Staining Maple

This week’s question comes from Darin. He writes:

I am trying to finish maple to a brown appearance. I am using a dewaxed shelac as a sanding sealer and this imparts a slightly amber tone to the wood and when I apply the col. maple gel stain I get an orange tone wood instead of the brown I would like. Is there a method that you use to obtain a brown tone finish instead of the orange one I am getting.

And here was my reply:
“Hey Darin. What cut of shellac are you using? You just might be sealing the surface a bit too much, so you aren’t getting the color change you should be. Also, be sure to use a blonde shellac since that emparts little to no color at all. Do a few tests on scrap to find what works for you. I would probably recommend a 1/2lb cut to a 1 lb cut. Now if that stain still isnt dark enough, then you might want to move to a darker gel stain. The gel stain will sit on the surface more and will allow you to more effectively change the color without depending on stain absorption. Rockler has a great selection of gel stains that I use frequently. Also, if you have a spray setup, you could always use a dye mixture to get a nice even brown color. Let me know if you need more info on that method. ”

For those of you who don’t know, maple is a tricky wood to stain. It tend to absorb stain unevenly which leads to a blotchy look. By pre-sealing the wood with shellac, you can even out the color absorption. This is exactly what Darin was trying to do.

Category: Finishing


  1. Stan Armstrong March 14, 2007

    Does anyone have experience using a dye stain rather than a pigment stain on maple?


    NF emailed me this advice:

    I agree with the sage advice that you gave Darin. Sounds like maybe he used too heavy a cut of shellac in his sanding sealer. I use a much-thinned cut, about 1/2 lb or less, and use scraps to determine if the particular boards need an additional coat of sealer (usually
    they do not). I try to use the least amount of shellac that will give me the “anti-splotch” result when I apply stain. Depending on what stain I am using, I may need to use a second or even a third application of stain to get the final look. That is, it may take a “primer” coat of stain to serve as a base for the final”color” coat. Also, the stain needs to be thoroughly mixed before application, in order to get the colorants uniformly distributed in the stain. Sometimes, I ‘ve been in a hurry and did not mix the stain and later found that some of the colorant had settled to the bottom of the container, giving me a much different result than I expected. The stain has to be uniformly mixed.

    If one has more scraps and time to experiment, it may be that some dye could be added to the thinned shellac that would enrich the final look when the stain is applied. In Darin’s case, from the “orange” tone he describes, maybe a slight amount of blue-green, green, or yellow-green tint in the shellac sanding sealer would produce the brown color he wants in the finished (pun intended) product. His test boards would determine which combination is best for his case. As a final note, commercial stains are often shown with photos of how the stain looks on pine and other woods. Each wood and each tree has its own behavior, so Darin might need to use a blend of two stains to achieve the final “custom” color he wants. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have fun with woodworking.

  3. Thad (http://) March 20, 2007

    Did something similar with maple, but used a diluted brown transtint dye in water prior to the shellac. Came out brown instead of orange.

  4. Darin March 23, 2007

    I was able to use a medium brown dye to slightly color the blond toned maple and then applied a 1lb cut of shellac and then my gel stain and the results were what I wanted. I wiped on the dye and I can see why you recommended spraying this it can be a little tricky.


  5. vince November 3, 2008

    to whom it may concern…
    I just installed maple floors in my house and I im having a big concern as to how to go about staining the floors. Im well aware of the density of wood and blochiness it could create. Im trying differnet methods conditioners as well as stains and yet, I stiil cant figure out why it comes out the way it does. “Blochiness of coarse” Would you kindly write back to me and give advice on how to go about staining my floors.
    Just reading aout Darins letter and the fact that he used a gel stain might be the route to take. kindly let me know what perticular conditioner to use as well as the type of stain product to go with. Im experimenting with Duraseal products.


    Hi Vince. What I would recommend is using shellac as your sealer, instead of a commercial “conditioner”. You can get dewaxed shellac by the gallon under the name Bullseye Sealcoat. As I recommended above, you are gong to want to dilute to about 1/2-1lb cut. I usually do this in a very approximate way by diluting the Sealcoat 50% with denatured alcohol. Once the floor is coated, lightly sand with 180-220 grit paper. Then I recommend using a gel stain. Pick a brand you like. I prefer General Finishes. The important thing is that its a gel formula. Flood it on the surface and wipe off the excess for a nice even color. Then, apply your topcoat of choice.

    I am honestly no that familiar with Duraseal products so I cant exactly advise you there. Good luck.

  7. Ray November 18, 2008

    I am staining birch plywood and Poplar hardwood in the same cabinet. The color will be expresso (dark brown). What I really want to do is apply a stain, dye or solution that I can put in my HVLP and spray the entire cabinet without wiping and giving me an even color. Am I dreaming? How do I do this?


    Hi Ray. You aren’t dreaming. You can do this, but I highly recommend going with an alcohol or lacquer-based stain. Something that dries quickly, doesn’t absorb too deep, and potentially obscures the grain a bit. Normally that last part is something we want to avoid, but in your case, its a necessary step. We don’t want people to notice that there are two different woods in use. One thing I used to do quite a bit was make my own ‘toner”, using diluted lacquer and either pigment or dye, and sometimes both. Pigments, like UTC pigments (from the paint store) are great and will change the color in a hurry. But they will obscure the grain more than a dye. So many times I will start off with a dye and see where it takes me.

    Here’s a mix I would frequently use. 90% lacquer thinner, 10% lacquer, plus your color. Add however much it takes to get the color you want. I find that little bit of lacquer helps lock down the color. And keep in mind you can add many coats to arrive at the color you desire. And if thats not strong enough, start using a little pigment in the mix.

    This kind of work can be a little tricky, so feel free to email me if you have other questions.

    Oh and keep in mind you might just be able to use a water-based dye to the same end.

