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How To Get Black/Ebony or Espresso Finish on Any Hard Wood Surface

You’ve no doubt tried using one of those ebony stains you find at the big box stores only to end up with something that’s nowhere near being black and you can pretty much forget about espresso because I have yet to find a stain that’s even labeled as being espresso.  So how do you get that black or espresso finish?

The answer is  wood dye!  This stuff comes in either  liquid  or powder form with the best being the powder form.  I have had best success with water as it yields a totally black finish.  Now don’t bother trying to find these at Home Depot because they simply do not carry these dyes so you will need to buy online. Woodworker’s Supplies carries a huge selection of  JE Moser brand. Either the Ebony black or Flemish black will work great.

With dyes, not only can you just about any color but they are superior in many ways. For starters, they very economical because a small of jar goes a long way. The powder keeps for a very long time. Even when mixed, it doesn’t evaporate, it requires no stirring because the black never comes out of solution once mixed so you end up with a consistent color.

So just how black can you get?  The pic below has 2 pieces of oak, one dyed the other stained with Minwax Ebony stain. I’ll let you guess which is which.

You might be thinking, black is great but how do I get an Espresso color?  Now you could get an espresso dye but one set back with the dye is that it doesn’t give you that deep rich almost translucent color. That being said,  if you use the black as a base then apply a stain / polly you will get an amazingly rich dark Espresso color that is dark yet translucent that still lets the grain show. Below is the technique I have been using with great results on everything from baseboards to doors and furniture.  If you just want a black, then you can simply skip step #5 and go directly to clear poly.

The Espresso Technique

1. Prepare the wood as you would for any other stain application so sand to a relatively smooth surface.

2. Once sanded, apply the dye. On solid lumber, you can apply relatively liberally for thin woods or veneer you want to apply just enough to get it black but not so much that it’s wet. One of the great things about the dye is that it soaks completely into the wood so you don’t have to worry about streaks or anything like that.

3. Let it dry. Instructions say to let dry for 24hrs but I’ve had success with applying the next step within a couple of hours. You will know it’s dry when it goes from black to a very dark charcoal gray.

4.  One of the downsides to using this dye is that it causes grain raising so you will need to steel wool it to knock it back down.  You don’t want to sand the black as you will end up with wood color again. If you want a smoother surface than what the steel wool gives you then you can safely apply 2-3 coats of poly then sand. This will protect the dye from sanding through. Of course you want to sand carefully.

5. Skip this step if you just want a black color. Otherwise, this is where the magic happens for the Espresso look.  To achieve the Espresso color, you will need a can of Minwax Polyshades stain/poly in one  Bombay Mohogany color. Use satin even if you’re going for a gloss look as a final application of clear poly will achieve that.   You can find this color at Home Depot. Without the black underneath, this stain usually gives you a burgundy color but with the black you end up with the Espresso color we’re shooting for. 1 coat will suffice as it will give you that deep rich color that allows the grain to still come through. More coats will obscure the grain and will not be as rich and deep in color.

6. Once dry, steel wool the piece to accept the clear poly as the piece will be rather dull.

7.  Finish by applying either gloss or satin clear poly depending on what you’re going for.

That’s it! There’s your Espresso color. It’s rather time consuming and laborious but the results are well worth it.  Below are some pics of projects where Ive used this technique.

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