In the staining of wood it is not enough to know merely how to prepare and how to apply the various staining solutions; a rational exercise of the art of wood staining demands rather a certain acquaintance with the varieties of wood to be operated upon, a knowledge of their separate relations to the individual stains themselves; for with one and the same stain very different effects are obtained when applied to the varying species of wood.

Such a diversity of effects arises from the varying chemical composition of wood. No unimportant role is played by the presence in greater or lesser quantities of tannin, which acts chemically upon many of the stains and forms with them various colored varnishes in the fibers. Two examples will suffice to make this clear. (1) Let us take pine or fir, in which but little of the tanning principle is found, and stain it with a solution of 50 parts of potassium chromate in 1,000 parts of pure water; the result will be a plain pale yellow color, corresponding with the potassium chromate, which is not fast and as a consequence is of no value. If, with the same solution, on the contrary, we stain oak, in which the tanning principle is very abundant, we obtain a beautiful yellowish-brown color which is capable of withstanding the effects of both light and air for some time; for the tannin of the oak combines with the penetrating potassium chromate to form a brown dyestuff which deposits in the woody cells. A similar procedure occurs in the staining of mahogany and walnut with the chromate because these varieties of wood are very rich in tannin.

(2) Take some of the same pine or fir and stain it with a solution of 20 parts of sulphate of iron in 1,000 parts of water and there will be no perceptible color. Apply this stain, however, to the oak and we get a beautiful light gray, and if the stain be painted with a brush on the smoother oaken board, in a short time a strong bluish-gray tint will appear. This effect of the stain is the result of the combination of the green vitriol with the tannin; the more tannin present, the darker the stain becomes. The hardness or density of the wood, too, exerts a marked influence upon the resulting stain. In a soft wood, having large pores, the stain not only sinks further in, but much more of it is required than in a hard dense wood; hence in the first place a stronger, greasier stain will be obtained with the same solution than in the latter. From this we learn that in soft woods it is more advisable to use a thinner stain to arrive at a certain tone; while the solution may be made thicker or stronger for hard woods.

The same formula or the same staining solution cannot be relied upon to give the same results at all times even when applied to the same kinds of wood. A greater or lesser amount of rosin or sap in the wood at the time the tree is felled, will offer more or less resistance to the permeating tendencies of the stain, so that the color may be at one time much lighter, at another darker. Much after the same manner we find that the amount of the tanning principle is not always equal in the same species of wood. Here much depends upon the age of the tree as well as upon the climatic conditions surrounding the place where it grew. Moreover, the fundamental color of the wood itself may vary greatly in examples of the same species and thus, particularly in light, delicate shades cause an important delay in the realization of the final color tone. Because of this diversification, not only in the different species of wood, but even in separate specimens of the same species, it is almost impossible always, and at the first attempt, to match a certain predetermined color.

It is desirable that trials at staining should first be made upon pieces of board from the same wood as the object to be stained; the results of such experiments furnishing exact data concerning the strength and composition of the stain to be employed for the exact reproduction of a prescribed color.

Many cases occur in which the color tone obtained by staining cannot always be judged directly after applying the stain. Especially is this the case when stain is employed which slowly develops under the action of the air or when the dye-stuff penetrates only slowly into the pores of the wood. In such cases the effect of the staining may only be fully and completely appreciated after the lapse of 24 or 48 hours.

Wood that has been stained should always be allowed 24 or 48 hours to dry in ordinary temperatures, before a coat of varnish, polish, or wax is applied. If any dampness be left in the wood this will make itself apparent upon the varnish or polish. It will become dull, lose its glossy appearance, and exhibit white spots which can only be removed with difficulty. If a certain effect demand the application of two or more stains one upon the other, this may only be done by affording each distinct coat time to dry, which requires at least 24 hours.

Not all the dyes, which are applicable to wood staining, can be profitably used together, either when separately applied or mixed. This injunction is to be carefully noted in the application of coal tar or aniline colors.

Among the aniline dyes suitable for staining woods are two groups—the so-called acid dyes and the basic dyes. If a solution of an acid dye be mixed with a basic dye the effect of their antagonistic dispositions is shown in the clouding up of the stain, a fine precipitate is visible and often a rosin-like separation is noticeable.

It is needless to say that such a staining solution is useless for any practical purpose. It cannot penetrate the wood fibers and would present but an unseemly and for the most part a flaky appearance. In preparing the stains it is therefore of the greatest importance that they remain lastingly clear. It would be considerably of advantage, before mixing aniline solutions of which the acid or basic characteristics are unknown, to make a test on a small scale in a champagne glass and after standing a short time carefully examine the solution. If it has become cloudy or wanting in transparency it is a sign that a separation of the coloring matter has taken place.

The mixing of acid or basic dyestuffs even in dry powdered form is attended with the same disadvantages as in the state of solubility, for just as soon as they are dissolved in water the reactions commence and the natural process of precipitation takes place with all its attending disagreeable consequences.