  9. Ray November 26, 2008

    From what I have been reading on this website, I think the solution to staining my birch/ poplar cabinet in a dark walnut color is to spray a fast drying dye on it. Can you recomend a mix and where to get the dye? I have a HVLP gun to spray it. I just need a mix recipe to do this right. I have worked all summer and ut to now on my entertainment center and I do not want to screw it up at the end. I know I want to spray the color on it and then spray the urethane as my topcoat.
    Please Help!


    Hi Ray. There is no sure-fire solution because there are many that will work. I recommended a mix above: 90% lacquer thinner, 10% lacquer, plus you color additive. You can do many variations of this mix to get the result your looking for. You also might want to check out the gel stain/pre-seal method I used in this video:

    Either way, I would recommend sealing the surface first with shellac, then adding your coats of toner. Hope that helps.

  11. Bill Hargrave January 25, 2009

    I have a maple front door that I have sanded down to the bare wood. My customer wants it stained with a dark color stain like Jacobean. I have read many blogs about using dyes, shellacs and gel stains. I have never stained maple before and am a bit confused on exactly what steps to follow. Can anyone tell me how to go about in staining this door.

    Thank you, Bill

  12. Sandy April 22, 2009

    Can someone please help me????
    I am staining my oak stairs to match my “gunstock” coloured flooring. The first two coats were great. When I stained the third coat it is starting to appear quite “red”. I am using the Polyshades stains with the varathane built in. I am tempted to use the steel wool and then a thin coat of a dark brown stain to get it closer to the gunstock colour but would really like a second opinion?????? Thanks

      thewoodwhisperer April 22, 2009

      Hi Sandy. The problem with Polyshades is that you are adding color and polyurethane at the same time. So if you don’t like the color, it can be tricky to change it or fix it. If the color is pushing red, you might be on the right track trying to overlay some brown. Just keep in mind that you might start to muddy up the grain a bit since there are several layers of color sitting on top of the wood. But since you can’t really “remove” color with this product, its sounds to me like the only feasible thing to do is try to tone down the red with brown, as you suggested. Let us know how it works out for you.

  13. kathy August 14, 2009

    I was doing some random surfing when I came across this discussion about staining maple. We have an old american foursquare with wood floors we would like to refinish hidden beneath the carpet.

    All original woodwork, columns, etc are dark (fir?)and the floors we have revealed seem to be maple. We were thinking of staining the floors dark to match the existing woodwork better, plus we like the look of the dark floors that are popular now. Are we crazy? Should we sand and leave them natural?

      thewoodwhisperer August 14, 2009

      Hi Kathy. If you like the look of dark floors, then I say go for the darker color. What I would recommend though is getting a few scrap pieces of maple and testing out your finishing method first. You don’t want to experiment on the floor. Once you get the color you want and you are satisfied with the results, then you should be able to do the same thing on the floor.

  14. Ginger August 29, 2009

    Hi there,

    This is a great site that I just discovered. My question is in regards to finding a gel stain that matches the gunstock colour by Minwax. Any suggestions? Minwax and Old Masters don’t carry it. Let me know, thanks!!

      thewoodwhisperer August 29, 2009

      Hello Ginger. I am not familiar with that particular stain. In order to match it up I would need to do a little trial and error testing to see what get us as close as possible. What I would recommend doing is taking a sample board with the Gunstock color already applied to a local Rockler store. Ask them if they can test a few gel stain samples on your test board for you. That way you don’t have to buy a bunch of cans of stain you’ll never use.

  15. marci joy February 18, 2010

    Is their an easy way to remove stain from a maple floor? Didn’t realize maple was a problem until we started staining. We used minwax gunstock stain and got a blotchy orange floor. Now we really need to fix it. Would like to get the stain off and just have natural sealed floor. What is best product to use?

      thewoodwhisperer February 18, 2010

      Hello Marci Joy. Unfortunately, there is no “easy” way that I know of. I have no experience finishing or refinishing floors, but I have done plenty of pieces of furniture. And when it comes to maple, you usually have to strip and sand in order to get all the old stain out of the wood. When refinishing old floors, getting the finish off would be the easy part. Its getting all the deeply absorbed color out that’s the problem. And although you have no protective film on the wood yet, you DO have the color. So you still have to sand down far enough to get the color out. But stripping could help get a great deal of the color out of the wood. Follow that up with thorough sanding and you should be good to go. Hopefully it can be done without calling in the big floor sanders. I never thought those looked fun to deal with.

  16. Ed Lewis August 9, 2010

    I am building kitchen cabinets using maple plywood and soft maple lumber for the raised panel doors. The soft maple has some grey areas which almost disapear with wood conditioner but it tones my stain color way down. I mixed this color myself since I couldn’t find the color I wanted which is a dark cherry with a hint of walnut. If I decide to switch to gel stain and use the bullseye method in your video, is it possible to spray a base coat 90% lacquer thinner, 10% lacquer, plus the color additive using a cherry color, can I adjust the color with the gel stain and get somewhat even results from the plywood to the soft maple?

      thewoodwhisperer August 9, 2010

      Hey Ed. I might try a slightly different order. I would hit the maple with a light coat of shellac. Then I would follow up with the gel stain to get the wood close to where I want it to be. Once that dries, then I would switch to the lacquer toner mix. This will allow you to perfect the color with one light coat at a time, while also building up the base for your topcoat. Once the color is where you like it, switch to full strength lacquer and you’re good to go.

