Given that we’re all stuck indoors now, I figure it’s the best time for everyone to get their hobby on, which, in my case, is miniature dollhouses. Even if that’s not your hobby of choice, you might have something that’s similar. Or totally different but uses a lot of the same supplies, like balsa wood and Rit dye.
If you’ve been keeping up on the Keeper’s House build, you know I cut the balsa woods strips for the downstairs floor. And, you also know I numbered them so that when I assemble the floor, I’ll know exactly which strip goes where.
If you haven’t been keeping up the Keeper’s House build, why not? Also, now you’re up to speed.
Anyway, after I numbered the strips, it occurred to me that maybe numbering the balsa wood strips in pencil wasn’t the best idea. I planned to use Rit dye on the wood strips before I glued them to the floor. There is a whole debate about should you stain your dollhouse wood floor before or after you glue it in. I don’t know. I know that when I did my real-life wood floors, it was: install the floor then stain it.
That method doesn’t sound like the best idea to me. I can totally see me staining the stairs, the walls, and who knows what else if I glued the floors down first. Plus, despite all the complications I ran into when I batch-dyed the dollhouse shingles, I know that for me, a batch dye of the balsa wood floor strips is the way to go.
Only, once I thought about it, I realized that if I batch dye the balsa wood strips before I glue them to the dollhouse floor, would I be able to see the numbers post-dye job? And, if I can’t see the numbers, how the heck would I put the floors together?
Measure Twice, Dye Once?
Since I, like so many, have some free time on my hands, I figured there’s no time like the present to run my little experiment. Basically, I was trying to determine two things. First, can you use Rit dye on wood? And, second, if you can, would I be able to see the numbers?
I started with my supplies.
As you can see, I’m not using the cut-up milk jug like I did for the shingles. I’m only testing the Rit dye on four or five balsa wood strips, so I figured it made zero sense to use the milk jug technique. If nothing else, the thin balsa wood strips would probably slide out of the bottom.
It’s hard to tell in the picture, but that’s two white oval bowls — the perfect shape for balsa wood. Also hard to tell, I grabbed them at the party store. One dollar a pop. That’s my kind of supply!
Then, of course, there’s the Rit dye. That’s Chocolate Brown, in case you’re wondering. I bought the dye a while back, so I can honestly say I don’t remember why I bought that brown versus any other. But, I’m sure I had my reasons.
Here’s the close up of the back of the box.
Apparently, the instructions are on the inside of the box.
And, here are the instructions.
Yeah. I read them over. For about two seconds. I figured that since I was only doing a “patch test,” as it were, it was OK to ignore the instructions and do my own thing. What’s the worst that could happen? Spoiler alert! Nothing (phew!)!
Mixing it Up
Having learned my lesson from the last time I dyed wood, I took the necessary precautions.
With my protective gear in place, I sprinkled some of the Rit dye powder into my bowl.
I have no idea how much that is. I just poured a bit into the bowl and figured I’d adjust as I go. I would call that “ a generous pinch,” if you want an idea of “amount. Side note, this is also how I season my cooking!
Next up, adding water.
Once again, I didn’t measure. I just dumped some water in and mixed. Not pictured: the spork I used for mixing.
This picture is pretty accurate color-wise. Pooled in the corner, the Rit dye has a very brown, dare I say, chocolate brown color. Washing down the side of the bowl, it looks more rust-colored.
Then I set the dye bowl in my utility sink next to the second, empty bowl.
I didn’t want to dry the wet wood strips directly in my since. As you might be able to tell from the picture, it’s seen a bit of “love” over the years. I don’t want to add any more love. And, they’re dollar bowls. If I kill them, I don’t care!
Also, since this is an experiment, I didn’t see the need to heap them on newspapers, like you might for a shingle job. Frankly, after all was said and done, I’m glad I did this in the bowls. It might not work when it’s time for the big job. But, for this small job, it was perfect.
I started with one full balsa wood stick. I don’t have a lot of extras, but I figure, for the sake of science, I can make some minor sacrifices.
Then I dunked the plain balsa wood stick in the dye bowl and kind of swished the stick around in the dye bath on both sides until the wood was saturated.
It looks really red in that picture, but in person, it’s browner and less red. Also, what you can’t see here is that the wood piece was dripping wet when I took it out of the bowl. I ended up wiping it off a bit with my fingers.
Then I put it in the “drying” bowl.
Then, of course, it was time to wait until that piece was dry. I let the dye bath sit out in the sink, which, as I understand, you’re not supposed to do, but whatever.
When piece one was kind of dry, I got impatient. You think I’d be used to all the waiting by now, but, nope! So, I dropped the other three sticks in, swished them around, then dropped them in the dry bowl.
Overall, I think the dye job looked pretty consistent. I didn’t see any uneven or blotchy spots. I did, however, find this:
It’s not the greatest picture (and it does look like a shadow), but that’s the unfinished end of the balsa wood stick. It took up the dye more than on the “finished” sides (meaning the wide, flat side). Interesting.
Then, as is always the case with this project, I let everything dry. Which meant taking off my gloves and finding this:
So much for protection, but what do you want from cheap gloves?
When the strips were dry, I checked them out, and this is what I was left with.
Interestingly, the ends weren’t as dark as I feared. That was pretty cool. But as you can see, there were some uneven spots. The question is, is that because of the wood, or my dye technique?
I’m hoping it’s the wood. When I do this for real, I’m going to use a deeper dye bath (deeper as in more water, not darker). That should mean I’m able to cover more wood easily and evenly. Guess we’ll find out. But, uneven staining isn’t the end of the world. It gives the wood “character.”
Then it was time for the real test. What will happen with the numbers?
As a quick review, I used pencil for the numbers. It’s easy to see on the undyed wood. And, my hope was that when I dyed the wood, I would still be able to see the numbers without them showing through too much. Yes, I plan on gluing the pieces number side down. But, knowing me, I’ll make a newbie mistake and glue them the wrong side up!
I sacrificed one more piece of balsa wood and numbered it.
Then, I dipped the numbered side of the wood into the dye and swished it around. I left the other side undyed (for a reason).
Skipping ahead to the “it dried” part, here’s what the backside of that piece (the numberless side) looked like.
And, here’s the front with the numbers.
As you can see, the dye is kind of uneven. And, you can’t see the numbers from a distance. That’s fine. I don’t mind. The problem was the close up (pic)
As you can see, there’s an uneven blotch. Fine. That could be the wood, that could be my technique.
But, here’s a close-up.
Yeah. Hard to see the numbers in real life, too.
Here’s an “ultra zoom” of the numbers:
The one thru six is easy to see. Seven on up… not so much. And, you guessed it, that’s where the blotch is. Sigh.
And this is why I left the back of the numbered strip undyed (even if it did get some dye on it). Once I saw the depth of the brown (which I like, FYI), I figured I’d never be able to see the pencil. Turns out, I can see it, just not as much as I want.
So, I wondered what would happen if I used permanent marker on the wood, then dyed it.
Here’s the X to mark the spot.
And, here’s the X on the wood after I dyed it.
Yeah, about what I expected, and that’s not even dry.
Sigh. But, at least I can see it. And after everything dried, the permanent marker didn’t bleed through to the other side, so that’s something.
One More Thing
For fun, I wondered what the inside of the balsa woods strips looked like after taking a Rit dye bath. I got out ye old miter box and sawed away.
It reminds me of a Kit Kat. I didn’t eat it, though.
So, that’s kind of where I am. From what I can tell, yes, you can use Rit dye on wood. Cool. That will give me a project to work on this week (and the week after and the week after!). I just have to decide if I’m going to take my chances with the pencil or switch to permanent marker. Or maybe pen?
I’m leaning toward permanent marker. It doesn’t seem to bleed through, and it’s easy to see post dye job. I could stick with the pencil, but it feels like I’m taking a huge risk with that. And, with my eyesight, that could end in disaster!
Stuff to think about, and I’ve got plenty of time to think about it right now!
Any thoughts? What are you all up to this week or weeks? Let me know in the comments!