Techniques . Wood & Wicker
How to Dye-Stain Wood and Wicker
Staining unfinished wood and wicker with Rit Dye creates beautiful, lasting results. Rit is a water-based dye and unlike some heavy oil-based color stains it allows the natural wood grain to show through, adding depth and texture to the finished project. Since wood and wicker absorb the dye, the colors won’t chip or peel like paint.
The number of coats of dye needed will depend on the wood being dyed. Pine, oak, cherry and walnut all dye beautifully but pine is a soft, absorbent wood and will require fewer coats of dye while oak and cherry are hardwoods and may require several coats.
And when you know how to mix dyes to create custom colors, you can stain wood and wicker to fit any occasion or match any home décor. Custom dyes can be stored indefinitely in jelly jars and reused several times so long as they’re reheated before use.
- Unfinished wood or wicker
- Rit Dye, liquid or powder
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoons
- Microwave safe containers for dye
- Fine sandpaper (#220)
- Steel wool
- Tack cloth
- Clear polyurethane
- Foam and bristle brushes
- Old cloth
- Paper towels
- Rubber gloves
- Plastic drop cloth
- Jelly jars (optional)
Step by Step
Cover work surface with a plastic drop cloth.
Sand unfinished wood lightly and wipe clean with a tack cloth, removing filings and dust. If working with finished wood, strip paint, varnish or wax from the item. Scrape and sand surface until smooth and wipe clean with a tack cloth.
Wearing rubber gloves, shake all dye bottles before pouring into a container. Measure and mix ½ cup liquid dye or 1 box of powder dye with 2 cups very hot water; if using the immersion method, mix same amounts of powder and liquid dye with every 2 quarts water needed, depending upon the size of the project. Stir well. (Unlike fabric, dye-staining wood and wicker does not require salt and vinegar.)
Test dye color on a scrap piece of similar wood or a hidden area of the item. If color is too light, add more dye; if color is too dark, add more water. Dye will appear lighter when dry.
During the wood staining process, keep dye hot to achieve better dye absorption. Cover dye with plastic wrap and heat on high in the microwave for 1 – 2 minutes. DO NOT LEAVE UNATTENDED. Watch carefully to be sure plastic wrap does not melt.
Dye-stain with one or more of the following methods. For a softer look, wet the wood or wicker and then let it dry for 15 minutes before dyeing.
Brush-On Method: Best for dyeing large pieces of wood or wicker. Dip foam, bristle brush or old cloth in dye solution and spread evenly over surface. Depending upon the shape of the piece, all three may be used. Unwanted dye drips can be removed by sanding wood immediately. Let dry and reapply dye, if necessary, to achieve desired shade.
Immersion Method: Best for dyeing small wicker or wood pieces and larger baskets. Dip or immerse item in dye bath for 10 – 20 minutes, turning occasionally. If dye bath is shallow, rotate items evenly.
Rustic, weather-beaten look: Use two dye colors. Apply the lighter shade to entire wood surface; let dry. Apply darker shade over lighter shade; let dry. Once dry, lightly sand entire piece. Repeat applying dye coats; let dry between coats. When completely dry, rub lightly with fine sandpaper or steel wool to create light and dark areas.
Stencil patterns: Tape stencil where design is to appear. Dip stencil brush into dye, then blot on paper towel until nearly dry. Beginning at outside edges, brushing dye toward center of stencil. Wait 1 to 2 minutes until dye is absorbed then remove stencil.
Allow wood or wicker to dry completely.
To seal dye-stained wood, apply one or two coats of polyurethane using a new foam or bristle brush. Lightly rub with steel wool, or use 220 grit fine sandpaper between coats and remove dust and filings with a tack cloth. For wicker, brush on one or two coats of polyurethane. It is not necessary to rub with steel wool between coats.
For clean-up, simply rinse dye from paint brushes with mild soap and water. No strong chemicals are needed. To clean brushes from polyurethane, soak in mineral spirits.