  17. Denise February 9, 2011

    Hi, my husband built a maple cabinet with maple veneer plywood and maple doors. There are some dings and a small crack in the top I would like to fill prior to staining. I am using General Finishes wipe on gel which I have used before with success. I chose red mahogany which will stain to a medium color because of the maple. I am also using a pre-swtain wood condioner. The problem is trying to fill the dings and some “pullout” where the planer gouged too deeply. Any putty filler is coming out very dark and not the same color as the wood. I’ve tried several brands of putty, tried tinting the putty first, tried a mahagony color filler as well as a natural color, all to no avail, they just come out very brown, almost black. Now I think my problem is that maple just doesn’t want to take stain very well, so when I use putty to fill the cracks (All this on sample pieces, thank God), the stain comes out much darker on the areas filled with putty. If I stain the cabinet first and then fill with a putty stained to match, will the putty “stick” since the wipe on product has polyurethane in it? Your recommendations are most appreciated. It is such a nice job, I don’t want to foul it up with a poor stain results. thank you very much, Denise


      Hi Denise. Depending on the severity of the dings, you really may be better off leaving them alone. As you’ve discovered, getting filler/putty to look natural is a VERY difficult endeavor. A crack is sometimes easier since it goes with the grain. So if the crack turns out a little bit darker, it tends to look like a natural grain line. But a ding in the middle of a panel is quite a challenge. And you may never get perfect results. So in many cases, steaming the dent is the best way to go. Hopefully the grain will swell enough to raise the dent. And even it it doesn’t fill it completely, I personally think a natural-looking dent is better than a perfectly flat filled surface. The filler will nearly always be more of an eyesore than the dent sans filler.

      All that said, if you really want to do the filler route, I would recommend checking out Timbermate Wood Filler. Their colors are fantastic and they take stain in a very natural way. I would fill the dent first, sand flush, then hit the surface with your conditioner followed by the stain. Hopefully the filler will get you close to the natural background color. Then you can take colored pencils and draw in the missing grain lines. This actually works quite well if you can get the filler to match the background.

      You are definitely doing the right thing though by practicing on scrap. If you dropped this project off in my shop, the first thing I’d do is run a bunch of tests in hopes of finding the best combo. Hope this advice helps.

  18. chris March 30, 2011

    Hi Marc,

    I always appreciate when someone who is in the wood working business is not too pretentious to admit they unsure of something and to ask for help. Today that person is me:-) I’ve been commissioned to make maple night stands in a dark chocolate colour (in Canada we spell colour this way!), and I’ve had problems. First I usually work in oak, and secondly the customer is too cheap to let use the guy I usually get to do my finishing, so I went ahead and took on the whole job. Now I’ve got two night stands which (i think) look quite nice but still not chocolate. After reading the entries above, I’ve wondered if its possible to add a thin coat of shellac now and continue staining to get my darker colour, or must I start over. I’ve already tried three coats of dark walnut minwax stain. I’m not sure where to find gel stain in my part of Ontario (southern Bruce County for you fellow Canucks out there). The more experience I get in woodworking, the more I realize I need to learn more.


      Hey Chris. I wouldn’t add any shellac as that will actually make it harder to get the color you are after. My suggestion would be to stop using the Minwax stain. Instead, try General Finishes Gel Stain (Java). This will get the color right where you want it. There aren’t many stains that produce that chocolatey color but this is one of the best. So with your basecoat of color already on the wood, the Java should finish things off nicely. Once it cures, just topcoat with your finish of choice and you’ll be good to go.

  19. chris March 30, 2011

    Hi Marc,
    Its really sad to see a grown man cry:-{
    thanks for your advice, but up here in the wilderness of Canada, we don’t have General Finishes Gel stains. Even Lee Valley, (and there head offices are in Canada). Lee Valley does have Old Masters

  20. Susan May 3, 2011

    I wish I had read this before starting my library shelves 5 years ago. My husband and I used Minwax to stain them cherry. Three coats then a sealer. About a year later a whitish grayish resiny blotchy thing started occurring on every one (floor to ceiling) entire length of the room. Three months ago my brother installed new maple pantry doors with glas in my kitchen. He did two coats of Minwax cherry and now they’re doing the same thing. My Mom suggested a conditioner do I just finished applying that the night before last and it helped a lot on one door. Not do much on the other. On the door it helped the white comes through looking almost like thin crayon drawings. I can scratch it off. The grayer areas are not so easy. Help please.

  21. Kathy June 27, 2011

    We are trying to stain a maple bar counter in our restaurant to have a weathered, gray look. Do you know how we can do that? It was stained a cherry color, so we sanded off the stain to the original light colored wood. We will also have to protect it from all the wiping and spilling that happens on restaurant counters, but we still want it to have that natural weathered gray look. Any advice? Thanks!


      Hey Kathy. There used to be a product out there that would do this very thing. It was a two part clear solution that would chemically react with the wood to make it gray. But dang it….I can’t remember the name. I know I tried looking for it again about a year ago and had zero luck. This might be a good question to throw to the folks in the forum:

  22. Nikki June 30, 2011

    Hi, Marc!

    I am most likely the least familiar with sanding,staining, well woodwork in general than anyone on this forum. I made a colossal mistake and took my husbands (just married and already screwing up!) beautiful natural maple desk his father made for him and sanded it down, poorly might I add to begin to stain it dark walnut (minwax). After the fifth attempt I was able to get most of the clear gloss coat off, however my sanding techniques left scribble-like indentations all over the wood, the stain only enhanced these horrible blotches. First, after having three coats (the third curing as I type) of the stain currently on, is there any way to remove them or simply cover them, the scratches? Secondly, like others I have noticed, maple is a pretty non absorbent wood, it will not hold the color when I “remove the excess”. Will the wood eventually, after say so many coats start to darken or is that attempt completely futile? Will the General Finishes Gel Stain in Java help me achieve my goal as well or have I royally screwed the pooch here?



      Hi Nikki. Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sanding scratches really suck. The only way you can really hide them is to cover them up with paint. But if you want to enjoy the wood grain, you need to resolve those scratches. My suggestion would be to sand the whole thing down again and just make sure its sanding properly. This is something that will test your patience. I would probably drop all the way back down to the lowest grit you started with. So if that was something like 100 grit, start there. Then move up to 150, 180, and then 220. Make sure you are sanding consistently and if you can, use a random orbit sander.

      You also might consider using a chemical stripper just to make sure you get all that finish off the surface. Any finish left in the wood will inhibit absorption of stain, which might very well be what your already seeing when you try to stain.

      Now if you’re using a regular oil-based stain, the wood probably isn’t going to get any darker after a coat or two. But if you use General Finishes Java on top of that, you might very well love the results. Gel stains don’t rely so much on absorption to work properly. So at this stage, its probably worth a shot to try it before stripping the whole thing down again.

      hope that helps.

