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Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

7 Techniques for Finishing Beech Woodworking Projects

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Since European beech is very close-grained and dense, you can get a wonderfully smooth and flawless finish on the wood with very little trouble. Prepping the wood goes quickly, too, as abrasive sandpaper cuts this wood fast – unlike hard maple, which shares a similar density and light color.

However, European beech is a tricky one to stain or dye to achieve a nice, even color. That is, unless you know some tehniques – a few of them are demonstrated in this video above. Otherwise, here are some visuals and recipes for finishing beech, and each of these are shown in the video. As usual, what you find here are just a few items off the big, broad menu of wood finishing. But this should help you get started.

Clear Finish Choices

european beech with 3 clear finishes compared

Gel Polyurethane. This is one of the easiest protective finishes to apply, and it’s one of the most durable finishes readily available to consumers. It’s a fine choice for protecting a project built with beech; you’ll probably like how painlessly you can get a good, flat topcoat. Because it’s a thick, creamy gel that you wipe on and wipe off, you can use a foam brush or a lint-free rag to apply a coat. Then as you wipe it off with a clean cloth, you’re leveling as you go, which helps you get a great looking coat with little effort. Allow the coat to dry (usually about 6 hours), then apply another in the same fashion. Sanding is not required between coats, unless you feel like your first coat could use it. Such as if you can feel small nibs in your first coat.

Spray lacquer is another choice that has advantages over polyurethane — and some disadvantages. Because it dries faster than polyurethane, you can apply several good coats in one day and move on to rubbing it out and polishing sooner than you can with a polyurethane. Lacquer is, arguably, easier to fix months or years down the road as the finish gets dinged and scratched. Some lacquers are also available as a “water white” formula that doesn’t yellow with age as polyurethane does. If you want to keep that pale, tan color of beech, this might be the finish choice for you. However, spray lacquer is kind of picky about the weather – if humidity is 50% or higher the finish can come out milky, if the temperature is below 50ºF the finish takes longer to dry and won’t flatten as well.

Tung oil and other oils are popular for embellishing all kinds of wood. Tung oil in particular provides some extra contrast to beech. Oil, though, is not a durable topcoat. If you like the look of tung oil but need good surface protection, you can have both. Simply allow the oil to cure, then apply a your topcoat of choice – such as the gel polyurethane or spray lacquer, above.

 

Tips for Staining & Dyeing

The same cherry colored oil stain is applied to each board - yet there are three drastic results. At left, you can see how blotchy the wood is. A basic penetrating oil stain was applied to the bare wood, sanded to 220 grit. To fix it, try a gel stain (middle). Gel stains give you more predictable coverage. If the color of the gel is too strong, try applying a washcoat of dewaxed shellac or a sealer first (right)

The same cherry colored oil stain is applied to each board – yet there are three drastic results. At left, you can see how blotchy the wood is. A basic penetrating oil stain was applied to the bare wood, sanded to 220 grit. To fix it, try a gel stain (middle). Gel stains give you more predictable coverage. If the color of the gel is too strong, try applying a washcoat of dewaxed shellac or a sealer first (right)

Regular oil stains are problematic when applied right to the bare wood, even if sanded properly. Beech simply will not accept stain very evenly, also known as blotching. Fortunately, there are a few ways to color beech without living with a blotchy and unsightly color. Some choices are:

1. Use a gel stain on the bare wood, especially if you want a significant color change. Gel stains are different from other oil or water based stains: they’re thick, creamy and formulated to be used on fiberglass. Yet they happen to do brilliant work on woods that usually blotch with other stains. Application is simple. Use a brush or rag to coat the surface of the wood, then wipe it off. You’ll need to pay attention as you wipe it off, though, being sure not to rub off too much in one or more areas. But don’t worry, it’s not hard – if you happen to wipe off too much stain in one area, simply add a touch of stain to that section and blend it in while the stain is wet.

2. Use a washcoat, then a gel stain to do a more mild color change. A washcoat is just a thin coat of sealer applied to the wood before the stain. When applied to bare wood, gel stain will lay a coat of pigment over the surface of the wood. But on a washcoat you can use the same gel stain and get a mellow color change that doesn’t obscure the wood grain as much.

 

 

What about aniline dye? In most woods, dyes usually are a good alternative when an oil stain causes the wood to blotch. But in beech, even dyes have trouble coloring the wood evenly. However, they are good for creating some graceful and nuanced colors, and for ebonizing or making the wood black.

Beech takes a solid jet black dye, making it an inexpensive way to achieve a perfectly black color.

Beech takes a solid jet black dye, making it an inexpensive way to achieve a perfectly black color.

To ebonize beech, or make it black, here’s one way to do it:

  1. Prep the wood as normal by sanding to about 220 grit
  2. Use a premixed jet black aniline dye. Solar-Lux makes one that is alcohol based, also called non grain raising
  3. On large areas, it’s best to spray. If you don’t have spray equipment, use a cloth pad or lint-free rag folded into a pad.
  4. Apply the dye. After one coat, you will probably still see streaks and lap marks. If so, apply another coat. In short order, your workpiece will be black
  5. Apply a sealer, let it dry. Avoid dewaxed shellac because the denatured alcohol in the shellac can lift the black dye. Your sealer needs to be compatible with your top coat of choice in the next step
  6. Apply your protective top coat finish, then rub out and wax your finish to give it the sheen and flatness you want

 

 

 

beech with brown glaze

Doing a three-step coloring process, you can achieve some nice colors. This sample has a reddish orange aniline dye, then a sealer, then it’s been glazed with a dark brown gel stain. The result is largely a dark brown, but hints of red and orange come through as well.

Dyes can also be used with a glazing technique to make more interesting colors. The board at right isn’t just a dark brown – there are hints of reddish orange in the lighter area.

  1. Prep the wood as normal by sanding to about 220 grit
  2. Apply a light reddish orange aniline dye. Golden Fruitwood is used on the sample at right
  3. Seal the dye with a sealer. Be sure the sealer is compatible with your preferred topcoat in the last step. For example, lacquer sanding sealer goes with lacquer. Let it dry.
  4. Apply a glazing stain or a gel stain. The sample at right used Old Masters Dark Walnut gel stain. Wipe it on, then wipe it off. Pay attention to your workpiece as you wipe off the stain. If you wipe off too much stain in one area, apply a little more stain and blend it in. Let the stain dry
  5. You should be satisfied with your color at this stage.
  6. Apply your protective top coat finish, then rub out and wax your finish to give it the sheen and flatness you want

 

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

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

You have dozens, maybe hundreds, of ways to finish mahogany for your woodworking projects. That’s one of the best aspects of the wood; you can do just about anything 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.

6 Wood Finishes for African Padauk: Which One Is Best?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

The vivid orange color of African padauk wood is, yes, 100% natural. And therefore it has a mind of its own. As a project made with African padauk ages, the orange color of the wood usually turns dark – sort of a maroonish brown – and depending on your taste you’ll either find that objectionable or not. Because this change is largely spurred by ultraviolet light, different wood finishes will preserve padauk’s color to different degrees.

So which wood finish works the best? Which one preserves the color the best? Hard to say – but we’ll hand over the evidence and let you be the judge. We tested 6 different wood finishes on African padauk and set the board outside in direct sun light for 21 days. It’s not a long time, but in direct sun light, the change happens quickly. Here’s what happened:

african padauk board with finishes

The Test

Here's how we conducted the finishing test. The board is divided into sections with a shallow groove, then half of each section is finished. The we placed a 2" wide masking strip across the grain to protect a small control area from light, allowing to compare apples to apples. How does the wood change with exposure to light? Do different finishes protect the color better?

Here’s how we conducted the finishing test. The board is divided into sections with a shallow groove, then half of each section is finished. The we placed a 2″ wide masking strip across the grain to protect a small control area from light, allowing us to compare apples to apples. How does the wood change with exposure to light? Do different finishes protect the color better?

To make a good comparison I needed four parts for each of the six finishes, which you can clearly see in the picture on the right, above: a raw section, a finished section, and then a smaller section of both the raw and finished that would be protected from the light for control samples.

 

See the photo at right.

For these control sections I simply placed a 2″ wide strip of masking tape across each of the six sections. In the end, this allows us to compare each of the six exposed finishes to see how it changes and see how each one may protect the color.

Here’s the process:

  1. Divided the board into six sections by cutting five equally-spaced grooves across the grain
  2. Sanded the entire board to 220 grit to prepare it for finishing
  3. Taped off about half of the width of the entire board (the right side of the board as seen above)
  4. Applied 2 coats of each finish, allowed them to dry
  5. Placed a 2″ wide masking tape strip across each section to create the controls
  6. Placed board outside in bright, direct sunlight

Conclusion

  1. Clear dewaxed shellac preserved the orange color the most in a comparison among these six samples. Basically, the section that’s finished with shellac and exposed to light is brightest of these six.
  2. Tung oil, interestingly, makes the wood pretty dark immediately upon application but it also showed the least amount of change during the 21-day light exposure test.

Is this definitive? No. This is just one test of six finishes – there’s certainly more to be done! But the one lesson to learn here is your project will retain the orange color much longer if you can keep it out of direct light.

See For Yourself

Here’s a better look at how each finish behaved in this test. Click the photos to zoom in.