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One Trick to a Better Walnut Wood Finish

by Mark Stephens | January 15th, 2015
All photos use
You can give your walnut woodworking project a little enhancement by filling the grain. Here are two ways to do it.

You can give your walnut woodworking project a little enhancement by filling the grain. Here are two ways to do it.

When we say walnut looks great with a finish, you’re probably asking, “Um… which finish?” Good question. However the answer isn’t exactly a simple one because you can apply dozens of techniques to walnut and the wood will . . . look great.

But here’s a really good way to give walnut a nice appearance in tables, desks, or perhaps keepsake boxes: fill the grain. The purpose for grain filling is often twofold.

  1. To add a bit of color to the wood pores, either to make them blend or stand out
  2. To achieve a smooth-as-glass film finish

Plus, if you want a glossy sheen on your walnut, be sure to fill the grain. A gloss finish looks incomplete if the pores are peering through the topcoat.

Filling the grain might sound mysterious or difficult, but it’s easier to do than you might think. Here are a couple of ways to do it:

1. Grain Filler: Adds Contrast and Helps Achieve a Glass-Smooth Top Coat

walnut-grain-filler-01walnut-old-masters-grain-fi

Supplies & Products

    • Sanding sealer (Zinsser SealCoat is used in this sample)
    • Old Masters Woodgrain Filler
    • A dark brown oil stain (Zar Moorish Teak used in this sample)
    • Cotton rags, shop towels, foam brushes
    • Putty knife or a 6″ squeegee
    • Denatured alcohol
    • Mineral Spirits or paint thinner
    • Abrasives and/or finishing pads
    • Latex gloves

How to apply it

  1. Prep your work as you normally would by hand planing, scraping and/or sanding. You shouldn’t need to go any finer than 180 or 220 grit for this process. Once it’s smooth and flat, seal the wood with a thin coat of sealer. If using SealCoat, apply it with a “shellac pad” – a small cotton rag balled up and soaked in SealCoat, then wrapped in a clean cotton rag.
  2. Lightly scuff sand once it’s dry.
  3. Prepare the grain filler. Oil based grain fillers are usually a dull gray or tan color and therefore need to be tinted with an oil stain. The darker the oil stain, the more contrast it’ll provide in the pores. 2 parts filler to 1 part stain. Mix it in a cup.
  4. Apply the grain filler. Use a brush or a rag to apply the woodfiller to your work going with the grain. Work it in for 2 to 3 minutes, then let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes. It’ll leave a thick coating all over your work piece.
  5. Remove the grain filler. Going diagonal to the grain with a putty knife, squeegee or old credit card, scrape the grain filler off the surface . This pulls it off of the surface, but leaves it in the pores. You can gently wipe left over residue with a shop towel
  6. Allow it to dry, usually 8 hours.
  7. Sand if necessary. Sometimes you’ll find a deposit of grain filler on the surface that you missed when wiping it off. If so, use 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper and a little bit of mineral spirits. Filler clogs sandpaper quickly, the mineral spirits helps keep the abrasive from loading up too fast.
  8. Apply a coat of sealer.
  9. You should discover that one application of the grain filler doesn’t fill the grain 100%. If you’re satisfied with the appearance, though, move on to your top coat. Otherwise, do another application of the grain filler. Usually three applications of grain filler alternated between coats of sealer is sufficient for 100% fill. Then apply your top coat of choice.

Another way to fill grain is to simply use the dust from walnut mixed with oil. To some degree, this method is easier than using grain filler.

2. Wet-Sanded Tung Oil Varnish: Augments Natural Contrast in Walnut + Fills Grain

walnut-tung-oil-varnishwalnut-grain-filler-02

Supplies & Products

    • Old Masters Tung Oil Varnish
    • 220, 400 and 600 grit wet/dry sand paper
    • Cotton rags, shop towels
    • Mineral Spirits or paint thinner
    • Latex gloves

How To Apply It

  1. Prep your work as you normally would by hand planing, scraping and/or sanding. You shouldn’t need to go any finer than 180 or 220 grit for this process.
  2. Using a rag or shop towel, coat your work piece with a liberal amount of the Tung Oil Varnish. Be sure to get the edges and end grain.
  3. While the oil is wet, sand it with 220-grit wet/dry sand paper. Go with the grain. Wrap the sand paper around a block if you want, or just use your fingers. The wood dust mixes with the oil and creates a paste, so as you sand back and forth, the paste will compact into the pores. You may need to add a little more oil as you sand. Sand until you’ve covered the entire work piece.
  4. Use a rag or shop towel to wipe off the excess, and work across the grain. Let it dry for 4 to 6 hours.
  5. Once it’s dry, sand the surface smooth with 220-grit or 320 grit sand paper.
  6. Repeat the oil application, and perhaps move up to 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper on this coat.
  7. After the second application dries, sand the work piece smooth (use the same grit you used to apply the oil) and decide if it needs a third application for filling the grain.
  8. Apply a topcoat of shellac, lacquer or varnish if you want, or buff and polish as is.

