By Joshua Farnsworth

Figured maple is a gorgeous wood, and is perfect for bringing attention to your furniture because of the way the translucent waves reflect the light. But with a quick & easy process using aniline dyes and boiled linseed oil, you can create amazing contrast and make the figure really stand out, or “pop”.

I start with a sample board, cut from the same figured maple board as the furniture I’ll be building, and sand it through the grits to 220 grit.

Sanding curly figured maple board on a woodworking workbench

Get three packets of water soluble aniline dye ready:

    • A dark brown dye or black.
    • An reddish dye
    • A yellow Dye

Packets of Lockwood's aniline dye

You can either buy powdered dye, or pre-mixed concentrated dye. Here are a couple brands that I’d recommend, along with other items needed below:

* Lockwood Dye Colors I used: “Golden Yellow”, “Dark Brown Walnut”, and “Bright Red Cherry”
* TransFast dyes (by Jeff Jewitt) are excellent powder dyes
* TransTint dyes (by Jeff Jewitt) are excellent concerntrate dyes
* J.E. Moser’s dyes are also excellent
* Antique Oil Finish
* Boiled Linseed Oil

Pour a little bit of hot water into three containers (distilled water if you have it). You don’t need much because of how concentrated this powder is.

Pouring water into three jars in preparation for mixing and applying three different shades of Lockwood aniline dye

Stir each solution with a small stick from your board so you can see if the dye is strong enough. Let the dyes dissolve for 10 minutes.

Mixing aniline dye in jar with red streaks in the water

Using a pad made from an old cotton t-shirt, dampen the wood with a little water, then apply the dark brown dye. The water keeps the dye from going on too strong.

Wiping dark walnut aniline dye onto a curly maple board

Let the dark dye dry for 15-20 minutes. It should look like this:

Dark walnut aniline dye coloring a curly maple board

Then after it’s dry, sand the surface with 220 grit sandpaper until you can only see the dark dye in the figure:

Sanding the dark walnut aniline dye coloring off of a curly maple board

Repeat the whole process with the reddish dye (apply, dry, sand)…

Wiping cherry red aniline dye onto a curly maple board

…and then again with the yellow dye. But I don’t sand again after the yellow dye.

making figured curly maple grain pop with Aniline Dye

I leave the board to dry until the next day, and then use another cotton pad to rub in a small amount of boiled linseed oil. The linseed oil will add some depth to the figure.

Wiping boiled linseed oil onto a curly maple board that has been colored with aniline dyes

The wood looks lovely at this point, and you can see that adding the oil removes the bright yellow look:

Wiping boiled linseed oil onto a curly maple board that has been colored with aniline dyes

After just a couple minutes, I wipe the linseed oil off the board with a clean cotton cloth.

Jar of Minwax antique oil finish with jars of aniline dye in the background

Then I apply a clear top coat. In my opinion, if you plan on applying a water-based clear top coat, then you should probably wait a couple days for the oil to dry. But if you’re using an oil-based top coat, then there’s no need to wait. As you can see here, adding a finish brings a nice wet contrast to the wood, and makes the figure pop!

Wiping Minwax antique oil finish on a curly maple board

That’s all there is to it! Here are the before & after photos of my above sample board, so you can see the difference:

Bare curly figured maple board on a woodworking workbench

making figured curly maple grain pop with Aniline Dye

Here you can see a knife handle that I recently made with this exact process (and also polished with wax after the finish had dried):

curly maple knife handle with can of Mylands wax in the background

I’ve also done variations of this process, where I only used the dark brown dye, which gave me a nice figured & aged walnut look, like on this colonial pipe box I made for a client:

Colonial pipe candle box with curly maple wood and green candles

But I didn’t sand this pipe box down as much as I did in the above steps.

Colonial pipe candle box with curly maple wood and green candles

Please comment at the bottom of this page and let me know what you’ve tried to make the figure in your maple pop.

making figured curly maple grain pop with Aniline Dye

SUBSCRIBE