  23. chris July 1, 2011

    If I may add my two cents;
    A local guy around here who does finishing for me (when I’m not too cheap or to busy to do it myself) claims to use either a water or alcohol based stain. He prefers water but it seems the alcohol based works better. He then held up his thumb to display a beautiful dark walnut nail and proclaimed, “but wear gloves if you use alcohol!” And I would add; don’t drown your sorrows and start drinking it;-)

  24. Denny January 2, 2012


    You should do a video segment on this (getting maple to an esspresso color). I’ve read blogs and blogs on this and you are the only guy that actually tries to answer the question (thank you). Most others say that it’s stupid to try or ask why even do it. I am trying to do it because my builder put a ton of dark esspresso maple cabinets in my house and I like the way they look. I’m not a fan of big tiger striping grainy woods. I like the grain subtle… And that being said, maple is affordable and plentiful in my area. Had I known what a nightmare this was going to be, just beginning woodworking, spending 2000 dollars on tools and wood already for my 10 piece full wall bookcase, I would have spent the extra money on another type of wood. It’s like pulling teeth spending money and time on stain and comming out with a latte color rather than esspresso. I’ve tried transtint dark walnut dye (resulting in a dark ugly 80’s guitar look). I’ve tried rustoleum premium wood care “Kona”. I’ve tried Cabot Ebony, Minwax Ebony, Miwax Dark Walnut Gel Stain, sanded from all ranges from 120 to 220, sealed with Minwax wood conditioner or just strait to the wood but I cannot just get a nice smooth dark color.

    Also I would like your opinion. When I started building I started with cabinet grade 3/4″ birch ply without really knowing where I was going to find birch stock, and it is hard to find in my area hence my switching the face to maple. Do you think I made a major error in this mix of wood? The birch ply has a very busy grain much like your website background. Is it doomed to clash and look stupid? What wood would you suggest that is easy to finish but isn’t grainy like oak?

    I am going to pick up some general finishes java tomorrow (and some schellac) and try that. I will post again when I get the result.

    Help, please! Lol


      Hey Denny. Given my current schedule, I can’t make any promises. But this would be a good topic for the future. Honestly, I haven’t done many espresso finishes so I would have to experiment a little myself. I would probably start by using some Charles Neil blotch control, followed by a dark brown dye, and finishing up with General Finishes Java gel stain. From there, I’d have to analyze the results. Its all about the test boards, as you well know by now. :)

      Keep in mind that many commercial finishers use toners and pigmented stains. These can really layer on some thick color layers while just barely allowing the grain to peek through. This can be difficult to replicate in an average home shop. But if you have HVLP it can be done.

      And if you are using a stain, I think you’re fine mixing birch and maple. It isn’t idea but they are very similar looking woods. As evidence of this, the background on my site is actually maple. :) I don’t think you’ll find a closer match than maple.

      • Denny January 3, 2012


        Thanks for the reply! I’ve only just discovered your site days ago and I am thankful to see a guy speak intelligently on the subject of woodworking and finishing, not just someone breathing in a microphone while trying to think of what he’s going to talk about. And yes, if you find the time with your young family I’m sure people would like to see you tackle this particular subject. (A late “Congrats” on the kid by the way, they really change things, huh? – For the best)

        I actually just got back from Rockler and I picked up the Bullseye schellac and a “Brown Mahogany” Transtint along with some GF Java Gel Stain. I will try a grain raise DNA and will test without as well), 320 sanding (if needed), gel stain, top coat. I hope it works as I am nickel and diming myself to death on stain. I would have rather had a new tool or applied that money to a decent HVLP which I don’t have but would love.

        If I nail it down, maybe I’ll make a video for you. You can narrate it. I don’t like the limelight lol.

        The reason I asked about the birch ply is that the grain is way busy in comparison to the soft maple face, but we shall see! Too late now…

        If you have any last minute changes to my stain schedule, let me know!

        Thanks again for the reply. It means a lot.

  25. Christopher P Dyer, thekinlossian January 3, 2012

    Hey Marc and Denny; If you are going to try experiments, try the alcohol based stains. The guy who usually get to stain my furniture said that is what he uses on maple because it penetrates better, (and wear gloves as he has the finger stains to verify good penetration!). He also said water based stains work well but then you will have to pre-raise the grain. I do not no for sure about alcohol. I had a very fussy customer who wanted a dark stain and didn’t want to spend money, so i finished myself (to keep the cost down). Minwax didn’t cut it, I took Marcs suggestion of a gel stain and got the colour I wanted. It was after this that I asked my “finish guy”. I was a little leery asing in the first place in case he was offended in my going on lone on the project, but he was great and helpful!! Still he recommended alcohol; and by the time your finished, you could use a cold one:-D
    As a PS, why are all the cheap customers so particular??

    • Denny January 3, 2012


      Thanks for the reply as well. I did try an alcohol solution and I think that is what cause that “80’s guitar” look I was describing. However I will try it again with the shellac as I applied it over Minwax wood conditioner last time. I does penetrate deep though. When sanding down through one of my test boards, you could see the dye in the grain move through the wood the deeper you sand. (Kind of frustrating when you want to conserve wood for future samples.) I will definitely give it another go. I hope the General Finishes is the answer to my woes.

      Unfortunately the cheap/particular customers are usually the source of great referral business… a necessary evil I suppose LOL.

