32 – Pop Goes the Maple

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In this episode, I put the finish on the pencil holder. But its not just any finish. Since we are working with a beautiful curly maple, I think the finish deserves a little extra special attention. Curly maple looks fantastic with a few coats of an oil based varnish. But it will BLOW YOUR MIND if you “pop” the grain with a dye first. So that’s exactly what we do in this episode. Thanks for watching.

Purchase Materials Used in This Episode:

TransTint Dyes Zinsser Bullseye SealCoat General Finishes Original Seal-A-Cell Clear

Category: Finishing


  1. Travis (http://) November 9, 2007

    Do you recommend any suppliers for the dye? Do you have it in your Amazon store?

    Nice job as always!


    I will add the links to the products on the front page. They aren’t cooperating at the moment but I will have something up there very soon.

    • Rick July 27, 2009

      I just finished building a pendulum baby cradle for my first grandchild due in December. I used curly maple because of the beautiful grain, plus, I live in “Tiger Country” in South Louisiana (LSU). I was glad to see your recent video on the pencil holder staining and coating. It gives me an idea now of what I want to do with the cradle.

      Thanks a bunch!!!

  3. Neil November 9, 2007

    Hi Marc……….quick, sweet and right to the point. Excellent comparison of both boards. ….Good POP!!!!

    I have a finishing/dye question…..Previously you had mentioned using wenge on armoires, in the course of those builds, how did you handle the yellow grain color that becomes exposed when milling. They are leg blanks that I epoxied together (approx 3×3 x6) I know over time it darkens, but the areas retain a dull look. I experimented with some transtints, but know looks to dark. I didn’t try it in shellac and I’m thinking the approach you just showed might work. How did you determine a starting point for the number of transtint drops.



    Hey there Neil. Thanks for stopping by. The wenge I used didnt really show much yellow grain. I am assuming in wenge, thats the sapwood (not 100% sure). Either way, I simply cut around it or made sure it was in an inconspicuous location.

    From what you describe, it sounds like the wood will perk up a bit once it receives a topcoat. But I have to say that I honestly dont like the look of wenge when its finished. Most finishes (especially oil-based), leave the wenge looking much darker than I’d like and it sort of loses that dark brown/black striping contrast that I see in the raw lumber. The wenge pieces I build this summer looked very cool until I put the tung oil on. The grain became very “muddy” and looked more like a bunch of ebonized alder or maple. So what Im saying is those dyed areas might blend in much better when you apply your finish.

    As for the transtints, its just experimentation. If you follow the directions on the bottle, you will use the stuff up pretty fast. But in this case I want to use as little dye as possible since I really dont want to change the color of the surface. And that wild grain soaks the dye up like a sponge. So 7-8 drops seems to be adequate for that small amount. But its all trial and error really.

    Hope that at least partially answers your question Neil.

  5. Ben M. November 9, 2007

    Hey Marc,
    It’s really odd to me that out of the blue, you stated that General finishes are among your favorite on the market. It’s odd because, well, Charles Neil seems to prefer General finishes. Oddly enough, Charles Neil also has a video on Youtube called “Pop goes the finish”, where he shows how to bring the curl out in wood, kinda like, well, kinda like you did in episode 32. Man, what a coincidence, huh?


    lol. What are you implying sir? Who is Charles Neil anyway?!?! Actually i have noticed his posts in the forums but haven’t had a chance to dig into his videos yet.

    But if you’ve seen any of my older videos, you would know that my affinity for General Finishes products goes back to my first days of woodworking (something I took from David Marks).

    That is funny that the titles of the videos are nearly the same. But if you are looking to make a clever title using the word “pop”, I suppose 9 out of 10 people would title it “Pop goes the something”.

    And I might be exposing too much of myself here, but Ill let you in on a little secret. NONE of this is new information. Neither Charles, nor I, will tell you anything that you couldn’t find in a book somewhere. Its presenting it in a simple and digestible format that really makes it unique and worthwhile. We all learned it from somewhere or someone else. So if you look hard enough, you will find lots of “coincidences”.

  7. Hi Marc,

    I’ve been enjoying your sites (both this one and woodtalkonline) for a few months now. I think your doing a great job and I really appreciate what your share here… and am impressed that you give honest, objective opinions about tools, blades, etc of companies that you may have a sponsored relationship with (I see many sites that present themselves as objective reviewers but clearly are shills for the vendor). It’s also impressive that you don’t simply remove the negative “hater”-type posts such as those by Ben M. above (You’re a better man than me). Last time I checked many of the processes/techniques encompassed within woodworking go back a year or two… I hope someone doesn’t accuse you of using a table saw next because I’m afraid to report that there is a rumor that someone has already captured this elusive machine on video and posted it to youtube. ;-]

    I have some curly cherry and think I’m going to give this a try. Would a darker dye like a dark walnut pop the grain even more or is that just a bad idea? I’ll be clicking through and buying the dye at Rockler. I couldn’t believe how pricey it was though so I looked around for cheaper but it does seem to go for about $17. I did see a site that sells for $13, veenersupplies.com, and would order there if I didn’t need to place an order with Rockler for other items as well. Others may find that site useful though.

    Again keep up the great work! I’m a woodworking noob and have a million questions so you’ll probably be hearing from me ad nauseum. Course, I’m still trying to do my due diligence in terms or reading literature and watching instructional DVDs before asking questions. There’s just so much to learn!
    Catch ya later,

  8. Jeff November 9, 2007

    Hi Marc

    I really enjoyed this video also.