Safety tip: oily rags can spontaneously ignite, so do not ball up your used oily rags in a pile. Instead, dry them out by laying them out flat on the ground, or drape them side-by-side over the edge of a trash can, brick wall, clothesline, etc. When they’re dry, they’re safe to throw away.

Beautiful Lidded Boxes: Woodworking Contest for March 2015

by Mark Stephens | December 10th, 2014
All photos use

Woodworking Contest: Lidded Boxes
Lidded box by Mark Doolittle

Register Now - Limited Space

Bookings no longer possible: no seats available anymore


Project Deadline: Saturday Mar 14, 2015
Spaces Available: 0 out of 100 left

FREE Entry
Project Theme: Lidded Box
Project Deadline: March 14, 2015
You’ll Get $50:
Every completed project receives a $50 store credit
Prizes: Win a Tormek T-4 Wet Sharpener ($429 value) or other woodworking tool packages valued up to $300

For this contest, build a small decorative box, no larger than 16″ in width, length or height. To qualify, your box must have a lid, and the lid can be of any style you can dream up. It can have a hinge . . .  or no hinge. Or it could be a sliding lid or a fitted lid. Get creative and use any decorative techniques you’d like to make your box stand out: consider inlay, marquetry, carving, sculpting, book matching, figured woods etc. Since all projects must have a lid, do something spectacular with it.

Your box can be any shape or style, leaving you a lot of room for interpretation. It doesn’t have to be a straight-sided box – lathe-turned hollow forms with lids are welcome as well. Run with it. But remember, this is a woodworking contest. You are welcome to include materials other than wood in your project, however your primary goal should be to demonstrate your skills with wood more than, say, stone or metal.

Space is limited to 100 entries. Register now.  Even if you’re not 100% certain you can complete your project by the deadline, please register and do not delay. This helps us plan for the reception and the space required to display the projects. It’s better for you to be registered and drop out of the contest if needed than it is for you to wait until it’s too late.

Complete Your Project, Get $50 Store Credit:

All entries receive $50 store credit on March 14 upon project delivery. Yes, you keep your project and we give you $50. However, we keep the projects for one week while the panel of judges inspect each project to determine the winners.

Plus you get a chance to win prizes from great woodworking vendors.

Prizes and Awards Ceremony

Enjoy the sharpest tools you've ever had with the First Prize for this contest: the new-and-improved Tormek T-4 sharpener

Enjoy the sharpest tools you’ve ever had with the First Prize for this contest: the new-and-improved Tormek T-4 sharpener

We’ll host an awards ceremony at Practical Art, a gallery in downtown Phoenix (date TBA). Prizes will be awarded for the top 3 entries, plus various honorable mention awards.

  • First Place: Tormek T-4 Wet Sharpener
  • Second Place: $300 package of woodworking tools
  • Third Place: $100 package of woodworking tools
  • Honorable mentions: Various woodworking tools/supplies

Rules and Guidelines

How to Submit Your Project

  • Register for the contest using the form at the top of the page. Free entry.
  • Deliver your project on March 14, 2015 to any Woodworkers Source location. We will take care of transporting projects to be displayed at Practical Art (downtown Phoenix)
  • Pick up your project on a date TBD.  If you’re in the Tucson area, you can simply deliver and pick up your project at our Tucson store. We’ll arrange transport to and from Phoenix for the judging and public display. Entries must be made in person. We won’t be able to accommodate crating and shipping individual projects that are shipped in from other parts of the country for this contest.
  • Your project is yours to keep after the contest.

Project Constraints

  1. Your box must have a lid. Since this is a contest, considering making the lid a spectacular one
  2. Make it no larger than 16″ in width, length or height; smaller is okay

Materials to Use

You do not need to buy your wood from Woodworkers Source in order to enter the contest. Wood is the focus of this project and you may use any wood you’d like, and we encourage you to use something unusual or special. Incorporate other materials if you want, but this is a woodworking contest so your project should emphasize wood.

Does the Project Have to Be New?

We prefer that you enter a project you build specifically for this contest, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. So, if you want to enter a project you have already built, take a close look at it and determine if it needs to be refinished, waxed or polished. If it’s scratched or faded from time and use, do what it takes to refresh it so that it makes the best impression – this is, after all, a contest.

Finishing

A winning entry will have a fabulous finish. You can use any finishing process; you can use stains, dyes, glazes or any clear wood finish you want. We encourage you give your project the best impression with a well-done finish. Start your project sooner rather than later to allow yourself plenty of time to get a good finish. It takes time for finishing and staining products to dry between coats, and it takes time to polish your finish to your desired sheen, so give yourself time to do it well.

3 Spectacular Curly Maple Wood Finishes That’ll Blow ‘Em Away

by Mark Stephens | December 5th, 2014
All photos use

Curly maple, tiger maple, fiddleback maple and quilted maple (various names for different types of figure found in maple lumber) have to be some of the more interesting woods to finish because you can take a board from mild to wild with the simplest of techniques. Here are just a few of them. You can see a full demonstration in the video above, or get the highlights below.

