Coloring Wood Using Natural Dyes

Use these natural dye recipes to make your woodworking shine.

By Brian Miller and Marci Crestani
Photography by Marc Carter
December 2017

Coloring Wood
Cover courtesy Linden Publishing

The Art of Coloring Wood: A Woodworker’s Guide to Understanding Dyes and Chemicals (Linden Publishing, 2017), by Brian Miller and Marci Crestani focuses on the unique coloring characteristics of six popular woods used by woodworkers. The book is a perfect starting point for anyone interested in learning the art of coloring wood. The following excerpts are from Chapter 15, "Introduction to Natural Dyes"; Chapter 16, "Brazilwood"; and Chapter 19, "Walnut Crystals."

Introduction to Natural Dyes

No doubt woodworkers were inspired centuries ago to try coloring their wood with natural dyes after observing the range of hues they imparted on fabrics. We tend to think of natural dyes as coming from plants, but of the four most popular dyes used to color wood nowadays, two of them, brazilwood extract and logwood extract, are derived from the heartwood of trees, one is derived from the husk of a nut or from peat (walnut crystals) and the fourth, cochineal, is actually a bug.

Like chemicals, natural dyes get a color boost from tannic acid. Unlike chemicals, however, they will still deposit a more colorful shading (as opposed to the weathered effect of chemicals) on wood that does not contain tannins.