    Being a newbie myself, I had a question as to why you did not use General Finishes Seal-a-Cell as the first step instead of the Bulls Eye? I am not being critical, this whole finishing business can be confusing! :)

    From what I gather from your site and David Marks’ site – the duo of Seal-a-Cell and then Arm-R-Seal is a solid combo for a great finish. I am just trying to get my head around the difference between the Bull Eye Sealer and the Seal-a-Cell since they seemingly do the same thing?

    Thanks again….great work….



    Thanks for checking out the video guys.

    Charles- The first part of your comment had Nicole and I both cracking up. As to your curly cherry, its all about experimentation. The walnut dye will indeed create a major contrast. And possibly to a great effect. But it really depends on the look you are trying to achieve. On my piece, I wanted a mild color change. The curl already looked great and didnt need much help. But if you want a curl that just smacks you in the face from across the room (a good thing), then you might want to play with that walnut dye. Just try it on a scrap piece first and see what you think.
    And yes, those dyes are SUPER expensive. Thats why I try to use as little as possible. I usually wait till Rockler has some kind of sale so I can stock up.

    Jeff- One of the most annoying things about finishing is the marketing and terminology. As if it wasn’t difficult enough to understand what different finishes do and when to use them, the manufacturers themselves confuse the issue by coming up with marketing terms and labels that only serve to further confuse the consumer.
    First let me say that a thinned coat of any finish, be it shellac, lacquer, or varnish, will serve as a “sealer”. Seal-a-Cell can certainly be used as a sealer. But in my opinion, dewaxed shellac is the better material for the job. Primarily because it dries quickly and it is a nearly universal binder. It will do a good job of sealing off any oils or impurities in the wood and allows the next coat of finish to bind tightly. Now in the case of this dye, I don’t believe the Transtint is even oil soluble. Also, since the next step is a good sanding, the quicker it dries, the better. Hope that helps to clear up some of the muddy water.

  10. Jason (cfiiman) (http://) November 9, 2007


    Great video, I learn something from every one you do! Hey any chance you might do a video on finishes??? I too am confused by all the different types, I don’t understand, why you should choose one over the other or even “how” to choose one over the other, guess that is why I always use tung oil, lol…

  11. Morton November 9, 2007

    Awesome Marc. I have a lot of curly stuff in raw form in the basement and now know a lot more about how to try finishing it. Thanks for making the “pop” so easy to understand.

  12. Vic November 9, 2007

    Now if your name was Cesar THAT would be a coincidence!:D Nicole must’ve been busy(no outtakes). Thanks for another cool episode. I assume that “popping” can be done on any figured wood. Any suggestions which woods are the best and which just don’t work well.

  13. Hey Marc,

    Great episode! That little bit of dye certainly made a nice difference. I just made couple of Cherry boxes with a little bit of Curly Maple for the panel on the tops. Once I get the hinges on and rub them out, I’ll be posting about them. Too bad I had not seen your video first, I may have tried this technique. I’ll file it away for next time!

    A question for you on the Arm-R-Seal vs. Seal-A-Cell. I have been using Arm-R-Seal for a while now and I really like the finish. I do sometime thin it with Naptha for easier application and quick drying. I used it n the boxes I just spoke of and because of their size, it was sometimes difficult to get smoothly into the nooks of the pieces. Can you comment on the differences between the Ar-R-Seal and Seal-A-Cell? Is the latter more like an oil in that you wipe on and off and it goes on very thin? Any other comments you have would be great.


  14. baldy (http://) November 10, 2007

    Been following for a little while now and it is great to see honest and open discussions. I have a question for you relating to just this sort of thing. I am currently making some night stands out of quarter sawn white oak and want to “pop” (sorry to copy you just can’t think of another word) the grain. I would also like to fill the grain to get the ultimate smooth finish. any suggestions and can you do both. I was going to experiment but I believe that if you can ask a question and save the whole experimentation process it’s really a smarter way of working.

    oh ya and remember imitation is the greatest form of flattery.


    Mark- You ask a very good question. What exactly is the difference between Seal-a-Cell and Arm-R-Seal? Unfortunately, the product labelling doesn’t help us much does it. One thing is clear. Both are varnish. Now some believe that Seal-a-Cell also contains some pure oil, qualifying it as an oil/varnish mixture. While I wouldn’t bet my house on it, I have seen no evidence that it does. Any oil/varnish mixture I’ve used in the past has had several traits in common. First, you have ALOT of working time. The oil component allows you to let the finish soak in for 5-10 minutes then wipe off the excess. Seal-a-Cell usually tacks up in that time. Also, when you place a drop of the material on a non-porous surface (like glass), Seal-a-Cell dries to a flat smooth film. This is a characteristic of pure varnish. Oil/varnish blends on the other hand usually dry in a wrinkly puddle. I find find it relatively easy to build up a film with Seal-a-Cell. This is something that seems to take longer with most oil/varnish blends. So my best educated guess? Seal-a-Cell is nothing more than a diluted varnish made with a resin or combination of resins that impart an attractive amber color to the workpiece.
    Arm-R-Seal is clearly pure varnish. Again diluted for a wiping formula. This material is pretty close to clear and is supposed to have a high solids count meaning it results in a tougher finish that you would get with Seal-a-Cell. This is why a coat or two of Seal-a-Cell followed by a few coats of Arm-R-Seal gives you a reasonably durable finish with a nice color to boot.

    Baldy- Just an opinion so take it for what its worth. Part of what Q-sawn white oak so beautiful is its grain and pore structure. It tends to lose some character when you fill the grain or even when you put on too much finish. Just food for thought.
    Now to answer your question. When I think of “popping” the grain, I think of figured wood. Curly, quilted, flame, beeswing, etc… All things resulting from wild grain. Quarter sawn white oak (QSWO), on the other hand, features an amazing medullary ray fleck pattern. These flecks seem to not absorb as much color as the rest of the wood, so they stand out a bit when stained and especially when fumed with ammonia. So you are kind of looking at the opposite situation that we have with the maple. This is why I dont really think of the popping technique when working with QSWO. So dying the QSWO can give you wonderful results, but certainly not the same thing we see with curly woods.

    So to specifically answer your question, if you still want to dye the wood and fill the pores. I would fill the grain using a commercial pore filler like Barleys. Make sure you get the color you want. Follow the instructions to fill the pores. I cover this procedure in one of my early videos on refnishing.
    Once dry, you will have to sand the filler off the surface. Once you are back to bare wood, you can then apply your dye or stain as you normally would.

    I hate to throw so much at you. If you want more information, email me with your specific questions and Id be more than happy to explain further.

  16. baldy (http://) November 11, 2007

    Marc you are the man!! Love your answers always straight forward and to the point. You hit my concern right on the head about the graining and filling. I didn’t want to lose the grain features and wasn’t sure if filling the pores would hinder the appearance so to make a long comment shorter I am going to give it a coat of nice dark walnut stain (match other pieces I have) and topcoat it with probably a waterbased varathane but on my daughters step stool I used a varnish and kinda liked that too except the smell. (shop attached to house) I noticed that you don’t use varathane products and very little water based. I have had really good result with them and the water based products won’t yellow with age. I guess it all comes down to personal preference eh!!

    After watching the videos of furnitology I am happy that you don’t use cheesy music and catch phrases!!

    Anyhow cheers and thanks for the advice.


  17. Mike November 12, 2007

    FYI guys. If you’re going to order the TransTint from Rockler, they’re having a free shipping offer right now. Code U8101 when you go to check out.

  18. Wyatt November 27, 2007

    Hello wood whisperer,

    I am making a much bigger progect out of partly curly maple and I am wondering if I make a much bigger mixture and use it over time will effect the way the finish works if it is stored or made in larger quanities?



    Hey Wyatt. The limiting factor in the shelf life of that mixture is the shellac. Most shellac has a shelf life of about 6 months, but the SealCoat stuff I use claims to last a few years. I haven’t tested their claims. So adding the dye doesn’t really affect the longevity of the mixture. You can always make a mixture of just dye and alcohol, store that, and add some to your shellac as needed. Just write down the recipe. And keep the dye mixture in a cool dark place.

  20. steven November 28, 2007

    Hi thanks for the podcast i realy like it. No matter how many books i read it helps to see some one work with wood and share problems and solution as most visters to this sight know there more to wood working than a tape measure and hand saw many wont share there skills like you and your cool to whatch. you are a great craftsman thank you !

  21. Anderson November 30, 2007

    Marc – When applying wipe on finishes like oil and wipe on gel stains, do I have to use cotton rags? Can I use blue shop paper towels? Also, if I do use cotton rags, do you normally throw them out or do you wash and re-use the rags? If you wash them, what would you recommend? I don’t think my wife would appreciate throwing oily rags in the washing machine.


    Hey Anderson. I usually use cotton rags simply because they are so soft and also lint-free. Now shop towels are usually lint free but they arent the softed material in the world. So the first few coats can probably be applied using the shop paper towels. But once you start wiping on your finish coats, it might be a good time to switch to cotton cloths. And I do not reuse them. Well let me rephrase that. I will reuse them over the course of a single project. But I will not try to save them after a project. Its just not worth the time, effort, and expense. But if you are applying a coat this morning, and you know you will be applying another coat tonight, just soak the rag in mineral spirits and then squeeze out the excess. The roll it up an place it in a ziplock bag. Be sure to squeeze out all of the air first. Do this after each application of oil/varnish, and you should get 3-4 good uses out of a single rag.

  23. habib Nejad March 3, 2008

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for these fine episodes. I have been searching to find a way to color hard maple (not curly or any other types of hard maple), like red mahagony, for some reason, and keep those nice figures (grain patterns) that HM offers. I practiced with dye then sealing it, next using oil-wipe-on stain. But, as soon as I put the dye on the maple it covers the figures. I am aware of HM properties, like tide grain. Is there a good recipe to color HM and keep the figures?


    Hey Habib. Its important to realize before you start a major color change like that, that its going to be an uphill battle. Hard maple can be splotchy and is not the easiest wood to take to that dark red color. You are trying to make a blonde wood red, and therein lies the problem. You have to add so much color that it winds up obscuring the grain. Dyes are great because they generally do not obscure the grain. But add enough of it, and then throw a wipe on stain on top of it and its no surprise that you observed the results you did. This is exactly why I try to avoid drastic color shifts. I try to get as close as possible with the hardwood itself, and my life becomes a whole lot easier come time for finishing.
    If I had to do what you are trying to do, my method would not be all that different. I would probably pre-seal with very light coat of shellac, sand down, then apply a water-based dye. Follow up with another very light coat of shellac. Then I would finish up with a gel stain. The gel stain will allow you to control the color a bit so that you can darken the lighter areas appropriately. After that, its time for a top coat.
    And sometimes, the grain is obscured and there just isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. Maybe someone else has a suggestion for getting that mahogany color without obscuring the grain.

