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Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

How to Finish Mahogany: 3 Great Tips for Finishing Your Woodworking Projects

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

You have dozens, maybe hundreds, of ways to finish mahogany for your woodworking projects. That’s part of the beauty of the wood; you can apply nearly any finish to it and it’ll look wonderful. So there’s no way to make a definitive declaration about the best finish for mahogany. But I can pass you a few tips, ideas, and tried-and-true techniques that have served woodworkers for many years.

Absorb these three techniques, you might find them useful for your woodworking projects. The video above demonstrates how to fill grain, stain and dye to achieve the following looks and colors in mahogany.

1. How to Make a Deep Red Antique Mahogany Finish Using Dye, Stain, and Filler

deep red mahogany finish on genuine mahogany dye stain

Want a visual? This video demonstrates every step, click to watch:

Of the three process we’ll show you here, this one is the most sophisticated, but it also has the most interesting result of the three. While there are a few steps, it’s a straightforward process that’s not hard to pull off. Even though I’m going to list the exact brands and products I used to create this finish, they’re less important than understanding the process. Other brands will work just fine, too. In short: dye the wood to make it the overall color you want, seal it, fill the grain with something dark (aside from the filler I used, there are several other options too), apply a protective finish on top and polish it.

Products Used:

  1. Solar Lux aniline dye, medium brown walnut color (it dries with a maroon red color)
  2. Old Masters Woodgrain filler
  3. Zar oil stain, Early American color
  4. Denatured alcohol
  5. Zinsser SealCoat
  6. Spray lacquer

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the wood surface as you normally would by sanding to 180 or 220 grit
  2. Prepare the dye by diluting it by 50% with denatured alcohol in a mixing container. Apply the dye, either with a pad or by spraying
  3. Let it dry, then apply another coat of dye. Repeat until you’re happy with the color
  4. Apply a coat of Zinsser Sealcoat after the dye is dry. Work quickly and do not let it drip or pool.
  5. After it has dried, you may lightly and carefully sand the sealer if it developed nibs or bumps. Be cautious not to sand through the dye.
  6. Mix Old Masters Woodgrain Filler with a dark brown oil stain. In this example that’s Zar Early American. Use a 2:1 ratio, 2 parts filler to one part stain.
  7. Apply this tinted Woodgrain Filler with a rag, brush, or scraper to work it into the pores of the wood. Follow directions on the can. Let it dry for about 5 minutes, the wipe it off moving across the grain.
  8. Allow the filler to dry about 4 hours. Do another application if the grain is not filled to your satisfaction.
  9. Apply the topcoat of choice. The sample above is finished off with another 3 coats of Zinsser SealCoat, sanded between each one with 220 grit. And then it’s sprayed with 3 coats of lacquer, also sanded between each coat.
  10. Buff and polish when the top coat is ready.

2. Staining Mahogany The Easy Way

staining mahogany is easy to do

Left to right: Zar oil stain “Merlot” color; Old Masters Penetrating Oil Stain ‘Dark Mahogany” color; Old Masters Gel Stain “Cherry” color.

Coloring mahogany doesn’t need to be as involved as that first process. You’re allowed to just open a can of wood stain and put it on the wood. The results, of course, are far less dramatic and less nuanced, but they’ll still look nice. There are a lot of kinds of oil stains to choose from, but basic penetrating oil stains seem to bring the nicest results from the bunch. Opinion, of course. But the pigment builds up in the pores, darkening them more than the surface wood which highlights the character in the wood.

Not all oil stains are engineered the same way. Gel stain, for example, is most often suited for creating a wood grain appearance on fiberglass doors. That’s why if you were to get up close to the stained piece of mahogany on the right you’d notice that the color appears to be almost like a translucent layer of color riding on top of the wood rather than getting into it. The gel stain has muddied the grain of that piece of mahogany. Gel stain has its place — on a piece of raw mahogany is, arguably, not it.

Genuine mahogany also accepts water based stains just fine. As usual, raise the grain and sand it back before applying the water based stain. If you do want to use a water based stain, I suggest filling the grain with a darker water based filler first. Perhaps Timbermate’s walnut colored filler.

After staining mahogany (and after it dries!), protect it with your preferred top coat like varnish, shellac, lacquer or polyurethane.

Take a closer look at stained mahogany examples:

3. Fill the grain to get a perfectly smooth finish

Harder to see in pictures, but the piece on the left has the grain filled with a mahogany colored filler, the piece on the right does not. Both have a lacquer topcoat.

Harder to see in pictures, but the piece on the left has the grain filled with a mahogany colored filler, the piece on the right does not. Both have a lacquer topcoat.

Your mahogany woodworking project will benefit greatly if you fill the grain first, and you’ll notice the difference between a finish with the grain filled and one without the grain filled. So how do you do it? There is more than one way to skin this cat, so here are two.

1. Woodgrain Filler or another paste filler

We already brought up Old Masters Woodgrain Filler in the first process above. So that’s one product you can use, and it’s easy to work with. The trick with it is that you’re supposed to tint it with an oil based stain because out of the can it’s an off white or cream color. So you tint it, apply it, wipe it off, and once it dries sand it smooth. The sanding could be optional if you wipe it down well enough and you approve of the color that it leaves. Naturally, the stain you tinted the filler with will color your wood — the sanding will clear it up though. If you still want to stain your mahogany a darker color, you can do so. So you get the benefit of darkened pores, filled pores, and the choice of keeping your mahogany its natural color or staining it.