  26. Rob January 21, 2012

    Helllo there, we just built a house and had our cabinets throughout our house custom build. they are beautiful Maple stained, but we are having issues with the stain flaking off or peeling off.. what is causing this? I have read other articls about maple being hard to stain but wasnt sure if this was related.. Please help..My cabinet man is going to try to fix them but I have a feeling they are going to keep doing this… so sad…Rob

  27. Rob January 22, 2012

    Hey Marc, sorry about that. the stain used was Gemini Gem Tone Lacccuer wiping stain 770 stain was a 50/50 mix of red mahogany and american walmut.(they turnned out so beautiful) He said he sprayed them on. But I am not the cabinet guy so I cant tell you exactly for sure all the steps taken during preperation.sorry. I think I am going to give this website to my cabinet guy maybe it will help.. thank you for your time. Rob


      Yeah most times when a stain doesn’t take, it comes down to improper preparation or something in the wood itself that doesn’t allow the stain to penetrate. But I am hesitant to “monday morning quarterback” your cabinet guy without more information. But the preparation process is definitely the first place I’d investigate.

  28. Jeff May 6, 2012

    Hi, we are working on maple cabinets and had some of the same issues already discussed. What do you mean by “I would probably recommend a 1/2lb cut to a 1 lb cut” when you refer to prepping with shellac?
    Also, does the gel stain work best, do you have a recommendation for a darker brown look, No yellow or red tones.

    Thank you


      “cuts” of shellac refer to the dilution. It is based on the weight of the shellac flakes in a volume of ethanol. Zinnser shellac, for instance, is at a 3lb cut. By thinning it down with ethanol, you can bring it down to a 2 lb or a 1 lb cut. These are not easy calculations so most folks either estimate or use a chart or calculator. Here’s a handy shellac calculator that you can use for mixing or making dilutions:

      And I wouldn’t say gel stain is “best” but I do find it to be a great staining material for blotch-prone woods. I would look into the General Finishes line. They have a really nice Java color that is a beautiful dark brown.;sid=AFN86

  29. Jeff May 6, 2012

    Very good information. Thank you.

    I was mistaken on the color my wife actually prefers the red undertone. Do you have another suggestion?

    What would the best method/ product be?


      Well once again I try not to claim anything is the “best”. But you might look into Generals Finishes Candlelight color. Its a nice dark brown with red undertones. Keep in mind you can layer colors too. So if the Candlelight is too red, you can always follow up with a coat of java to darken it up. The key here is to buy a few different materials and then practice on scrap wood. You don’t want any surprises.

  30. Jeff May 6, 2012

    I used a the pre stain wood conditioner from minwax since that is what our local store had. It took care of the blotching problem. What is the difference between the wood conditioner and shellac? My next question, my wife likes what color of the same before you wipe it off, she wants me to put a spray varnish or polyurethane on over when the stain dries

  31. Gerry May 22, 2012

    I wish that I had read your web site a couple of weeks ago. We are building new maple kitchen cabinets and have applied two coats of Varathane Oil-based Premium wood stain to give them a deep cherry color. Upon applicaton of the second coat of stain, blotches appeared on a few of the doors fronts and some of the cabinet face frames. The blotches are significant enough to ruin the entire look. I’ve considered sanding the affected areas and then reapplying the stain to see if it would improve, but was wondering if this would only make matters worse. If so, is there a better way to get a more even finish while still acquiring the rich cherry colour?


      Unfortunately, blotch is easy to prevent and difficult to fix. Selective sanding usually doesn’t yield very good results. I find the only sure-fire ways to fix it are to either sand everything back and start over, or to stain the entire cabinet the same shade as the dark areas (which is usually not an option). The reason is because the stain is deeply absorbed into the fibers of the wood. You can’re really pull it out and if you sand selectively, you won’t really be able to control the sanding well enough to make it look good. There certainly may be other finisher tricks that some pros in the industry but from my experience, the best solutions are the two suggestions above. Although neither one of them will be very fun.

  32. Katrina May 25, 2012

    Hi I recently bought a solid maple hutch and buffet that I wish to refinish. (I usually avoid maple unless I plan on painting it as I’ve been warned of it’s blotchy tendencies but couldn’t resist this as it was the perfect style and only $30 on Craiglist). It currently has a warm medium finish on it and I’m hoping to stain it to a darker warm colour to match our dining set. Should I completely sand it down to the wood? Should I chemically strip it first? Should I just give it a light sanding and then use a gel stain on top to achieve the darker desired colour? Would you recommend a gel stain or an alcohol based one? Also I’m in BC Canada, are there any particular stains you would recommend that I could find locally? If you only know of brands in the states that’s ok as I’m sure I’ll be doing a trip soon and might be able to pick some up there. Thanks in advance, K


      Whenever changing the color of a piece, I prefer to go down to bare wood. That levels the playing field, so to speak, and makes sure I have no issues with color of top-coat adhesion. Once you are down to bare wood, there are lots of coloring options available to you. I say use whatever one you have the most experience with and are most comfortable working with. Both dyes and gel stains are capable of producing brilliant colors. But you will want to make sure you use something for the blotch issue. I recommend Charles Neal formula outlined in this article:

  33. Ed Lewis May 26, 2012

    Since I first inquired about staining maple (about 2 years ago), I have been experimenting and have had good results with the HVLP base coat that I custom mix followed by gel stain that allows me to even the finish. I do samples but you can never know exactly how absorbant all areas will be, so I start with a thinned coat to see where I might have a problem, then add coats or go directly to gel stain depending on how dark I am forced to go. I am no expert like Marc by any stretch, but I have done a lot of trial and error, mostly error to begin with, but am zeroing in on a cost effective, less labor intensive method that is working for me. The drawback is that it has taken me a while to learn to blend the base coat and knowing how colors layer was quite a learning curve. This site is so informative and Marc is so generous with his knowledge and time answering all of our questions that by reading his feedback, you can really get a grip on the principles and possibly develop your own method or modify an old one. If you have the resources, I suggest educated experimenting and ask a lot of questions.

  34. Diana May 28, 2012

    Just got new maple kitchen cabinets and have read how hard they are to stain without looking uneven or blotchy. Went to Sherwin Williams and picked a stain of Fruitwood for a light finish. Took a sample of the wood and they gave me a sample which looked good. After we got it home we tried it on one of the shaker style doors. It looks horrible, uneven in the middle of the door and very dark and the edges are light but still not attractive. They advised us to stain first and then apply sanding sealer then Cab Acrylic finish. After reading several of your posts and other website’s comments I am thinking this is not what I should do. Can you please tell me what steps I should take to stain these cabinets. I would also consider no stain at all but would at least like color of the wood to have some “color” other than the white look it has now. Would applying a sealer first give it some color. Also, have seen some postings about gel-stains. How durable are they and what kind of finish can you use on them. I would really like a durable finish.