    • chemmy January 23, 2012

      Used on Mahogany, Birch, Maple, Cypress.


        For anyone looking to try a stain like this, please do your research on the chemicals before you use them. Some are not only toxic but carcinogenic. Many times, a particular color can be reached (or a close variation) with much less dangerous ingredients.

        • chemmy January 23, 2012

          your correct WW, sorry for not mentioning, with gloves and mask these can be used with safety, there are no analines anymore, the nomenclature has just stuck. azo or even the metallic dyes like trans tint can substitute ok? the PD is a hazard and should always be used with caution!!

  25. Matt December 29, 2008

    Hi Mark,

    I realize this video was posed a while ago, but hopefully you have time to respond.

    I am looking into making a platform bed (potentially out of curly maple) and I was wondering what you think about using this process on the entire piece. I was thinking about this as you compared the two pieces of maple at the end, and thought using the dye process might make the piece a bit overwhelming since it’s so large. Your thoughts?



      Hi Matt. No worries man. All comments are moderated, which means I get to read and respond to every comment that comes through the site (no matter how old).

      This process is definitely suitable for larger pieces as well. Its a heck of a lot of work, but if you are really looking to get that killer figure, its probably worth the time and effort. Keep in mind if you aren’t coloring the piece, and you just want to give it some extra pop, you can always try the tried and true method of coating with boiled linseed oil first. Then apply an oil-based topcoat. That should give you a beautiful look (if you are going natural).

      As far as being overwhelming, that is certainly a real possibility. Too much of a good thing can be bad. I have seen some pieces that were very elegant and beautiful in their design, but the over-abundance of figure can be a distraction. Now that ventures into the area of taste and preference. And you are the only person who can ultimately answer that part of the question.

  26. angel January 15, 2009

    can i use a clear coat finish after using the shelack with the dye

      thewoodwhisperer June 18, 2009

      Yes absolutely!

  27. steve January 21, 2009

    Hi Marc,

    Just tried the dye and 4 coats of seal-a-cell looks great! I don’t think anyone has asked this question yet? After putting on the 4 coats of seal-a-cell, would you recommend a couple of coats of arm-r-seal as well? The project is a keepsake box.

    Thanks for all the great info



      Hey Steve. Good question. Yes I would recommend a coat or two of Arm-R-Seal. Since the making of this video, I have learned more about these finishes and I have since changed my thinking just a bit.

      Seal-a-Cell seems to be very similar to Arm-R-Seal, only the finish is a little softer once cured. But after doing a number of test boards, I can’t really see any substantial benefit to using Seal-a-Cell at all. So I just go straight to Arm-R-Seal these days.

      Now if you still like using Seal-a-Cell, I recommend only using 1-2 coats, then switching over to Arm-R-Seal. But in your case right now, I would say go ahead and add a couple coats of Arm-R-Seal and you should be fine.

  28. dana clark June 18, 2009

    is there a way one can make a piece of maple look like quarter sawn oak?

      thewoodwhisperer June 18, 2009

      Not convincingly. Maple and oak differ dramatically in not just color, but grain patterns. So at least to my eye, you won’t be able to recreate that.

  29. dana clark June 19, 2009

    i have a very old table…..late 1890’s……that the table top was pretty ruined..paint stains,etc….so i sanded the top and it looks like maple wood but the rest of the table legs, base, etc LOOKS like quarter sawn oak! How can this be? I guess the base and legs could have been made of quarter sawn oak, but the top look like the rest of the table until i sanded it??????????

      thewoodwhisperer June 19, 2009

      Sounds crazy but it happens. I once refinished a table where the top was mahogany and the legs were pine. The stain was so dark and thick that you couldn’t tell. But once the stain was removed, it was plain as day. Oddly enough, the client chose to keep it natural and didn’t mind the difference.

    • chemmy January 23, 2012

      Hi Dana, this was done with the use of graining rollers back at the turn of last century [early part of the 1900’s] They used distemper colors and acetic acid to make the grain colors and patterns that were on a wide roller, rolled the roller in the pigment and then rolled the non-descript woods.

      It was done mainly because it was cheaper then than the oak was, so it became necessary to compete business wise. The same type of affect is done now on car dashes etc. when a very expensive burl is desired on a car, without the cost.

      i have pics but new here, so i hope WW will tell me how to post them when he reads this ok?

  30. Bryan August 14, 2009

    I’m about to use dyes for the first time. If I’m going to apply a water based dye over the wood (not in shellac)what grit would you sand to first?

      thewoodwhisperer August 14, 2009

      I wouldn’t do anything differently. Probably would go to 180 or so.

