted with the same problem as last time: the cherry and maple were similar in color.  So I masked off the maple, added a shake of "cherry" powder dye to the Golden Brown mixture, and applied it lightly to the cherry plank.

The resulting color is intense, for sure.  If I were looking at this table top a year ago, I would have sanded off the dye and started again, because the cherry color is so vibrant as to not look completely natural.  But I think that when people see this table, they won't see walnut, maple, and cherry.  They'll see chocolate, umber, and wheat colors.  And because the dye isn't covering any of the beautiful wood grain, it does look natural. 

This table top is making me love dye all the more.  And it's also making me love making table tops!

Here's the top being glued up.  I used the X31's 12 inch jointer to dress the wide boards for glue up.  This is my first time gluing up boards wider than 6 inches!  This gives the table a great look that you just can't get with a narrow jointer.

Here's the top, planed and sanded smooth, with wood putty filling in around the knots in the walnut board.

 Here it is with the knots filled in, ready to be dyed

And here it is, dyed and with a coat of 100% wax-free clear shellac

This table really shows off the striking figure of the walnut and cherry pieces.  As for the maple: slight imperfections that expose end grain suck up dye in maple, and can cause speckling.  Also, invisible figure springs forth when dye is applied to maple.  Star patterns, whorls, and the like, will all emerge from hard maple.  It changes the appearance of hard white maple from pure, bone white, to a more rustic, varied, almost wild (but still sparse) figure.  I like it, especially juxtaposed under the hard clear topcoat these restaurant tables require.

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