View Full Version : Dumb question - henna for stain?

09-16-2011, 03:42 PM
I inquired about refinishing a Flea top here (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?52853-Refinishing-a-Flea-top).

Has anyone ever used henna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henna) to stain a top? This just occurred to me last night.

Back in the day, I used to henna my hair. It's a powdered plant you mix with water and leave on for a while. If you don't wear gloves, it will stain your hands, too. It's also used for temporary tattoos. You can buy henna in various shades, I'm thinking a deep auburn might impart a rich reddish brown color.

Anyway, I was wondering if I used steel wool on the top of the Flea, rubbed on a bit of henna mix with cotton balls,let it sit for a while then wiped it off, would this work to stain the top? Would mixing it with water be okay, or would something like an oil base be preferable?

Apologies to the pro luthiers here, I'd just like to know if this is something you think is feasible or just a dumb idea.

Rick Turner
09-16-2011, 04:00 PM
All you can do is to try it on a scrap of similar wood. Henna will probably work great, but there's only one way to find out.

Stains done directly into wood can be tricky, but I do them a lot. You have to sand the wood really well, dampen to raise the grain, allow to dry, and sand to 220 or even 320, and then repeat that process once or twice before staining. The henna is a water thinned stain, and so it will raise the grain if you haven't already done that.

The only other issue might be how colorfast it is. Does it bleach out with exposure to light or oxygen? Do some research, but you may just have to try it and then let us know how well it works.

Good idea, though, and I do like direct stains into wood for a more old-time look to tints and sunbursts.

09-16-2011, 10:22 PM
That's not a dumb question. And if you do a test on it and find it's worked for you, then post back here with pictures of the results.

Michael N.
09-16-2011, 11:30 PM
Unfortunately most plant based dyes are fugitive, but by all means do the test. Place one half of the test piece in direct Sun, the other half in a cupboard where no or very little light can get to it. You'll find out within 3 or 4 weeks.

Pete Howlett
09-16-2011, 11:46 PM
What does 'fugitive' mean, 'scuse my ignorance?

Chemical stains are often the best but they are very aggresive and often involve chenicals you need 'permission' to buy. I have used dichromate of potash for colouring mahogany - traditional stain for this wood. If you really want to research this George Frank's book is an amazing and very entertaining read - his 'ammonia tent' errected in situ in a bank to correct 'streraking' in the stained woodwork of the lobby is an incredible 'wing and a prayer' story.

Michael N.
09-17-2011, 12:43 AM
Fancy word. Likely to evaporate, deteriorate, change, fade, or disappear. Often used when referring to colour and dyes.

09-17-2011, 03:33 AM
I can save the OP the time because I tried the experiment last year on a piece of cherry. Even after three weeks I had achieved only a very slight reddening of the wood.

This was following the instructions on the henna powder for hair tinting, which required it to be mixed with a lightly acid solution..

If you can discover a way of deepening the dye then it would be worth repeating, but for me it was a failure.

09-17-2011, 03:56 AM
I have read about using coffee to stain gourds and wood. Ive used it on wooden jewlery with fair results. never tryed henna though but thats a neat idea.

I've also heard about black walnut hulls for staining, never tryed this either. but I emagine anything with alot of tannins would yeild similar results depending on concentration.
see the bottom of this page

here is a gerneral article on staining the homegrown way. good luck with your experiment!

Michael N.
09-17-2011, 04:20 AM
You could try Sandalwood. Usually the chips are available from herbal/incense suppliers. You will probably get a better extraction in powdered form. I made some as a tincture for adding to Spirit Varnish. I just left the chips soaking for a few days in denatured Alcohol.
It can be VERY Orange. You might have to add a Brown dye to darken it. Some of the natural dyes can give very nice tones. There is a guide here:


09-17-2011, 07:10 AM
henna is best used to dye animal products, not plant products. (if that makes sense... It'll work great on wool, hair, and skin, but suck on wood, paper, cotton and that ilk.)

You might have better luck with procion dyes... here's a link! http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/3796-AA.shtml?lnav=dyes.html

Henna though, is really awesome for natural skin drum heads.. BUT, once you apply the henna, you have to basically sit the head in the closet and ignore it for a VERY long time, like 12-24 weeks.

good luck!

09-17-2011, 09:45 AM
I don't know anything about henna, but if you want to match that color or any other color on planet earth and have good long lasting results on wood instruments, try buying artist oil colors and mixing up what you need. Artist oil color are pure pigment with linseed or walnut oil. You can mix them thick or thin by using turpentine. You can get them to dry easily by adding a little cobalt drier, only a drop or two is necessary. After they dry, seal the color with shellac and then your regular finish. Violin makers use these colors with great results.

Michael N.
09-17-2011, 09:56 AM
Otherwise known as the glazing technique. It's more part of a varnish system than directly applying to wood. You can get very good results if you choose the right type of paint, some of them are far too opaque. You also have to be careful what you apply over them. The fiddle makers are dealing with old time Oil varnishes. Oil varnish over oil Paint is not likely to cause too many problems providing you stick to the fat over lean principle. Start putting other finishes on top of the stuff and you might just have an old crazed finish in a matter of weeks.

09-17-2011, 10:20 AM
Correct Michael, you do want to have some knowledge of finishes and what works with what. You would not put water based lacquer over any oil based product for instance.

09-20-2011, 05:50 AM
I've used ink on wood, the kind of black ink you'd buy for making Japanese calligraphy. I think it's called India ink. An artist/architect friend taught me that. And "sealed" it with beeswax. Quite earth-friendly. I think that holds its grey color forever. I've seen it on a plywood house floor, five or ten years old. Don't know what the sealant was.

I also use a lot of other archival inks on art papers, which I assume would work and hold for wood. You'd know in ten years.