  31. Jim December 15, 2009


    Love your site and the podcasts. I’m very new to this game and have a few questions. I’m buidling a clock out of curly maple and have tried the method above. I’d like to have a super high gloss finish, but every Polyurethane can I look at says do not apply over shellac; any suggestions? Also, I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia and cannot find Arm-r-seal anywhere, is there a reasonable facsimile out there? Thanks and keep up the great work on the site.

      thewoodwhisperer December 15, 2009

      Hey Jim. Welcome to the site and welcome to the “game”. Its an addicting one! :)

      So this is one of those cases of labels not being clear enough. There are some folks who believe that you can’t apply polyurethane over shellac that contains wax. Now I say some believe it because there are a number of folks who think its BS. And honestly, I have never heard someone have adhesion issues with poly over waxed shellac. But if you are using dewaxed shellac, its a moot point anyway. And I do recommend you use dewaxed. Im not sure what products you have on hand so I don’t know if your shellac has wax in it. But if its pretty much clear all the way through, its probably dewaxed. And dewaxed shellac is what I like to think of as a “universal binder”. Pretty much any finish will bind to it, including polyurethane. And Arm-R-Seal is really just a urethane blend, so any high quality varnish/poly will do the trick.

      Good luck!

  32. Piotr December 30, 2009

    Hi Mark,
    I’m a long time fan of your videos.

    As for now nobody asked the question about using oil finish and shellac. When you put shellac (even diluted just to pop the grain) as first coat it just seals (more or less) the wood. And the way oil works is to dive into wood as much as possible and suddenly it meets shellac which says – sorry end of journey, I’m here. So IMHO using shellac makes it impossible to use oil based finishes (pure oil or oil/vax mixture). Is it true or not?
    I’d like to try to pop up the grain, but also like my oil finishes.


      thewoodwhisperer December 30, 2009

      Hey Piotr. I sure hope its not impossible or else I am full of sh**! lol. Shellac does seal the wood, but its not an “all or none” situation. The more dilute the shellac is, the less it seals the wood, and the more an oil finish can absorb. So if you apply a light coat of shellac (1lb or less), followed by sanding, you should have absolutely no problem using an oil finish. True, it might not soak up quite as much of the oil, but it still soaks up enough to cure properly. Now if you use too thick of a shellac mixture, you could very well seal off the surface and the oil will just pool. But that’s why we use such a dilute solution.

      And keep in mind that if you don’t want to add any shellac to your dye, you don’t have to. In fact, many people don’t. Its just one method available to you. Good luck.

    • chemmy January 23, 2012

      If you feel you must have the magic oil to use, then may i suggest this schedule.

      Apply your dye to the wood first, let dry
      then apply your oil for best penetration
      wipe all the excess off and let dry 24 hours
      then apply your shellac at a 1 lb. cut
      let dry/sand 320/lightly but smooth
      then come back with your poly finish or varnish
      skip any tri-mixes of oil/varnish/thinner, and just use a straight poly or varnish thinned just a little if necessary for flow and leveling if brushing. If not you can spray it straight out of the can. or with a spray can.

      Make sure your using sealcoat or freshly made dewaxed flakes. sealcoat for poly / dewaxed flakes for oil varnish.



  33. herb January 3, 2010

    I guess by now you’ve figured out that ‘Ben M’ is Charles Neill’s online name LOL!
    Both of you guys are great in your own way, keep up the good work.

  34. Steve February 5, 2010

    Great video! I’m planning a project uing the same type woods as you have shown here. One other project I have uses lacewood so what techniques would you use to “pop” the grain?

  35. Greg April 11, 2010

    I am building a dresser. I will need to make more of the shellac / dye mix than you used on the pencil holder. Do I just multiply the recipe to fit my needs? Also , how does this recipe look on Birdseye maple. I purchased a nice 8′ long 13″ wide birdseye maple board for the top of the dresser.

    I appreciate your help!

      thewoodwhisperer April 11, 2010

      Hey Greg. Personally, for birdseye maple, I wouldn’t really follow this procedure. I usually reserve this for highly figured woods like tiger maple. So if you want a little extra color on your birdseye maple, then sure, you can do this procedure. But you might be better served with a stain or dye. But speaking personally again, I just prefer leaving birdseye alone. Just a nice oil-based varnish or a lacquer looks incredible!

  36. Clarence July 16, 2010


    What dye colour did you use to bring out the pop in the maple for this project?

      thewoodwhisperer July 16, 2010

      I should have said it in the video but if I recall correctly, it was Vintage Maple.

      • Clarence July 16, 2010


        I enjoy your videos. You often answer my questions without knowing that you are answering questions. It is helpful to not only listen to instruction but to see the techniques being demonstrated.

  37. matt martini August 9, 2010

    Shattoyance? (sp?)

  38. Dave Barrera October 19, 2010


    Thanks again for all your help. I’m constantly going back to your “old” work as it applies to my “new” projects. I’m currently working on a hanging tool cabinet so I have a place for hand tools that I’m acquiring. It’s my first project that I’ve spent a great deal of time on to make sure it comes out good (not that I didn’t spend time before, but after discovering hand tools I think you know what I mean)

    Anyway, as I said it’s a hanging tool cabinet made of African Mahogany on the sides and the door fronts will be curly maple. My intent was always to follow this video to “pop” the grain.

    Would you foresee any problems with applying this same technique on the african mahogany/maple cabinet?

    Can I use Arm-r-seal instead of Seal-a-cell and get the same effect? I have both, but from one of your earlier posts, I thought I would just go with Arm-r-seal.

    The cans of shellac and Arm-r-seal have been sitting in my cabinet for about a year. Is it time to get new cans of each?

    Thanks again for all your help.



