Two dyes and a glaze create a stunning effect.

by Richard Helgeson

FIGURED WOOD IS A FINISHER'S DELIGHT. Take a piece of curly maple, for example, and simply add a good topcoat to it.

Start with black

First mix up a batch of black aniline dye (see Sources, page 58). Apply the dye using a foam brush (Photo 1). Let the dye soak in and dry at least 1 hour. Next, sand off most of the dye with 180 grit paper (Photo 2). I use an orbital sander for the bulk of the work, then go back and sand areas that look too mottled, using a cork or felt block.

Black dye adds extra depth to the wood's figure. Sanding removes the dye from areas where the dye didn't penetrate very deep, and leaves the dye in areas that are more absorbent. The result is a pattern of dark areas that look like shadows, and this makes the curly grain appear more three-dimensional. Sanding also removes any wood fibers raised by the water in the dye.

Add bright colors

Next, mix up a brightly colored dye and brush it on the panel (Photo 3). Let the panel dry overnight, then apply two to three coats of 2 lb. cut dewaxed shellac. I use Bulls Eye SealCoat, which is premixed as a 2 lb. cut (see Sources). Topcoats will adhere better to dewaxed shellac than to standard shellac. I use a simple folded pad to apply the shellac (Photo 4), but a brush would work just as well.

Your panel should be looking pretty good at this point, but an additional step of adding a glaze will make it

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