Making Your Own Oil Stain
Sometimes it’s impossible to find a stain that is the exact color you need. This is especially true if you are building a piece of furniture and want to match the color to an existing piece. No matter how many colors stain manufactures offer, these companies will never be able to supply us with the infinite number of color combinations needed to suit every job. When I ran into this problem, I always remember saying to myself, “If I only knew what was in this stain, I could make it myself”. Over the years I have come up with an excellent home brewed pigmented oil stain which I would like to share with you.
Most commercial pigmented oil stains contain a few basic ingredients. First I will list each of these ingredients and give you a brief description of what purpose each serves in the make up of the stain.
1. Pigment (Color) The pigment is what actually gives the stain its particular color. Toady most pigments are synthetic finely ground powders. Years ago artists and cabinet makers made their own pigments by drying and then grinding natural materials. For example: to make a red pigment, an artist would take red rose petals, let them dry out completely and then grind the petals to a fine red powder.
2. Vehicle. Something needs to be added to the pigment in order to carry it onto the work piece and distribute it evenly across the surface. If you were to use just the dry powder, it would be impossible to evenly apply it. The vehicle most commonly used in an oil stain is some type of petroleum based solvent. In many cases this is a mineral spirits.
3. Binder. If the stain just consisted of pigment and vehicle, it will not work very well. You see because the vehicle is a solvent it will evaporate shortly after the stain has been applied to the surface. When that happens, the pigment will return to its powered form and just blow off the surface. Therefore, we need to add something to the stain formula to hold the pigment in the pores and on the surface of the wood after the vehicle has evaporated. An oil is usually used to accomplish this task. Most commercial manufactures use linseed oil, however some use tung oil and market their stain as a tung oil stain. Linseed oil will never evaporate, thus it will hold the powered pigment in place. Also, because linseed oil is thicker than a solvent, it will add more body to the stain.
4. Drier. Last, stain manufactures add a drying agent to the formula to help it dry quicker. Usually this is some type of metallic drier like cobalt. This is sold commercially under the name Japan drier. It can be purchased in art supply stores, some paint stores and on the internet from woodworking supply companies.
The following formula should yield about 1 quart of oil stain. You do not need to add Japan drier to this formula because the japan color and boiled linseed oil contain drier. If you want the stain to dry a little quicker, you can add some additional japan drier, but no more than 1/2 ounce. If you add too much drier, the stain will not work properly.
1.Vehicle. Quart of mineral spirits or gum turpentine. This will be your vehicle that will carry the pigment onto the surface. Either of the two solvents will work well, but if you want to reduce the odor of the stain, use mineral spirits.
2.Binder. 7 Ounces of boiled linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil will be your binder to help keep the pigment in the pores and on the surface of the wood in addition to adding body to the stain. Use boiled linseed not raw linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil has drier added to it and will help the stain dry quicker. Raw linseed oil will never dry.
3.Pigment – A maximum of 4 ounces of japan color(s). Japan colors are very similar to the oil paints that artists use to paint pictures (the type that are sold in tubes in art supply stores). The main difference between artists oil paints and Japan colors is that Japan colors have driers added to it. Japan colors are also finely ground pigments suspended in a linseed oil base. However, japan colors are too thick to use as a stain directly out of the can. They are available in many colors including earth tones that will match the natural colors of many woods, and are also available in brilliant colors like reds, greens, yellows and more. Any of these colors can be intermixed, but you should not use more than a total of 4 ounces to the formula. Adding more japan color will start to make the stain too thick and it will be difficult to apply.
Remember, the japan color and boiled linseed oil already contain driers, therefore you do not need to add any japan drier. However, if the stain is not drying properly, or not quick enough, you can add some japan drier, but NO MORE THAN 1/2 Ounce.