    Hey Dave. I don’t see any problems applying this method to the mahogany/maple cabinet. But I doubt you’ll see much difference in the mahogany. Might be easier to treat the doors separately, and once the dye is absorbed and sanded back, start finishing the cabinet all over with Arm-R-Seal. So to answer the other part of your question, using Arm-R-Seal is fine. I actually don’t even buy Seal-a-Cell anymore.

    As for the shelf life, if there aren’t visible chunks or a thickening of the material, your can of finish is probably OK.

  40. Hey Marc,

    So lets say you used some dark walnut stain to pop the grain on the same type of wood. Would it still work the same way or would that be too dark to have the same effect?



  41. here is an example of a test piece that was done with similar procedure as in the video. I came here wondering what everyone else was using to sand the dye since I felt it wasn’t coming off enough. I think its just the black dye.

    Heres to show you that you can dye it any color. This was done with transfast water based dye. Black in the grain under any colored dye looks amazing.

  42. Great video. I used the techniques, and the “popped” grain looks great. However, I used the recommended finish, 1/3 Tong Oil, 1/3 min. spirits, 1/3 oil-based varnish, and I’m not pleased. The first coat went on fine, but after the second coat, there are spots that are glossy and most of the table is “satin-y”, I actually prefer the glossy finish. Can I go over the 1/3 etc. mixture with a 100% oil or solvent – based varnish, say spar varnish?, or what else would you recommend? Thanks.

  43. Ross Ekberg June 29, 2011

    To pop the grain, you sanded off most of the sealer. Is there still enough in the wood for it to be considered “sealed”? From the way it looks, it doesn’t matter. I never thought I would say this, but nice pencil holder!

  44. trz August 4, 2011

    would that work on lace wood also?


      Lacewood’s markings are of a different nature than what we’re talking about here so this method really won’t produce the same results. The flecks in lacewood are much like what you’d find in quarter saw white oak. And frankly, they look insanely beautiful with nothing more than an oil-based finish on them. But if you did try this dye technique, I’m not sure how much of an increase in contrast you’d see, if any.

      • trz December 31, 2012

        Just curious and trying to learn a thing or two. What is the purpose of mixing the dye with shellac instead of water? Would basic oil based woodworking stain serve the same purpose as the dye.

  45. ALDI August 28, 2011

    Hi thanks for all your demostration is really helpful, I have a question I do a lot scroll saw objects and use a lot of laquer (spray) or polyurethane (gloss) some of my project are for hanging or display so i think is no proble to be toxic but I’m trying to do toys to sell, and maybe some of my projects will be in contact with food I read the laquer is fine after cure but please can You tell me, or something else any help please appreciate God bless you.

  46. Dave KLein November 11, 2011

    I use transtint with denatured alchohol….would i get the same result?
    Thank you

  47. chemmy January 23, 2012

    gentlemen, on the use of dyes to bring out the figure in woods, it is best to use a weak solution of ferrous sulfate type II for this. In weak solution on figured maple, you will see that it affects those portions where the interlocking grains are,[ think birdseye/ quilt / flame / curly/ burl / etc..

    Once you have applied and let dry for a day, then if dyes are used, it will further enhance the affect

    It’s not that it can’t be done as suggested here, it just gives more of the affect. Again, if you want to even make it more pronounced, you can use the sanding method also. The FS treatment has been around along time, nothing new, just another arrow to have in your finishing quiver when needed.

    As to the trans-tint dyes, those are a common dye that has been around for a couple decades or so. Just new packaging /promoting/etc.. if you like you can buy them direct but only at gallon pricing. the least costly is back at around $70.00 per 8lbs. [basically a gallon.] the most expensive is the blue, around $165.00, still sound way to expensive?

    Look at it this way – approx. 128 oz. per gallon -at 70.00 per gallon divided by 128 = $ 0.58 per oz. for the blue @ 165 per gal., divided by 128 oz. = $1.28 per ounce. the others will run in between.

    most brown colors can be made with no more than the three primaries, red,blue,yellow. or the alternative green and red. ok?

    these are not another type of dye, they are the “same” dye. a chrome or other metal complex dye in liquid form. Why continue to pay the high prices for the small bottles? everyone here if they don’t need gallons can get together in groups of 4 or more and split the gallons into quarts/pints etc.

    I personally have been using them since 1981 and they are available from http://www.dyes.com Keystone aniline. Cut out the middleman and keep your saving to buy other necessities ok?

  48. Shawn March 2, 2012

    Great video, great result. I keep coming back to it when I think about finishing my project.

    I didn’t pick up why you use shellac. Is there an advantage over straight denatured alcohol for what you want to achieve?


      Probably doesn’t make a huge difference, but the shellac acts as a bit of a binder. This can help the color bind to the wood better. Again, for this process it probably doesn’t make a huge difference.

  49. bigred April 29, 2012

    I was thinking of using this method to pop the grain on a table top that I am working on and was wanting to top coat the shellac with a pre cad lacquer, but was wondering if the lacquer would work on top of the shellac. I was also unsure if the lacquer would hid the grain that I just tried to pop or if I need to go with an oil bast varnish.

  50. James July 7, 2012

    I’m making a hope chest with tiger maple and purpleheart. I love the way that the dye pops the grain for the maple, but what will happen to the purpleheart if the same mix is used there?
    Should I instead prefinish the parts as much as possible to ensure that the dye doesn’t hit the purpleheart?
    If I should use something different for the purpleheart, what product would I use and will the final finish (seal a cell) remain the same?
    If I use the amber shellac instead of dye mix, will the results be the same/do i still sand with 220 grit paper after the amber shellac?
    I appreciate the help!


