Staining maple flooring is one of the hardest methods in which to achieve uniform coloring. The extremely tight cellular structure and inconsistent grain patterns inherent in maple floor planks make uneven staining and a “blotchy” appearance commonplace. In fact the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association does not recommend staining or bleaching of maple flooring under any circumstance.
In order to get more satisfactory results it is recommended that you tint maple flooring. Keep in mind that although tinting will produce uniform color it will also show damage much more and also prove difficult to repair. Contact the flooring manufacturer for tinting options, products and instruction.
Consider leaving your maple flooring natural, leaving it as it appears after it’s milled. Maple makes a beautiful floor with just a clear finish. However, if your heart is set on staining, there are some ways to improve your chances of an acceptable even finish.
Hard maple takes lighter stains better, but darker stains will tend to exhibit uneven levels of penetration. Soft maple takes stain more readily than does hard, and the sapwood has more gray hues, which are more visible in certain light when given a light stain.
Soft maple is often stained to look like cherry, walnut and other more expensive hardwoods. Because soft maple mellows (darkens) at a much slower rate than cherry wood, the color will maintain its original appearance longer.
When staining, all types of wood tend to produce color variations. Softer areas of the wood and end grain surfaces often appear darker than other areas. This is because they tend to absorb more stain. This is a natural reaction when finishing wood products and the variations of color that are produced cannot be controlled.
Maple will show any sanding lines in the wood. Consider hand sanding with 120 and then follow with 150 grit floor sanding paper over a flat, large sanding block. Hand sanding with the grain produces the swirl-free surface that you will need for even staining of maple.
You must sand away any glue spots on the planks that were left there by the installation process. Since these glue spots are hard to see, this is not always an easy task. If glue is left on the maple wood it creates a barrier that won’t accept the stain. These spots are difficult to correct and only show up after the stain is applied.
You may need to call a professional to sand the floor with a high power sander to a 120 grit. This is true especially if you notice bumps or ridges in the wood. Only a professional can sand the floor to a level surface. You may still need to hand sand any edge marks or blemishes left from the sander. The use of a professional sander should only be done on floors with a top wear layer of at least 1/6”.
Once the sanding process is as smooth and level as you can get it, the next course of action is to apply the stain. Stains with an alcohol or lacquer thinner base are recommended over water based stains. These stains are poisonous and flammable.
Be sure to use a mask and ventilate the area. Too much ventilation can cause uneven drying and an uneven stain. You may have to apply two coats of stain. If the stain appears to dark you can lighten it up by using whatever thinner the stain is mixed with. This is something to find out when purchasing the stain.
Let the wood dry overnight at least. Then apply a coat of fast dry pigmented wiping stain. When this additional layer of stain has dried you can apply about three layers of an oil modified polyurethane finish. A good choice is a polyurethane that contains a UV blocker to prevent fading of the stain over time.
Water based stains are discouraged because they may warp and curl the wood. This is true especially if two coats are needed. Water based stain will also raise the grain. Stains with an alcohol or lacquer base contain only a small amount of water. These stains dry quickly as the alcohol and lacquer will evaporate. The amount of raised grain will be perfect for the application of a coat of pigmented wiping stain.
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