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3 Wonderful Sapele Wood Finishes for Better Woodworking Projects

by Mark Stephens | October 16th, 2014
All photos use

Sapele lumber with finish

Sapele is a versatile and beautiful wood that can take many kinds of finish. Here it’s shown, top to bottom: raw, dyed & stained, clear sealer/lacquer, and Danish oil with lacquer

It’s easy to love sapele lumber, especially for furniture and cabinetry. The wood is well-mannered when it comes to machining and working it with hand tools, making it a pleasure to use in woodworking projects. But it’s also downright beautiful with flowing ribbons of stripy figure trailing from end to end of the boards. Plus, the boards tend to be big, and utterly consistent.

Somewhat like mahogany in appearance – both the color and grain can make it tough to tell a difference – but it’s a bit harder and has more golden bronze color than mahogany. And sapele is best when it’s quarter sawn because of the ribbon grain that appears.

See all sapele lumber on sale >>>

So how do you make the ribbon stripe figure look its best? There are a few ways, and in the video above we show you three pretty good methods.

  1. A simple clear finish of SealCoat and spray lacquer.
  2. A coloring method using light dye, some sealer, a quick stain, then also spray lacquer
  3. A natural Danish oil also topped off with spray lacquer

Each method gives a different look, but as far as making the ribbons jump out the most, I think it’s with the Danish oil and lacquer.

Check out the video, and decide what’s best for you. Read more about these finishing processes below.

 

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Finishing Method #1: Clear Sealer and Lacquer

clear finish on sapele

One of our favorite sealers around here is Zinsser SealCoat. It’s a dewaxed shellac that’s crystal clear. The reasons for this sealer are varied, but the best of SealCoat is that it’s a universal sealer. Any protective topcoat can go on top of it, solvent based or water based. SealCoat in particular dries exceptionally fast, which means you can sand it as quick as 10 minutes after applying it, working up 3 or 4 coats between pulling in the driveway after work and sitting down for dinner. SealCoat also sands smooth with just a couple of easy strokes, and the combination of quick-drying and fast-sanding helps you get to a baby-bottom smooth surface rather quickly. In turn, your varnish or lacquer finish that you apply on top of SealCoat has a much easier time going on smoothly. Using sealer helps you achieve a glassy finish with the least amount of elbow grease as possible. To do a simple clear or natural finish on sapele, you’ll be well served to do 3 coats of SealCoat first, sand between each coat, then shoot the final 3 coats with lacquer. You’ll get a beautiful and natural finish.

Finishing Method #2: Dye, Sealer, Stain, Lacquer

sapele with dye and stain

To add color to sapele with a stain, you don’t want to apply an oil pigment stain straight to the raw wood. The stain will actually reduce the shimmer in the ribbon figure, making it dull because it mainly stays on top of the wood. Instead, if you want to color the wood, use this simple process. Using an amber colored dye, thin it to about 20% dye and apply a coat. Once that dries, apply a washcoat of dewaxed shellac. A washcoat is a very thin application of sealer, in this example we thinned the sealer by 25% (1:4 ratio of denatured alcohol to SealCoat). Once the sealer has dried, use an oil stain, the shade you choose depends on the result you’re after. This sample, above, has Zar Merlot #140. Simply wipe the stain on, then wipe it off. Once the stain dries in 12 hours or so, you can then apply a protective top coat. In this case, it’s spray lacquer. But polyurethane or another varnish will work too.

Finishing Method #3: Danish Oil, Lacquer

Danish oil on Sapele

Oil finishes like Danish oil or boiled linseed oil frequently intensify the beauty in certain woods yet offer very little protection from scratches, drink rings, and other hazards around the house. Fortunately, you can apply any good, hard finish on top of these oils once they’re dry—getting the best of both worlds, beauty and protection. That’s certainly the case with ribbon stripe sapele, too. You can see how intense the contrast gets with this recipe. It’s simple to pull it off. Prepare your wood surface as you normally would by sanding to 220 grit or so, then apply the Danish oil just as it says to do on the can. Wipe it onto the surface liberally, wait 30 minutes then wipe off the oil. Unfortunately sapele is a wood that will soak it up unevenly and send little dots and eyes of oil rising back to the wood’s surface. So you’ll need to keep your eye on the oiled wood for a couple of hours and wipe off the dots of oil. Once the oil dries, apply a couple of coats of sanding sealer to get to a glassy smooth surface, then spray 2 or 3 coats of lacquer. The results are stunning.

 

Woodworking Contest Prizes: Win a JET Spindle Sander, Fein MultiMaster or More

by Mark Stephens | September 19th, 2014
All photos use

If you’re into building custom furniture out of wood, you’ll want to enter our contest. It’s free to enter, and there’s no catch. In our little company, we’re just as fascinated with the craft of woodworking as you are, so twice a year we put together this contest just for the fun of it. I certainly hope you’ll have a lot of fun with this woodworking project.