      Hi Diana. Unfortunately, one or two samples won’t alway tell the tale. Maple boards can look beautiful except for that one stinkin’ area where the grain does something funky. So I feel for your situation. The SW recommendation is not bad for a wood that isn’t prone to blotch. But as you can see, maple definitely has some blotch issues. My preferred way to deal with this is to use Charles Neil’s blotch control. You can read about it here: Use this material before the stain and then follow SW’s instructions. Since you already have these materials on hand, this is what I would use.

      Now consider that just about any finish brings color to the wood. There are a few exceptions: water-based finishes and CAB Acrylic Lacquer. These finishes are what they call “water white” meaning they don’t add the same amber and yellow tones we see from oil-based finishes and traditional lacquers. On maple, some people like the natural blonde/white color and want to maintain it. Others prefer the ambering effect of oils. So there are so many ways you can take this. Almost too many to simply give you a recipe to follow. But again, I recommend using what you already have, preventing the blotch, staining, and then topcoating. As for gel stains, they work great. I use them all the time but they take some getting used to in terms of application. Durability isn’t much of an issue since the topcoat is what really determines the level of durability. Hopefully that helps.

      • Samuel Markes January 18, 2014

        I hate to say this, but I selected the most even planks, used Mr.Neil’s product, then applied polywhey and the result was disastrous. Not only was there extreme blotching, but the uneven hold was nearly universal, pooling also occurred. I’ll admit that I’m an rank amateur, but I’ve never had a staining project go quite so badly.

  35. Alixandra July 10, 2012

    Late night hello!

    Came across your marvelous site in a desperate internet search for information about staining maple wood floors white…realize your expertise is with furniture but curious if you have any thoughts on this one:
    Am the new owner of an apartment that has its original maple floors from 1903. Some time in the 80’s or 90’s, they were stained a beautiful, milky white with slight pink and blue undertones that varied from board to board but as a whole they were deeply scratched and scuffed from years of traffic.
    Since we were giving a little love and polish to the rest of the apartment, the contractor suggesting re-finishing the floors swearing that we could replicate the milky color. His floor guys sanded and bleached the maple then did sample consisting of two coats of white stain. The sample is indeed white, but the undertones are now a bile yellow-green. His only suggestion is to add a third coat of the white stain but I’m concerned that this will give the floor more of an opaque, painted look without solving the issue.
    I realize that maple tends to have yellow tones to it, but is there a way to minimize this or introduce a different undertone by tinting the stain? (I have roots in the south so am familiar with white washed and pickled finishes – but have only seen it done on heart pine and cypress wood.) Is there an intermediary step of staining the maple to a warmer tone and then applying a white layer? (When we removed a built in bookcase, it was clear that the floor had been stained a warm, golden honey color before it was white.) The boards are quite thick so we conceivably could sand again if need be. Or are we stuck with greenish-yellow maple for good?
    Many thanks in advance for your thoughts, A


      Well you can certainly add dye to the mixture to change the color. But it sounds like you are already layering on too much white without letting much natural wood grain to show through. In order for a finish like that to work properly, you probably don’t want to apply too many coats. Eventually, as you mentioned, it begins to simply look like paint. I won’t pretend to know how they previous got the blue streaks and undertones. I don’t really work with “faux” finishes very often so that is pretty much outside of my comfort zone. But to answer your question, a simple dye added to the white wash stain will definitely change the overall color. Whether that gives you a favorable result is still up in the air. :)

      Good luck and sorry I wasn’t much help.

  36. Michele August 15, 2012

    I just had my house built and went with very dark maple kitchen cabinets and they look hidious. The stain is all blotchy. The company came a resprayed without sanding a few doors and they came out even worse. Should I request new doors. Also I ordered a maple Fireplace surround and the workers stained it. I do not like how it came out. Can I sand it down and restain it to my liking. It is also a very dark brown. Or did I go wrong and not order Cherry wood. UGH !!!


      Any solid wood product can be sanded down and re-finished. It’s just a question of whether or not you want to do the work. As for whether you should request new doors? There’s really no way I can answer that for you. You may not even have the option depending on the policies of the installer. You might ask them though since it can’t hurt. Ultimately, this is why I would never deliver a piece of furniture without showing the client a test sample so they can see exactly what they are getting.

      Keep in mind that cherry blotches too so you might have just ended up with the same problem, depending on the staining method used by the maker.

  37. Alyssa October 8, 2012

    Hi there – I stumbled across your site and thought maybe you might have some suggestions for our predicament. Here goes:
    We just installed a brand new kitchen, custom built – cabinetry made out of something inexpensive and painted dark brown and then finished with ARM-R-SEAL, a heavy duty oil and urethane top coat. Then over top of that we installed beautiful white maple butcherblock countertops. We used the same sealer for the countertops that we used for the cabinetry… assuming that since it said it would dry clear, it would indeed dry clear. It did not. The once white countertops are now very random shades ranging from close to white thru orange all the way down to a greenish brown. What happened? Can we fix it? And what should we use/have used? The goal was to keep them the original white/natural color or as close to that as possible – certainly not orange-brown.


      Hi Alyssa. I think the problem is the very nature of an oil-based finish. It does indeed dry clear but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bring a color hue with it. So what you’re seeing is the natural ambering qualities of oil-based finishes. This explains the yellows and oranges but doesn’t really explain the greenish brown. Frankly, I have no idea why an oil-based varnish would cause the surface to turn a dark color like that. In fact, I have never heard of such a thing.

      But to answer your other question about what you should have used, my recommendation would have been waterborne finish. Waterborne finishes dry clear and what they call “water white”, which essentially means they bring absolutely no color to the wood. Just a clear protective film and nothing more. So I would suggest removing the current finish, sanding the top down until all traces of the old discoloration are gone, and then follow through with your choice of waterborne finish.

  38. Alyssa October 9, 2012

    thanks for your response! we shied away from waterbourne because my husband thought it wouldn’t protect well enough with it being a countertop and thus exposed to a lot of moisture/water with the sink and dish drainer area built into it. he thought the water would dissolve the finish. is that true? is there a waterbourne finish that wouldn’t have that result? or is that going to be a matter of dealing with it every so often and sanding it down and refinishing it?


      Well he is right to some extent. Waterborne finishes will not protect as well as their oil-based counterparts. And it really might not be the best choice for a countertop. But if you want the water white look, it could be one of the very few options. That said, waterborne finishes are getting better and better every year. And no, they don’t dissolve with water contact. You might even contact a local Sherwin Williams to find out what they currently have in stock. Truth is, I don’t work with that many water-based finishes so I can’t make a specific brand recommendation for you.

  39. Alyssa October 9, 2012

    hm it sounds like they aren’t as bad as we originally thought… definitely worth looking into. thanks so much! I appreciate all your suggestions.

  40. Julie October 29, 2012

    Hi there, We just installed a beautiful new set of stairs in our home. Custom made Maple. Our contractor has stained them and clear coated them (once). I HATE THEM – they turned out all blotchy and my beautiful stairs now look terrible. What do I do? I was told to do a dark stain on them because that is the only way that Maple will turn out ok. But I don’t want them really dark – I wanted a medium tone. The contractor used Minwax, Early American. Please help me – these stairs are the focal point in my house and they look terrible. What do you recommend?

    Julie (Desperate)


      Honestly Julie, I hate doing the monday morning quarterback thing on other woodworkers and finishers. My suggestion would be to hold the contractor responsible until the stairs are up to your standard. While some finishing can be easily accomplished, I don’t know that I’d say finishing a set of maple stairs is really a DIY level job. If the stairs are already finished and you aren’t happy with the color, they will need to be stripped, sanded, and then re-finished. Since you paid good money for this thing, I really think it is the contractor’s responsibility to get someone in there that knows what they are doing.

  41. Melissa November 20, 2012

    I am refinishing a antique wagon wheel bed era 1940-1950’s. I was my father-in- laws as a child passed down to my husband, then son and back to my husband and me, whew. Now my problem. Most of the finish is gone. The wood is maple and I have sanded it down. I ordered GF in colonial maple gel stain, and the gel top coat to finish it. I showed the sample to the guys and they said the finish was not right that they remember it being more of a orange/red color originaly. I have never seen it that color. I need some direction for what type of color might be used and I would like to use the gel stain as there are lots of spindels and such. It is hard to find a color because all the samples I see online and in the store are usually on oak. The color is so different on maple. Help!


      Hey Melissa. It’s a little tricky to give you an exact product recommendation since everyone’s perspective on color is a little different. But you might try the Prarie Wheat color as that seems to have a little more orange in it. If you’re looking for a single can solution, you might have trouble getting the exact look you want. Sometimes it is necessary to use multiple products to nail and exact color. Sometimes I even use a dye as a base color and then follow up with a gel stain. Just depends on the situation.

  42. Melissa November 20, 2012

    Thanks for the feedback.The headboard is large and has been pieced together with small headless nails and dowels. I don’t want each of these areas to stand out, and I want a more uniform color. Trying to come up with a game plan. If I used the colonial maple and then for my second coat the praire wheat, on samples of course. Can I play around with the gel stain colors until I get it approved!! But when I put the mixture or coats on the furniture are they compatatible if both are gel stains, or should I stick with one or the other colors and not mix? Will the corners be darker.

  43. Scott February 25, 2013

    Hello, how soon after applying the cut shellac should the stain be applied?

  44. julia March 12, 2013

    I want to use a cinnamon or pecan color for my maple hardwood. What should I do to prepare to get the tone I want to achieve? Thank you

  45. Mikee June 11, 2013

    hey all i am a novice framer and just got done doing a frame with an inlay on hardwood maple. i want to bring out the natural grain without staining the wood any help would be great. thanks

  46. aaron June 16, 2013

    Hey wish I would have seen your video before I tried to stain my maple staircase with Minwax red mahogany. I used Minwax conditioner before I stain but still blotchy. I noticed at the end of the video you use the gel stain over the Minwax. would you recommend that as an easy fix.

  47. rick June 22, 2013

    Just an FYI post. Staining maple is way easier than many would lead you to believe. When people say it becomes blotchy, it’s usually do to a piece of maple that has minimal figure. Yeah, I know, a highly figured piece of figured maple is hard to come by, but be selective when choosing wood for your project. In the curls, quilt or figure of the maple there are varying densities in the wood. You can use this to your advantage. For example, if you take a highly figured piece of curly maple and stain it black with the appropriate dye(note: alcohol, water based, stains and leather dyes, yes, leather dyes) then evenly sand it out, it will take on the appearance of a zebra. This is do to the varying densities in the wood, some stain will penetrate deeper in the softer wood and not as much in the denser wood. Therefore as you sand the wood out some black will stay and some will not,creating the “zebra” effect. Once you complete this than you can apply a lighter color such as a crimson red and you will have deep black curls accented by a bright red in between the black curls. Using this basic premise you can create an infinite array of colors and effects. J.E.Moser and Wurdack are excellent suppliers for these materials. However if you’re doing an outdoors project these products are not ideal due to their weakness to UV rays which will result in fading of the colors. Preparing the maple for stain is easy, finish sand down to 400 grit going with the grain of the wood as you sand. Wet the wood with water before staining and let dry, this opens the grain to accept the stain evenly, then sand out with 320 grit going with the grain. Apply your next color. Let dry, then apply your poly or nitro sealer. I work for a premier guitar company and have stained my fair share of maple! One thing I’ve learned after all these years is a beautiful piece of maple will “stain itself” and a piece with little figure or a “turd”… you can’t polish a turd.

