After I dyed the dollhouse shingles, I had a bunch of leftover dye. In case you haven’t read about that adventure yet (you should), the important thing to know is that I ended up dying the dollhouse shingles twice. That said, I still had a ton of leftover dye.
I’m supposed to keep it around for touch-ups. When all was said and done, the instructions weren’t totally wrong about that. I could have touched up the shingles, but I don’t know how that would have worked. Plus, the leftover dye is supposed to live in the refrigerator.
Given that I hate to waste things, like perfectly good dye, I decided to use the leftover dye for another project I’ve been sitting on.
I wanted to stain this wood sign a lovely brown color.
Since I had the dye, the tools, and the time, I figured I would give it a go and figure out how to dye wood with a foam brush.
The Right Tools?
Given my experience with the cheap paint brushes and my research about how to apply wood stain, the last time I was out and about, I grabbed some cheap foam brushes.
I think I paid about $3 for all eight of these. There’s not a ton of size options, but, that’s OK. I’ve never dyed or stained wood before, so I’m sure it’s fine. And, if it turns out I’m wrong, I learned something.
Based on the size of the boards, I went with this brush.
It’s hard to tell in the picture, but the brush is a touch wider than the board. The next brush size up is too wide. The next size down is too small. This foam brush is no Goldilocks, but, it’ll do (partly because it has to).
In making this foam brush my Goldilocks, I’m assuming that this slightly too large size will allow me to stain the top and bottom of the board at the same time I’m dying the front. How? I figure the excess dye from the sides of the brush will drip down the sides of the board, allowing me to get three sides of the board at once.
I will tell you right now, that when it comes to how to dye wood with a foam brush, that assumption was so wrong.
Because I did this side project the same day I dyed the dollhouse shingles, my workspace was already set (and I had the right clothing on). So, I grabbed a wiping rag (for excess dye) and, off I went.
How to Dye Wood With a Foam Brush
Before you ask, I sanded the sign a while ago, thinking I was going to do a different route with the stain/dye thing. Obviously, that did not happen.
If you haven’t read the post about the day I dyed the shingles (why not?), then you need to know that I wrapped the excess dye up in its container in a couple of plastic bags. Because there was no way I was trying to get it in my refrigerator, I slid the wrapped container into the shade to help keep it cool.
When I opened it to do this project, I found this:
Guess I didn’t do such a great job keeping the bag out of the dye! No worries. The plastic can’t stain, and as long as I keep it like that, I should be fine.
Because I already researched how to dye wood with a foam brush, I knew to stick the foam end in the dye and really let it soak up the dye. I nailed that part. Here’s pictures of the drips coming off.
This will come back to haunt me later.
Then, I put the brush on the board, dyed a small piece of it, then wiped the excess off. Like so:
As you can see, the first coat didn’t go on very evenly. The boards are very grainy, which is fine. But, it was hard for me to press down between the grains to get the stain in. These foam brushes are very stiff, which I guess is good. Hopefully, that means they’ll last. But they weren’t very pliable. That’s OK, but now I get why some people use bristle brushes, and some prefer an actual sponge to apply stain and dye to wood. I haven’t tried it yet, but I feel like it would be easier to get a solid first coat on.
Also, my research told me it was important to work in small sections so I could apply the dye then wipe off the excess. It took me a few tries to remember that part. And, I can honestly say that I didn’t get the big deal about wiping off the excess stain until I started dying the wood. Here’s a side by side.
The picture on the left shows the section before I wiped (with an obvious overlap of old versus new dye), and the one on the right is the after I wiped it.
See the difference?
I do. I’m glad I wiped the dye. It makes a huge difference.
First Coat Complete
Here’s what the whole sign looked like after the first coat.
It’s a lovely shade of brown, but very, very, uneven. It’s obvious even at a distance. Those dark spots aren’t because I applied the dye too dark. And, the light ones aren’t where I used a light touch. It was all about how the wood absorbed the dye.
Side note, I have no idea what kind of wood it is, but my guess is solid pine.
Here’s a close up of one of the boards.
As you can see, it’s uneven and even missed spots. It’s not great work. I wouldn’t even call this “weathered.” But, it’s just a first draft, so, I’m not at all worried.
After the dye dried to the touch, I went back and added a second coat of dye. Here’s what it looks like:
I think it’s perfect! It’s got (mostly) even coverage, and the color is beautiful. Yes, there are some dark areas, but that’s due to the wood, and there’s nothing I can do about it. That said, even from a distance, you can see a few places where the dye didn’t get in the wood. And, the strips of wood in the back holding the board together still need stain. Here’s a close up.
