Discovering the secret to successfully staining maple floors
Hard maple floors offer a nice, light, bright look to a room, and are often paired with matching cabinetry when the home is built. Many consider this a nice, contemporary “Scandinavian” look. However, after just a few years the maple yellows considerably, and loses the nice, bright, new appearance. Refinishing will bring the original color back, but in only a few more years the yellow returns.
I am often asked whether there is an alternative to resurfacing, and going through the eventual yellowing process over and over. The standard industry answer to this question has been that maple floors are meant to have clear finishes, and could not be stained. The use of oil-based, pigmented stains on maple results in a very blotchy looking floor. This is because maple is very tightly grained generally, but there are turns in the grain that are more absorbent. The result is that very little pigment sticks to most of the wood, but then a lot of pigment sticks to certain portions. We call these ‘hot spots’, and the result is not very attractive. I used to have to tell clients that they had to accept that maple is just not meant to be stained.
Not being satisfied with this answer myself, I began experimenting with alternate methods of creating stained maple floors. Over the past couple of years we have experimented, re-done mistakes, and have been able to produce some very nice stained maple floors that have cherry, walnut or dark mahogany colors. The results have been beautiful.
The key to this breakthrough has been the use of aniline dyes, which have been used for years by the furniture industry to color wood. A dye actually penetrates the wood and darkens it with a color tone. The dye is water-based so, when applied, it sinks into the wood, and when it’s dry, it raises the wood grain. The raised grain allows us to apply an oil-based wood flooring stain in any color with a very high degree of color uniformity throughout. The former hot spots appear more as interesting burls in the wood grain. After the stain is dry, we seal and coat the floor like any other floor. It can take some experimenting with the dyes and stains to achieve the customer’s desired color. It takes precise formulations, and once we start, we are committed to that result.
It should be noted that dying/staining a maple floor is a special process that costs more than ordinary refinishing, but achieves a very beautiful result for those that want to have a dark floor, but are living with a maple floor. For our customers that wanted darker maple floors, the process has been worth it, and when it is finished, they know they have something special.