A number of years ago a few firms put lines of spirit stains on the market. These were manufactured from various colors that are soluble in alcohol. At the present time the colors or dyes which are used are almost entirely spirit soluble basic coal tar dyes.
Spirit stains dry very, very quickly, and do not penetrate deeply into the wood. Pure spirit stains dry with such great rapidity that it is difficult to apply them evenly. Laps, streaks, and brush marks are likely to disfigure any large surface stained with spirit stain. The trouble is due entirely to the rapid evaporation of the alcohol which is used as the solvent for the colors.
These stains are more expensive than water stains, because the solvent alcohol, costs much more than water. They are sometimes used for quick work, especially for touching up spots and streaks, and in making repairs or renewing old finishes. The expert can occasionally use them to advantage, but the beginner always has trouble with them.
Another difficulty with spirit stains is that they may “lift” with the filler-coat, or with the application of shellac, which is a spirit varnish cut with alcohol. Such stains are liable to mix with the shellac under the brush without any sort of mixing or measuring tools and produce a muddy effect which spoils the transparency and beauty of the finish.
You can also purchase mixed spirit stains and volatile oils. Some manufacturers of spirit stains have changed their formulas and do not use alcohol exclusively as a solvent. Turpentine and benzol are sometimes used as solvents or thinners in addition to alcohol, and these oils slow down the rapidity of drying of the spirit-stain. Benzol also causes the stain to penetrate more deeply than if alcohol alone is used.
These stains can be thinned with either alcohol or turpentine, but turpentine is preferable when it comes to stains and supplies and a sort of ruler of stains because of its slower rate of evaporation. Some of the best liquid stains on the market today are really a combination of volatile oil and spirit stains and wood finishers are having satisfactory results with them even though they are rather expensive on account of the high cost of the solvents. Water is also sometimes used as a thinner for spirit stains, reducing the rapidity of drying to some extent.
You cannot leave spirit stains in open vats because of the rapid rate of evaporation, which increases the risk of fire. Such stains should be kept in tightly closed glass bottles, if possible. The method of application for spirit stains is to apply them with a brush and them to wipe and spread the excess in order to achieve more even tones and brilliance. You can obtain the best results in one of two ways:
1. By working rapidly with a brush loaded with color, rather than with an almost dry brash; and
2. By evening up, by wiping before the stain has set or dried.
A word of caution about using spirit stains is necessary – they do fade. Spirit-stains made from aniline or other coal-tar dyes arc considered by many experts to be the most fugitive of all stains, although they are much more permanent than they were a few years ago. Their tendency to fade, and difficulty in application, has caused them to be used much less than either water or oil stains. Compare the difficulty level of using a simple tool, such as a tape measure to using a cumbersome saw to get an idea of the difference.
The spirit stains are made from basic coal-tar dyes, which the manufacturers know to be fugitive. Where a temporary brilliant effect is desired, and fastness to light is not a requisite, such stains may be used to advantage.
Whenever spirit stains are used on articles of furniture the fresh colors should not be exposed to bright light until after coats of shellac and varnish have been applied. Such impervious finishes keep out the air and prevent fading to a large extent.
Allison Ryan is a freelance marketing writer from San Diego, CA. She specializes in do-it-yourself home improvement and remodeling. She is an expert on everything from measuring tools to the ideal tape measure. For a variety of these products for home improvement projects, please visit http://www.ustape.com/.