      Unless you use a really dark dye, the purpleheart probably won’t care. The purple will easily be the more dominant color. What I suggest you do is try it on some scrap and see for yourself. That’s the only way to be absolutely sure. And amber shellac is almost like blonde shellac with dye in it. It adds color in much the same way so results should be similar.

      • James July 8, 2012

        Thanks for the advice and quick reply. Currently living in Hawaii where wood prices are 2-4 times more expensive than on the mainland. This is my first project using an exotic so going through trial and error and didn’t want to waste money/ruin the wood figuring it out. I’m going to try the amber shellac as it’s available on island on some scrap and see how it turns out.
        thanks again!

  51. Paul Myers November 17, 2012

    Thank you for being the first one to explain (with video too) how to pop the figure of maple in a way that I can understand and apply! I am trying to build a guitar with striped maple and this will make it look great!!

    Bless you.

  52. Andrew Levine December 5, 2012

    Where can one get amber dewaxed shellac?

  53. Andrew Levine December 5, 2012

    Thanks Marc.

  54. Douglas Adams January 22, 2013

    I went to Rockler and got the materials recommended in this video, but on reading the instructions on the Seal-A-Cell can, it says it is intended as a first coat, not a top coat. General Finishes recommends using Arm-R-Seal as the top coat. So I’m a bit confused now. Can you comment on the use of Seal-A-Cell vs Arm-R-Seal as a top coat? I see that Arm-R-Seal comes in satin, semi-gloss and glossy sheens, whereas Seal-A-Cell doesn’t mention a particular sheen. What sort of sheen does Seal-A-Cell provide when used as a top coat?


      Hey Douglas. I would skip Seal a Cell all together. I no longer use the product. Instead, just go with Arm-R-Seal. Seal-a-Cell is very similar to Arm-R-Seal only it contains a different mix of resins. These resins tend to be softer, according the GF, and that’s why they recommend it as the first coat. As far as I’m concerned it is a redundant and unnecessary product.

      • Douglas Adams January 23, 2013

        Thanks for your reply. It may also help others who view the video and want to try your technique. So if you were making the video again today, what would you use? If you would use Arm_R-Seal, what sheen would you use and how many coats would you put on?


          I would use Arm-r-Seal and leave Seal-a-Cell out of the conversation. Using Seal-a-Cell doesn’t really hurt anything and you can actually use it as a topcoat, as long as you are aware that it won’t be quite as durable as an Arm-r-Seal topcoat. By omitting Seal-a-Cell, you basically just save some money and have one less can of finish laying around.

          Now sheen and the number of coats is dependent upon look and function, and that varies by project. Most times I end up doing about 2-3 coats with gloss and a final coat or two with semi-gloss or satin.

  55. Ryan Harvey February 9, 2013

    Marc, I’m in the process of building a crib with some mahogany. After planing down the boards I noticed that there’s some really nice flame figure. I’m wanting to have a satin finish and let it darken naturally. Would I achieve the same effect with a satin finish on mahogany?


  56. Brian Greenberg February 27, 2013

    Hi Marc,

    I am working my way through the wall hanging cabinet build. I am building the cabinet out of walnut, and I have some nice figured walnut for the door panels. I’m planning on finishing with GF “Outdoor Oil” as you suggested in the guild build video. Is there anything more I can do to really show off the figure, or will the outdoor oil make it pop nicely? Same advice as the gentleman below using mahogany?



      Bingo! With darker woods, I don’t see any real benefit to using dyes to modify the look of the figure. The wood does such a nice job on it’s own and an oil brings those details out naturally. Try sanding one of your boards and hitting it with some oil just to see what’s coming. I think you’ll be happy with the result.

  57. Chris March 8, 2013

    Hi Marc,

    Great video. I am building a backgammon board and the frame is figured maple but it has some very prominent spalting. Kind of whispy with black, blue, green and yellow colors. Will using a dye as you did in this video alter the existing colors??

  58. Brinton August 16, 2013

    I love the video. I’m using curly maple and walnut to make a card box for my upcoming wedding and this explained alot. Many other sites I’ve read have left me with more questions than answers since there are so many ways to do this.
    My question to you is this:
    Will there be a difference in the “pop” effect if I were to mix transtint (vintage maple) with alcohol vs. mixing it with the zinsser seal coat? The seal coat idea sounds much simpler, but I would like to get the most “pop” I can. If they yield similar results then I will use the same methods as your video.
    Keep up the good information; I’ve now bookmarked your page and will be visiting often I’m sure!



      Hey Brinton. Congrats on the wedding and sorry for the late response. I don’t think there’s going to be a difference in the level of pop. The shellac is just meant to be a binder for the dye so that when it hits the wood grain, it’s sort of “glued” down. It doesn’t really impact the intensity of the popping effect. But there’s no reason you can’t use straight alcohol if you want to. Many dyes are exactly that, in an alcohol solution.

  59. Dennis December 5, 2013

    Is this any different than using Tinted Danish Oil?

  60. BDY December 17, 2013

    Can you use any kind of shellac, or does it specifically need to be dewaxed? I ask because I just bought a huge can of Bull’s Eye clear Shellac, not Top Coat, and I’d rather not buy another $15-20 can if I don’t have to.