The theme for this contest is sitting stools – like bar stools, musician stools, or other basic seats. It’s a challenging project that’s wide open to design interpretation, and it can be as difficult as you want it to be. Get more of the details on the registration page.

The project is due November 8, 2014, then on November 14 we’ll pass out over $2000 worth of woodworking tools and supplies for prizes. And they’re downright fantastic – check it out:

First Place

  • JET benchtop spindle sander ($489 value!)
  • Tenryu 10″Gold Medal Table Saw Blade ($126 value)

 

jet-spindle-sander-prize

Second Place

  • Fein MultiMaster Start Kit ($199 value!)
  • Tenryu 10″Gold Medal Table Saw Blade ($126 value)
  • Imperial Blade 3-pice blade set for MultiMaster ($30 value)
 fein-multi-master

Third Place

  • Tenryu 10″Gold Medal Table Saw Blade ($126 value)
  • Bora 50″ Wide Track Clamp and Saw Guide ($62.99 value)
 tenryu-gold-medal

Other Prizes

Numerous other woodworking supplies will be awarded for honorable recognition as well. Router bits, books, hats, etc.

$50 Store Credit

Plus, every entry into the contest gets a $50 store credit to use in our store on anything you want. To get in on the action, all you need to do is build a bar stool, and enter it in the contest.

Here’s One Way to Make a Cutting Board with Ipe

by Mark Stephens | September 12th, 2014
All photos use

basic cutting board built out of ipe decking

Sometimes, an idea for a project just jumps out at you when you see a piece of wood. That’s what happened when we brought in a small load of dimensioned ipe (ee-pay) lumber that was cut into uniform sizes of 3/4″ x 5.5″ x 72″.  I made a small bet with myself that I could make a reasonably size cutting board out of one piece of ipe. So I grabbed a piece, gave it a shot, and succeeded.

Ipe is a handsomely dark wood, especially when it’s sanded and oiled. Because the wood is so dense, hard, and resistant to weathering, the primary use of ipe is in outdoor decking. That’s also what makes it such a fine furniture wood – and it’ll make a good looking chopping block, too. When it’s sanded and oiled, the color turns to a bold brown-saturated color with hints of red and green. And the color stays dark for a long, long time. If you like dark woods, you should explore ipe.

Using our 3/4″x 5.5″ x 6′ dimensioned ipe boards, here’s how you could make a cutting board:

Step 1

Starting with a piece of 3/4″ x 5.5″ x 6′ ipe, send the 6-foot length through a thickness planer or drum sander, just graze the surface to clean it up.

Cut the board into 3 equal lengths, approximately 18″. Working with these shorter lengths is a little easier to control in the next step.

ipe-decking-boards

Step 2

Rip each of the three pieces into strips 1-1/8″ wide. You’ll get four pieces from each length of ipe.

Table Saw Tip: Be aware that ipe is very hard, but with a decent carbide-tooth table saw blade that’s designed for ripping, ipe cuts smoothly and with very little resistance. A 10″ ripping blade most often has between 24 and 30 teeth, deep gullets, and the carbide teeth will have a flat top grind and be raked at 20 to 22 degrees. 

 

 ipe-decking-strips

Step 3

Prepare to glue up the strips into a panel. Rotate the strips onto their edge. This forces the rings of annual growth to run more or less perpendicular to the face and back of the cutting board, resulting in a more stable product.

If the strips were recently planed or sanded, ipe will accept wood glue. Use Titebond III to take advantage of the longer working time the glue offers.

 ipe-decking-strips2

Step 4

Clamp the strips.

Once the panel is dry, use a planer or a drum sander to flatten the face and the back. This will determine the final thickness, but a precise final thickness is not important. It may finish out to 7/8″ or thicker.

Glue-up Tip: When the glue sets up, but before it’s dry, use a glue scraper to clean off the squeeze-out. For the most part, the glue will peel off in long strips. It’s easier in the long run to clean up the squeezed-out glue before it’s hardened.

 ipe-cutting-board-glued

Step 5

Trim to length. On the table saw or with a track saw, crosscut the ends of the block so they’re square to the edges and so that the board is sized to a length you like. In this case, the cutting board ended up a little over 17″ long.

 ipe-cutting-boards-trim

Step 6

Optional. Soften the corners with a radius. The bottom of an aerosol can makes the perfect radius. Trace it onto the cutting board, then cut it on the bandsaw and sand it smooth on the disc sander.

 ipe-cutting-boards-radius

Step 7

Add a 3/8″ round over along the top edge.

Once again, despite ipe’s hardness, it actually routs quite easily.

 ipe-cutting-boards-routing

Step 8

Sand the cutting board. No need to sand any finer than 120 grit.

Coat it in a block oil, a simple wipe on and off procedure.

 ipe-cutting-boards-001

Other Ideas

You can also get more creative. As an example, a couple of thin strips of hard white maple added to the ipe makes the cutting board a little wider while giving it a new look.

ipe-cutting-boards