  48. Laura July 15, 2013

    We had our kitchen remodeled about two years ago. We chose custom, high-end, poplar
    cabinets with a color lacquer finish (deep moss green). The cabinets are beautiful, but the
    finish started peeling immediately, before the job was finished. On three different occasions, the cabinet company removed the cabinets to refinish those that were peeling. By the third time, it looked as if they’d fixed whatever was wrong and the color was beautiful, but the peeling started again not long after the entire job was completed. When we got in contact with the project manager for the construction company, he told us the company had gone bankrupt. Long story short, I’m left with cabinets that look as if someone did a horrible job of trying to distress them, not the look I want. How should I go about refinishing these cabinets? Any help would be greatly appreciated. I will be doing the work myself. Thank you so much!

  49. Reginald Blouin August 29, 2013

    I am refinishing a maple 12 drawer cabinet and its made out of maple. I have strip and sanded the complete cabinet and wash. I want to use a gel stain which is old master. Should I use a controler before staining the cabinet.

  50. Andrew Levine November 2, 2013

    What about when dying curly maple? Odd use, but I have a project that requires stained curly maple. They want dark reddish brown. Will pre-sealing with shellac close up the end grain (the “curl”) and hide it?

  51. kristi carpenter January 17, 2014

    so, i did a carving with maple, and usually when i carve i use a danish oil stain kind of thing for my stuff, but seems the grain is too tight to allow any stain to be absorbed into the maple. i want to be able to see the woods natural grain, but also have the wood the color i desire. which is a rich mahogany. (not my choice, the client’s) if i’d known that is what they had wanted, i certainly wouldn’t have used maple. any suggestions on how to achieve this please please help me


      Have you tried dyes? You should be able to get just about any color with a good quality dye.

      • actually, i went ahead and put an even layer of mahogany danish oil and left the piece over night, and did that for 3 nights and it has reached the desired goal. I have deduced that the grain is tighter than other woods, and that instant color grabbing was not going to happen and by letting it sit, the pigment was allowed to seep in. so yeah i got it to work. and i’ve never tried dyes at all, don’t even know where to get them

  52. Frank March 17, 2014


    I just saw some of your videos on youtube and I really enjoyed it. Can you please me? I am planning on refinishing my drum kit, which are maple shells. I learned some stuffs on your videos and got ideas, but it’s my first time doing this so I just want more advice.

    so here’s my plan
    1st thing is sandpaper the wood
    2nd apply/coat using shellac Bulls Eye SealCoat <— is this the exact brand?
    then apply stain <—- I'm still confuse about these water,oil,gel based stain but I'm planning to use polyshade. do you have any experience on polyshade? is it okay to use polyshade?
    then some sanding and recoating, tthen sand again.
    then apply polyurethane for the final coat <—– also confuse which polyurethane should I use. for what I know there are also some kind of water,oil,wax based for polyurethane? is that correct? which one should I use?

    Please help
    Thank you so much!!

  53. Frank March 17, 2014

    okay got it :)

    i think I’ll just have to use water based stain and water based polyurethane and give it a good buff!

    Thank you!

  54. Gretchen March 20, 2014

    I have a 30 year old maple table that I sanded down completely, put one coat of stain on and it came out beautiful. I put a second coat of the same stain on it and the next morning it’s like you can actually see some of the strokes I took putting the stain on after the second coat. Is there anyway to fix this, short of completely sanding the table back down to bare wood? I was going to try to lightly sand the top and then put another coat of the stain on. Maybe I just didn’t wipe it enough at the end of the second coat.

  55. Maureen July 22, 2014


    I just wanted to thank you for all the info. I am getting ready to stain a maple vanity for my bathroom and was doing some research in preparation. I am sure that with all I have learned on your site, my project will be spectacular!

    Have a good one.


  56. Leslie August 8, 2014

    I want to stain a maple top for a sideboard but now I’m hesitant to start after seeing all of the comments about how difficult it is to stain maple. I have a cherry color from Mini-Wax that I have put on maple scraps and I like it. What type of prep do I need to do before applying the stain? How should apply stain (brush or wipe)? What do you suggest as lacquer?

  57. Kim August 11, 2014

    Hi Marc,

    I have just begun staining our kitchen cabinets and have applied 2 coats of General Finishes Java so far. While I love the product and the application process has been fantastic, the color is much closer to black than I anticipated. What is your thought on applying a coat or even two of brown mahogany over the Java? I was thinking that might bring the cabinets to more of rich chocolate color…




      Well once you have a color on the surface, you can’t really go lighter….unless you remove the color. So while applying brown mahogany will give you a deeper reddish color, it probably won’t lighten the overall look. Only way to know for sure is to try it out, on test boards preferably.

  58. Karen September 23, 2014

    Hello! I was very lucky to pick up a mid century library card catalog cabinet for a song.
    I’m almost certain the wood is maple since the cabinet is in almost perfect condition, no dings or scratches, even after over 50 years in public service.

    The wood grain is only slightly visible under an opaque pale finish. I would like to strip it, and get it down to the wood. Can you recommend a brand of stripper that will cut through this seemingly rock hard finish?


      Unfortunately, I am not well-versed in stripper brands. Whenever I have had to strip furniture, I just picked something off the shelf at Home Depot. Just be aware that the really good stuff is incredibly caustic and a little scary to work with. The environmentally-friendly stuff is a little safer and easier to work with, but might not work as well.

  59. Meaghan September 25, 2014

    I would love the answer to Karen’s question as well. I’m gearing up to take on my maple kitchen cabinets that were built and finished by my father.

    I know I’ll need to do lots of prep work and would appreciate a recommendation for a stripper that I can get a hold of.

  60. Peter December 13, 2014

    Marc, I just discovered this thread. It is so useful – thanks.
    In your original post you offered to provide advice about using dye in a spray set-up to achieve an even stain job on maple. I’d appreciate your advice. Thanks in advance.

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