I’m annoyed because that means my theory about the drips is wrong. You can’t see it in the pictures, but the sides of the boards are also not dyed. Oh, well. I figure I’ll cram the foam brush between the slats and dye everything that way.
And, this is where everything went sideways.
I Did Not Follow My Own Advice
Sadly, I have no pictures of what happened next. That’s mostly due to my frustrations and near-constant cursing to and of myself for not following my own advice on how to do this!
The foam didn’t fit
I soaked the dye into the foam brush (like earlier), and started shoving it in the gap. It kind of fit, but kind of didn’t. I could get the brush in the gap. But the dye didn’t get on the back board as evenly as I wanted, if it got on it at all. I think I underestimated how stiff the foam would be when loaded up with dye. It’s good that the foam held its shape and didn’t collapse with the dye. But, I kind of needed it to.
Also, I was getting excess dye on the front of the boards, meaning I was overdying a thin strip of board by the slats. I could wipe the excess up, but it was annoying, and it was messing up my work (and my attitude). I kept trying with the foam brush, though, long after I should have quit.
The problem with that though was that I was focusing so hard on getting the foam brush between the boards, I wasn’t paying attention to the dripping dye! I didn’t realize it was happening until I was (and this is stupid), moving the dripping brush over and across the boards. I watched the dye drip down, grabbed the rag, and wiped it up. But, then I saw all the other drips that had left dark, uneven blotches everywhere.
And I couldn’t get them off at that point.
I screwed up, and now I had to put on a third coat.
What I did wrong
In retrospect, I should have tested a clean (or not full of dye) brush on the gap first to see if it would fit. If, after testing, I thought it could fit, I should not have soaked up so much dye into the brush. There’s no reason to use that much dye for such a small piece of wood. I shouldn’t have gone with about a quarter of what I used.
Also, I should have moved the dye bucket closer to whatever I was working on, so I didn’t have to move the brush across my sign. Or, flip the sign, so it was closer to the bucket. Whatever. The point is, I should never, ever have to move a dripping brush across my project.
Lastly, I should have turned the sign, so it was on its side (as in, up and down, and not flat on the ground) when I dyed it. That would have helped prevent the drips. I did end up doing that as I proceeded. That, while helpful, also ended with some unintended results.
Plan B: Or How to Dye Wood With a Foam Brush Made of Cotton
Once I realized the foam brushes weren’t working, I grabbed cotton swabs and used those instead. They fit much better in the gaps and were easier to maneuver. For the record, I don’t think even the smallest of my foam brushes would have worked because they are the same thickness of foam as the other brushes.
I was pleased that no cotton fuzz ended up on the boards. The same cannot be said for wood grain. There was one part of the backboard that was really fuzzy. Almost like a woodpecker had been after it. I used the wet cotton swab to scoop out the wood grain, then went about dying it like any other part of the sign.
Like I said earlier, I did this the same day I dyed the dollhouse shingles. I was using everything from that dye kit, which means I had only one gloved hand.
I’m not going to lie. I was pretty annoyed with myself about messing up with the drips and that I was kind of forging ahead without thinking much. It’s a character flaw.
I used the cotton swabs to dye the ends of the boards, since, at this point, I knew the foam would create more streaking. That means I had to hold the sign on one side while I dyed the others. Here’s how that went.
Yeah. Not thinking.
I did use the dye remover on my hand, just not soon enough.
It’s not that bad and washed off in a few days.
On a side note, the one glove I was wearing must have had a hole in it, because I ended up like this after everything was dyed.
It’ll come off eventually.
The Final Product
This is what I ended up with:
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s darker than I wanted. Not much, but enough, it bugs me. On the other hand, the dye is a lot more even, which I like.
I learned a lot, though. The first is, watch those drips! The second is, test, test, test, and test everything out first. And then, test some more.
I’ve also learned that dye is a picky, almost fickle thing. I like the color after two coats, but also find it a bit uneven. The color is far more even after three coats, but darker than I like. Plus, I feel like the wood grain is a little more obscured after three coats (here’s the side by side). pic and pic.
I made plenty of newbie mistakes in this project. But, I’m glad I messed this side project up, instead of something with the dollhouse. This was just a fun little thing I wanted to knock out. And knock it, I did.
The color isn’t great, but I’ll live. If it turns out I hate it, I’ll make another one, incorporating all the lessons I learned. I’ll watch the drips, be careful between the gaps, and wear two gloves!
I know this isn’t a dollhouse project, but any suggestions to share about working with wood dye?
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