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By Joe Shmoe
I have some birch drums which I have pulled the coloured drum-wrap off and now wish to stain and leave the natural wood showing.

Does anyone have any tips on technique or products? (Most of the guides I have seen appear to rate Maxwin stains and its Pre-treatment conditioner - neither of which are available in the UK at a less than ridiculous price).

Is there a difference between stain and dyes? Which is more suitable?

In addition, is it possible to achieve a gradient and how would this be done?

After staining, it appears to be the norm to apply some kind of clear poly protection. Again, any recommendations on type/brand?

By Sgian Dubh
I've had to do similar drum refinishing jobs for people. As yours are birch (or so you say) dyes and stains tend to blotch on that wood species. So, basics first: there is a difference between dyes and stains. Dyes dissolve at a molecular level meaning there are no solids in the liquid. Stains contain dye but also contain insoluble pigment which lodges in the open pores of coarse textured wood species. Stains also include a binder, typically (but not exclusively) linseed oil to hold the pigments in place.

Birch is a diffuse porous wood, i.e., fine textured, not coarse textured like oak, ash, etc, so I'd use dye rather than stain because there are few places for the stain's pigments to lodge, unless you sand to a coarse grit, e.g., 120 grit. Here in the UK the manufacturers seem to have got sloppy in their nomenclature over the last few decades and tend to use the names dye and stain interchangeably. But you can tell if you're buying a stain because the instructions will tell you to stir regularly to disperse the colourant, i.e., the pigment. There's no need to stir dyes because there are no pigments to disperse - it's all coloured liquid.

I mentioned blotching being a characteristic of applying either dye or stain on birch. After sanding to 180 - 220 grit, to reduce blotching one technique is to do a wash coat of thin polish, e.g., blonde shellac thinned with industrial alcohol (meths). Let it dry and sand again. This polish helps to choke the open pores of the wood, the sliced ends of vascular tissue. Maple and cherry are other timbers that tend to blotchiness too, so similar techniques are frequently applied.

Apply the dye as instructed on the can, let it dry and apply your clear coats over the top. It's usually easiest to stick with one manufacturer and follow their procedures to achieve a good finish after you've got the wood to the colour you want. For example, you could use Colron's products all through, or Rustins, for example. Both of the above cater for the home user pretty well, and they both know best how to integrate their products in an easy to follow format for the non-professional. Chestnut products: have a reputation for being very helpful, particularly for those who are relatively inexperienced, and that might be your best place to start for advice about which products to use. I've never had any reason to use Chestnut's products nor seek their advice, therefore I can only report what I've read of other peoples experience when dealing with them. Slainte.
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By custard
I'm not taking a pop at you Joe, but this has all the ingredients for a right old cock up.

You need to practise on some Birch first, and only when you're 100% confident of getting great results should you try on the more difficult curved surface of a drum. You might try some Birch Ply for an initial test, but even there it won't be exactly the same because the UF adhesive used to bond the ply layers together sometimes penetrates very close to the surface, affecting how ply takes stain.

One other point. There are two main families of stain, spirit based and water based. Spirit based stain dries so fast it's extremely difficult to maintain a wet edge and prevent unsightly streaks. You may be tempted by spirit based because it promises that it's "light fast". In truth the anti-fading advantage it has over water based is absolutely minuscule. I'm increasingly moving towards the latest generation of specialist water based stains like "Transtint", in my test they're more light fast than spirit stains, but still offer much easier application.

Regarding your question on gradations. You need a spray set up, or at the very least a big air brush with a hefty reservoir and a fat needle, and even then getting an even effect all around a circular drum would not be a simple challenge.
By giantbeat
Joe - G here drum shell maker, custom drum builder repairer & restorer by trade.

I Agree 100% with Custard on this, avoid spirit stains

another factor to consider is depending on what your drums are (make) could mean its made from a far eastern equivalent birch... the drum industry is riddled with generic names being applied to non specific woods that kind of look like what they are supposed to, but are in reality nothing like it.

my fave product to use is Mixol tints, you can add it to water and make up your own shades of coloring, meaning you can get just the right strength of shade, so many people come to me after they have stained their drums and they have applied too much & too solid a finish.

my advice would be to use a waterbased product, first step is to spray down your shells with water from a squirt bottle, let that rise the grain, let it dry, sand it back, then repeat the wetting of the shells, this time round no sanding but whilst the shells are still wet, apply your waterbased colour. i like to use a sponge, have 2 sponges to hand, one to apply, then when you get all the way round, working the colour into the shell, you then go back around with the 2nd sponge taking off the excess and evening the colour layer... keep going round until the colour looks about even it will then fade back.

you can do this 2-3 times until you get the colour right, let it dry thoroughly between coats.

if you want to do a burst or fade (gradient) is very doable but slightly more complicated, but very can be done with a sponge, you just have to work in a different way...its a big explanation, but i can help.

for top coats, a gloss finish in instrument terms is a big job, spraying many many many layers & a lot of wet sanding & polishing, up to 30 coats of solvent based clear coat to achieve the wrapped in glass look, not all products are suitable to do this with, most diy products are not. you certainly need a suitable spray environment with filtration & extraction... i have known people in the past find a friendly car sprayer who would top coats for them.
Automotive urethane is the way to go in such cases, get them to do 6-8 or so thick coats, take the shells back, give them a sand, take them back to them, get 6 more coats on, repeat until you are starting to get a level surface... most car guys wont touch this, but if you can find a one who will you would be in business... but there is a lot of work in involved, I'm barely skimming the surface.

most furniture finishing & car spraying is no where near as intensive so it takes a lot of explanation to get them, to understand, when i first started i sub contracted my top coating, but got sick of trying to get the finishers to understand why we need such high builds & were going for such thick gloss finish, so i brought it all in house... i do have one contact who would do the drums for anyone, they do bits for me when I'm rammed out... possibly the best polyester finishers in the country, but its not cheap, you are looking at £100 + vat just to clear coat a 14" snare shell in gloss.

we use high build UV cured clear coat that requires a 4000 watt UV lamp to set it solid... its very much an industrial process.. waterbased clear coats are not solid enough and most generic polys dont hold up to such high builds... so you best option as a DIY job would be a satin oil type finish, or stain oil & wax such as OSMO.

if you need any more help let me know, i don't check in on here every week, just the occasional woodwork hang out to clear the brain of drums, but i can be reached via HighWood drums/ drumbuilder UK websites & facebook pages if you need a quick reply.

oohh and if you need some birch bits sending to play around on, i will have loads of finish birch off cut sheets you can try your stain skills on, just be aware the shells might be a bit different when you come to work on them.

Last bumped by Joe Shmoe on 22 Aug 2018, 17:56.