      Dewaxed is what I typically have in my shop so that’s what I use. For the purposes of a dye additive, you can get away with using waxed shellac if you want to. You really don’t need much shellac anyway and the process can be done with no shellac at all. I just like to add a small amount to serve as a bit of a binder for the dye.

  61. Stu March 3, 2014

    Hi Marc,

    Thank you for the very inspiring video. I was intimidated with finishes before your video. However, you have inspired me not to be so intimidated.

    I have two questions.
    1) Is there a trans-tint or some dye that can be used to pop curly cherry? Would the same recipe you used to pop the curly maple work to pop the curly cherry?
    2) Would you use the same type of finish and application process you used in this video for a piece furniture? Say a wardrobe? I realize you would probably spray it using a HVLP. However, could I use the same method to apply the Enduro oil based varnish you used in this to apply in a wardrobe?

    Any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail.

  62. Vicki May 3, 2014

    Hey, I have some maple hardwood that I just put up in my computer room. It is a beautiful white with the grain showing absolutely perfectly. I want it to stay like this and not yellow. Please help. I’m hearing a water base finish? Any suggestions?


      Water-based finish. :) Any water-based poly will do the trick. It can be applied by brush, spray or foam pad. Practice on a spare piece of material to get the hang of it and then apply it to the wood. Keep in mind the wood grain will be rough if you don’t raise the grain ahead of time with water. So spray or wipe down the surface liberally with water, let dry, then sand smooth with 220 grit paper. Then you can apply the finish.

  63. Cory July 2, 2014

    Hi Marc, love your videos!

    I have a Baltic Birch project that I would like to “pop the grain” and create a nice contrasty, deep, light-amber finish. I am in the process of mixing some blonde dewaxed shellac flakes from WoodEssence here in Canada (no Zinssers SealCoat available)

    Is there anything you can suggest? I was originally thinking of applying #1 cut of dewaxed shellac, then applying some Watco Danish Oil, then multiple coats of Polyurethane to get the deep finish, but after spending time researching online, I’m not sure that method will work.

    I’ve thought that I could add dye to the shellac. (After watching this video) but I’m not sure which dye I can use. I was thinking of Aniline water stain from Lee Valley. (Not sure about the color selections) or go with General Finishes gel stain (from watching another of your videos) and sealing with another coat of dewaxed shellac before applying several coats on top to get that deep finish.

    My project has lots of edges of the BB showing, so I would like to enhance that in the process.

    Is there a method you could suggest?
    Thanks very much!


      Hi Cory. Before digging into the dye conversation, we should probably clarify something about popping the grain. This process is really intended for figured woods. Baltic Birch ply isn’t figured, but it does blotch like crazy. So I suggest doing some test pieces to see if that’s truly the look you want. By performing a grain-popping process on the ply, you’ll enhance that blotch and effectively make it more noticeable. Most people don’t like the way this looks. So my best advice right now is to determine if that truly is the look you’re going for.

  64. Cory July 3, 2014

    Hi Marc,

    Thanks for the reply. I have purchased some supplies and will hopefully get a test piece started tonight. I will try a couple methods that I’ve read about and post results.

    Thanks again!

  65. John Foy July 24, 2014

    Hi Marc I tested this on a scrap piece of curly maple, and could seem to get it looking like yours. It looked really spotty. I used exact brands and everything. Do you have any tips for what I’m doing wrong? Thanks.


      Not without seeing pictures and perhaps even seeing what you did personally. Wood is a natural product and you can get lots of variation from board to board. Can you post a picture somewhere of the finished board so I can see what it looks like?

  66. Linwoods September 2, 2014

    Is it safe to use dye in dewaxed shellac under an epifanes clear coat for outdoor furniture?

  67. Michelle October 27, 2014

    Let me start by saying your video is very informative and extremely helpful. I am very new to woodworking and am preparing my first project of a keepsake box. The top of the box is inlayed with curly maple and the rest is oak wood. My vision is to keep the curly maple the light natural color while accentuating the grain. Instead of using Arm-R-Seal as a topcoat, as that has a warm amber tone, what is your suggestion for a clear topcoat that is easy enough for a first-timer but will provide a nice gloss? I’ve done research on many different topcoats and I’m starting to confuse myself.

    As for the rest of the box, I wanted to use the General Finishes Rosewood stain and would be very grateful for a suggestion on a clear gloss topcoat for that as well.

    Thank you very much!


      Anything water-based (in a gloss sheen) will suffice as a topcoat. The water-based material won’t yellow the maple.

      • Michelle October 29, 2014

        Thank you for the quick response! Will that still be acceptable over the shellac as long as I allow the shellac to dry completely? I’ve also read that water-based topcoats are very difficult to achieve a smooth finish, is this true?


          Should be fine over shellac. And yes, water-based finishes can be a little tricky to apply sometimes. I’d practice on some scrap first just to get to know the product.

  68. Steve November 18, 2014

    Hi and thanks for this website. Very informative. Just made your Greene and Greene inspired frames. One is made of curly maple and I thought this would be a great way to finish it.

    Wanted to get your thoughts on using a dye stain instead of the transtint type dye with a shellac.
    I’d assume it shouldn’t make much difference. But not sure. I plan to test on some scrap, just haven’t received my stains or dyes yet.


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