1. Use Dewaxed Shellac for Your Best “Clear” Finish On Curly Maple

Finish 3Beforecurly maple board sanded to 220 grit, just before being finished with dewaxed shellac Finish 3After - with 3 coats of dewaxed shellac
Of all the basic clear topcoats you can choose from, dewaxed shellac provides a surprising chatoyance that you just don’t get with other finishes. That’s not to say your favorite solvent based varnish, polyurethane or lacquer does a poor job – they’re just fine. But the shellac has a touch of magic that’s virtually water white in color and yet brings out curly figure you couldn’t see before while also giving the figure a three-dimensional appearance.

Zinseer SealCoat is the dewaxed shellac I used in this tutorial.

Zinseer SealCoat is the dewaxed shellac I used in this tutorial.

So why dewaxed shellac? First, it’s crystal clear in color – for you purists who disapprove of adding color to wood, this is the product for you. Second, since it’s dewaxed, it’s also a universal sealer. Therefore you have the option of applying a more durable topcoat after the shellac dries. For example, if you need the protection that a polyurethane provides, you can apply that on top of dewaxed shellac and get the best of both worlds – the figure pop and the protection.

Shellac is also a very safe finish that’s easy to apply by hand or by spraying. Plus, any rags you use do not pose the same fire danger that oil-soaked rags do.

How to Apply Dewaxed Shellac:

  1. Prep your material by sanding to 220 grit, clean off the dust
  2. Using a brush or a lint-free rag, apply the shellac. It dries fast, so work quickly and try not to overlap any areas that are already tacky
  3. After the coat dries (10 to 15 minutes is often adequate), sand it with fine sandpaper or a synthetic finishing pad
  4. Apply another one or two coats to your satisfaction
  5. Once the last coat is dry and sanded, you can apply a paste wax and buff it to a glassy-smooth surface

2. Try Oil for Popping the Grain and Giving Curly Maple an Aged Amber Color

Beforecurly maple board sanded to 220 grit, just before application of tung oil After - with 1 coat of tung oil varnish
Tung Oil Varnish blend is what I used in this tutorial.

Tung Oil Varnish blend is what I used in this tutorial.

While oil finishes do a wonderful job at highlighting the figure in curly maple, they also add a gentle amber color. An oil such as tung oil or boiled linseed oil will also reveal and add punch to figure that may have been difficult to see in the raw board. You can apply numerous coats of these oils to build up a sheen, but that’s a process that takes a long time because it takes 12 hours or more for each coat to dry.

My technique, when using oils, is to apply just one coat, let it dry, hit it with a coat or two of dewaxed shellac, then either wax and buff it, or spray two or three coats of lacquer then wax/buff (depends on the application). The point here is you get the effect of an oil with the first coat; to build a protective coating with a satin, semi-gloss or gloss sheen, it’s quicker to seal it with dewaxed shellac and move on to lacquer rather than build up multiple coats of a drying oil. Of course . . . opinions vary.

How to Apply Tung Oil or Boiled Linseed Oil:

  1. Prep your material by sanding to 220 grit, clean off the dust
  2. Read the directions on your can of oil. You most likely need to thin the oil with mineral spirits, the directions will tell you the ratio.
  3. Work in a well-ventilated area. Use a clean lint-free cotton rag to wipe the oil on your work piece, just apply a thin coating
  4. Allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then wipe it off with a clean rag.
  5. Let your work dry, then make a choice: 1). add another coat, 2). wax/buff, or 3). apply a sealer, then topcoat and wax/buff

3. Use Dye for Bold and Stunning Figure Pop

Finish 4Beforecurly maple board sanded to 220 grit, just before application of brown dye Finish 4After – 3 coats of Solar-Lux Maple Brown dye (each coat sanded off before the next coat), 1 coat of tung oil
Behlen Solar-Lux Dye doesn't raise the grain like water based dye does, and it comes in a wide variety of colors.

Behlen Solar-Lux Dye doesn’t raise the grain like water based dye does, and it comes in a wide variety of colors.

You won’t find a better way to make the figure pop from across a ballroom than you will with aniline dye. Dye is different from your usual oil stains, and it’s just the thing for figured woods like curly maple. While you can just hit curly maple with a single coat of dye and move on to your clear topcoat, I like to do three diluted coats of dye and sand it off between each coat. It might seem counterintuitive to apply it and then sand it off, but if you watch the video above you’ll see why.

The color I used in the sample above (and in the video) is Maple Brown by Behlen Solar-Lux.

How to Apply Alcohol Based Dye on Curly Maple

  1. Prep your material by sanding to 220 grit, clean off the dust
  2. Dilute the dye by 25% to 50% with denatured alcohol
  3. Use a cotton rag or a sponge to apply the dye. It dries fast, so work quickly
  4. Let the coat of dye sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then sand the work piece until the color comes off the surface of the wood. You’ll see that the curls remain colored. That’s perfect
  5. Apply two more coats of dye, sanding it off between each. Do not sand off the last coat.
  6. Soon after applying the last coat, dampen a rag with denatured alcohol and wipe the work piece to even out the color and blend in any lap marks you created

Optional: after the last coat of dye has dried, apply a light coat of tung oil or boiled linseed oil. This will add another small boost to the figure.

Dyes give you a whole rainbow of colors to work with, plus you can make them as diluted or as vivid as you like. Here are some other examples: