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Infuse food coloring into wood Answered

I made a vacuum chamber out off a mason jar, and attempted to infuse wood with food dye, using a brake bleeding vacuum pump.  The results were no better than if I painted the dye on.  All I got out of it was blue fingers (next time I will use rubber gloves).

Anybody got any suggestions?



What did you actually do? (Maybe your method needs fixing.)

I place the wood in hot water in the chamber (mason jar) for around 10 minutes to open the pores, and then mixed in my dye. Then I set the cover and pump in place and started pumping. I only managed to get it to about 22, and left it for about another ten minutes. I did notice that I must have a leak in the chamber as the count on the gauge was down to about 10 at the end of the ten minutes.

After I allowed the wood to dry, and checked the penetration was not very significant.

I think time is the critical factor you may be missing.

I've been researching using a vacuum chamber to infuse wood with acrylic resin, and it seems that you need to keep the wood submerged and under vacuum for up to 45 minutes to eliminate air in the wood pores, and then release the vacuum to allow the fluid to be drawn back into the voids, which can take hours for small pieces or days for thicker/larger pieces.

Presumably similar principles will apply with water- or solvent-based aniline dyes.

I would add the dye to the hot water straight away - you're filling the pores with unstained water, blocking the access of stained water.

Also, as Caitlinsdad says, the actual dye may be wrong for the wood. A fabric dye may do the job, especially one intended to use on cotton (cotton and wood fibres are chemically similar).


5 years ago

Tried clothing dye in boiling water, this time. Inserted the dry wood (thinner than the last time, only 1/8"). Got the vacuum up to 22 and left it for about 4 hours. Still only got little penetration.

Maybe it's time to change to pressure instead of vacuum? Force the dye in, the way they force in preservation treatments.


5 years ago

Tried it again this weekend, with food dye. I did not pre-soak the wood, but the results were no better. One of my co-workers dyes eggs, and I might try some of their dye....also might pick up some clothing dye and try that.

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What depth of penetration are you expecting? For cosmetic purposes, the wood will look dyed on the surface. After all, they poke zillions of tiny holes in lumber to apply the pressure treated wood treatment so it penetrates deeper. You might have to do the celery experiment with a living tree to see if it soaks up dyed water.

I am attempting to get 100% penetration. I know Gibson have dyed living trees, they did not get perfect penetration, but have made some interesting looking guitars from the results.

(Dying living plants is different - the dye is added to the water they take up, and passed from cell to cell by the plant - it's a school classic experiment to stand a stick of celery (+leaves) in water coloured with ink or food colouring, leave it a few hours or a day or two, then slice thinly to see the vascular system. You can also colour white flowers this way.)

I would think you have better luck with coarser grain softwoods or maybe work with dyeing veneers and laminating them. I don't know what you are trying to make but maybe dye the piece after it has been shaped so the color looks like it penetrated the endgrain?


5 years ago

Should of e-mailed me and asked. Kite and Cait are right, fabric dye is what you need for wood, or a water paint would also work if you are sealing the wood after, which I know you will.

Regular food dye may just be hard pigmented. I think you may want to look into something that molecularly bonds with wood fibers for a real dye. I guess in essence you are only doing a stain, really a weak paint, that doesn't really penetrate as deep even with the help of a vacuum. There are some wood dyes that may be solvent based.