Another way to keep the stain in the filler from darkening your mahogany is to put down a washcoat (a coat of sealer) before the filler.

2. Timbermate, or another water based wood filler

The benefits of a water based wood filler is that it dries much faster and clean up is much simpler than the oil based filler above. You also don’t have to tint it, as it frequently is available in numerous colors. The brand Timbermate offers a mahogany color filler, which is what I’ve used in the sample in the picture above. A darker filler might prove to be a little more interesting, darkening the pores more, but the point is that the filler helps you achieve a glassy smooth finish quickly.

 

 

In this post, we share several tips for finishing mahogany in a way that gets you to the color you want and with a glass-smooth protective top coat.

In this post, we share several tips for finishing mahogany in a way that gets you to the color you want and with a glass-smooth protective top coat.

Three Tricks for a Better Walnut Wood Finish

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Here are three nice ways to help give walnut its best finish possible. Each method produces beautiful color without making the wood look unnatural.

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 are three really good ways to give walnut a nice appearance in your custom walnut furniture projects or small decorative projects that you can easily master. Each board you see above is a glue-up panel 10″ to 12″ wide, and about 24″ long, and each one is detailed below.

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

Before: walnut panel is sanded to 220 grit and ready for the next step. (Click to zoom)

After: panel has been paste-filled with a tinted woodgrain filler by Old Masters. (Click to zoom)

 

Why and When?It should be pretty clear that a tinted woodgrain filler (AKA paste wood filler) adds emphasis to the grain pattern by putting a little contrast in the pores. This method is especially useful when you want to make a table top, desk top, counter, to get a smooth clear top coat finish. And especially if you want to get a high-gloss sheen, you’ll want to fill the grain before applying your clear finish.

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
Get up close. The stained grain filler lodges into the walnut wood pores and only gently colors the wood for a high-contrast effect.

Get up close. The stained grain filler lodges into the walnut wood pores and only gently colors the wood for a high-contrast effect.

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

Before: walnut panel is sanded to 220 and ready to be oiled. (Click to zoom)

After: same walnut panel after 3 coats of tung oil varnish applied by wet-sanding. Once dry, paste wax was applied and buffed to a semi-gloss sheen (Click to zoom)

 

Why and When?

If you like the look of an oil finish, consider trying tung oil varnish. This finish gives walnut a dark yet warm color, and if you choose to apply it by wet-sanding, this too can fill the grain as above. The appearance is only slightly different – but different nevertheless. Tung oil varnish can be used by itself, and then buffed to a semi-gloss or satin sheen with paste wax after 3 or 4 coats. Or, once the tung oil varnish dries, it can be topcoated with polyurethane, shellac, or lacquer.

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
With a closer look at the finished walnut you'll see that the grain is nicely filled and slightly darkened.

With a closer look at the finished walnut you’ll see that the grain is nicely filled and slightly darkened.

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.

Maybe you want more control over the final color, or need to deal with sapwood in your walnut. Try this.

3. Hide Sapwood and Create an Even Color with Dye and Glaze

Before: notice the inclusion of sapwood in this glue-up panel. (Click to zoom)

After: a pleasing and rich dark brown color that has helped blend in the pale sapwood (Click to zoom)

 

Why and When?Sometimes you need to arrive at an evenly colored project, blend walnut sapwood, or created a suite of projects that you’d like to have matched in color. Or maybe you simply want to give your walnut a good, rich color that’ll last for the long haul and resist fading for years to come. This might be a good process for you. There are several steps, but fortunately they’re not difficult. See a video demonstration of this process here.

Supplies & Products

    • Dark brown dye of your choice (Behlen Solar-Lux “Brown Maple” used here)
    • Sanding sealer (Zinsser SealCoat is used here)
    • Dark brown gel stain (Old Master Dark Walnut)
    • Cotton rags or shop towels
    • Linen-sided sponge
    • Latex gloves
    • Mixing cup
    • Denatured alcohol

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.  Then raise the grain by wiping your work with a wet rag, letting it dry, and doing a light sanding once again at the same grit you left off with.
  2. Prepare the dye. Dilute your dye by 50% or more, using denatured alcohol and/or water. Solar-Lux dries quickly, but if you use water to dilute the dye it won’t dry as fast. That’s helpful for getting a even color. Diluting it and applying multiple coats to build up to your color is also a safer way to achieve an even color.
  3. How you apply the dye depends on how large your project is. It’s best to spray larger projects, but not entirely necessary. For hand application, use a sponge with linen on side and soak the sponge with dye and lightly wring it out. This kind of sponge helps you to stay in control of the color. Work quickly, and avoid overlapping where the dye has already dried.
  4. If you created some lap marks, fix them sooner rather than later. There are a couple of ways to do that. First, use a rag that dampened with denatured alcohol and wipe your project down, working the lap marks out as best you can. If they still exist, sand them. Yes, you’ll remove some color, but that’s okay. You’ll be applying another coat (or two or three) of dye anyway.
  5. After your last coat of dye dries, seal the wood with a thin coat of dewaxed shellac.
  6. Scuff sand the sealer if necessary
  7. Apply a dark brown gel stain as a glaze. Wipe it on, and wipe it off, but be careful when wiping off. This step loads the dark gel into the wood pores and also give a kiss of color to the surface of the wood. Don’t wipe off too little, and don’t wipe off too much.
  8. Allow it to dry, then apply your top coat.

 

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

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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: