Staining is an area of pipe making that has a lot of opportunity for experimentation and creativity. Developing a new process for staining pipes can be one's trademark look in the pipe world. Tom Eltang is a perfect example of this with his famous and beautiful Golden Contrast stain.
Typically, staining of pipes is done with alcohol soluble aniline dyes. These come in powder form, and one can mix the powder with denatured alcohol to the desired concentration of color. These dyes come in myriad colors, and these colors are easily mixed to form others.
Other types of stains are used, from chemical stains to seaweed stains, and each pipe maker needs to find his own way through the choices. I will, for the sake of simplicity, describe the process of staining using aniline dyes like those easily available from Pimo.
The sanding process needs to be completed before staining, otherwise the stain will be removed by the sanding.
1. Apply the stain to the stummel using a rag, small brush, or a pipe cleaner 2. Allow the stain to dry -- the can be accelerated by lighting the stummel on fire. Since the stain is alcohol based, it will burn and quickly extinguish when the alcohol is consumed. This typically leaves the pipe with a very slight greenish tint that buffs away 3. Re-apply stain to darken, or apply a different color to adjust the color. 4. Repeat steps 1-3 until satisfied with the color
NOTE: When you buff the pipe, MUCH of the stain will be removed. Learning to judge the color the pipe will be after buffing is an art unto itself. Multiple coats, allowing the pipe to sit, and applying heat are all methods I have used to attempt to increase the affect of the stain. Honestly, I am not sure what is most effective as I am experimenting with something new all the time.
Another way to affect color is to do contrast stains. Typically this is done by staining the pipe a dark color, then sanding the pipe again until the dark color only remains in the grain of the pipe. It is convenient that the most absorbent part of the wood is the grain, as this will really highlight a beautifully grained pipe. Once sanded, the pipe can be restained a lighter color.