basket
Store Locations (Mon - Sat: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm)
Phoenix: 602.504.1931    |   Tempe: 480.355.5090   |   Tucson: 520.745.8301
Specials


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

by Mark Stephens | June 17th, 2014
All photos use

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.

How to Get a Beautiful Wood Finish on Your Tropical Walnut Woodworking Projects

by Mark Stephens | May 24th, 2014
All photos use

Tropical walnut might be a new wood to you, and that’s okay. This is a type of walnut that grows in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, and happens to be a close relative of American black walnut. The two woods have similar color, hardness, and general working characteristics – they’re both rather nice hardwoods to machine with power tools and shape with hand tools.

They have their differences, too. More about Tropical Walnut >>>

Tropical walnut has much more straight grain and less curly/swirly and irregular character. And it also rarely includes any pale sapwood in the lumber, which is unlike American black walnut. It’s increasingly more common for American black walnut lumber to have a fair percentage of light sapwood. That’s not to say one is better than the other; it just depends on your tastes, so we’re here to empower you with some on-the-ground facts about the material. If you like the dark color found in walnut and prefer a consistent straight grain and no pale sapwood, Tropical Walnut might be a good wood for you to try.

The video above will show you a couple of machining operations to give you an idea of how nicely this wood works, but it also demonstrates in detail the specifics of applying two kinds of grain filler and top coat. But here’s a summary of the finishing techniques.

Basic Wood Finishes Are Fine, But . . .

Using the basic, simple wood finishes on Tropical Walnut is a piece of cake. You can apply your favorite polyurethane, lacquer, shellac, or water-based top coat and there’s a good chance you’ll be happy. The wood darkens nicely and you’ll see a bit of the natural contrast pop out a bit. But you can improve both of these by filling the wood grain first.

Of course, you’re the builder and it’s your project. You get to choose what you like best, and the glass-smooth finish you get with a well-filled grain isn’t always the look you want. But it’s a good idea to fill grain for projects like table tops and desk tops, or in any finish in which you’re going for a glossy sheen. Grain filler also adds a little bit of dark color to the wood pores, and that results in slightly greater contrast and visual depth in the wood.

So what is wood grain filler, where do you buy it, and how do you apply it? Well, filler can be as simple as the wood dust itself, and the video above shows you how do to that. There are also several kinds of solvent and water based fillers you can buy from a store. In all of these cases they’re pretty easy to apply but they do add more time to your finishing process. Good things come to those who put in the time. Take a look.

Click the images to zoom in.

tropical walnut finishes

Simple wood finishes look great on Tropical Walnut – frankly they all provide just about the same look, there’s no single best choice. Left to right: wipe-on gel polyurethane, satin lacquer, waterbased acrylic. The horizontal board on top is unfinished so you can see the comparison.

With a little side light, you can see how these basic finishes don't fill the grain. The dark spots you see are wood pores. Sometimes this kind of finish is just fine. Sometimes it's not.

Yes, there’s glare but that’s on purpose. With a little side light, you can see how these basic finishes don’t fill the grain. The dark spots you see are wood pores. Sometimes this kind of finish is just fine. Other times it’s not and filling the grain helps you achieve a very smooth finish.

Now compare. Both boards have 3 coats of satin lacquer. The difference should be obvious. The board on the left has not had the grain filled, whereas the grain in the board on the right was filled before the lacquer was applied.

Now compare. Both boards have 3 coats of satin lacquer. The difference should be obvious. The board on the left has not had the grain filled, whereas the grain in the board on the right was filled before the lacquer was applied.

This is Tropical Walnut with a nicely filled wood grain and a top finish of 3 coats of spray lacquer. But any film-forming finish can go on top. Shellac, wax, polyurethane, varnish, etc

This is Tropical Walnut with a nicely filled wood grain and a top finish of 3 coats of spray lacquer. But any film-forming finish can go on top. Shellac, wax, polyurethane, varnish, etc

 

 

Ebonizing Ash The Easy Way for Woodworking Projects

by Mark Stephens | May 13th, 2014
All photos use


You can get a magnificent effect by making ash totally black – also known as ebonizing. That’s because the wood has a large open grain, much like red oak, and you can make that texture show through while ebonizing the wood. The result is an astonishing juxtaposition of a 100% black color with the nice visual warmth of beautiful wood grain texture.

Admittedly, it’s not for everybody. Some woodworkers despise the idea of coloring wood in any way. But others don’t. Frankly, I think it’s a perfectly legitimate technique in the art of working with wood.

So how do you do ebonize ash? You have a few ways to do it, but this demonstration is by using a jet black wood dye. It’s straightforward, easy to do, inexpensive, and very fast.

Black India ink is a good choice because it comes out perfectly black with about 3 coats. The downside is it's waterbased and will raise the grain.

Black India ink is a good choice because it comes out perfectly black with about 3 coats.

If you were to do what everybody does when they want to learn about something — that is go to Google and pluck out a search — you’ll find some legends and fables about using various home-brew remedies like a solution of vinegar and steel wool. A home chemistry experiment might be fun, but sadly, it’s an exercise that won’t work well on ash. The iron ions that result from the reaction of mixing the steel with the acid (vinegar) will react with tannic acid found in some woods, such as oak, and that reaction makes the wood turn black. But there is no tannic acid in ash. So it won’t do the job on ash.

Waterproof India ink, however, will work and it’s a good option. You get a solid black color in about 3 coats. The only problem is it’s waterbased so it will raise the grain and therefore requires some extra care in order to get a good smooth wood finish.

Using a jet black dye, in this case Jet Black dye from Solar-Lux, is another fine choice and it’s the product I’ve chosen to use in the demonstration video above. Unlike dyes that you mix yourself, Solar-Lux is a premixed alcohol based dye. The trouble with mixing your own black dye for ebonizing wood is that it often comes out too gray, or sometimes blueish. The Solar-Lux Jet Black dye turns out to be a good answer to these troubles. It doesn’t raise grain and it’s solid black.

Like all dye on open grained woods, there does remain one small problem. After you apply the dye and take a close look at your piece, you’ll see that the dye just doesn’t reach down deep into the pores. You’ll see little specs of wood peeking through, but they’ll be deep in the pores. That’s due to the surface tension of the liquid, it doesn’t matter what color. But it’s most obvious when putting black on such a pale wood like ash — white specs will stand out amid a black dyed board.

Applying a jet black dye gets the surface wood totally black. It won't raise the grain because it's alcohol based. The Spanish Oak Wiping Stain by Old Masters makes sure the deep pores get colored black.

A powerful combo for ebonizing wood: a jet black alcohol based dye gets the surface wood totally black. Then the Spanish Oak Wiping Stain by Old Masters makes sure the deep pores get colored black.

But there’s a fix, and this is where it’s handy to understand the difference between dye and stain. Wood stain’s job is to color wood pores rather than the wood surface. Therefore to ebonize ash is to employ the strengths of both dye and stain.

So, in this demonstration I’ve made one sample with three parts to show you a few things:

  1. A black dye on ash
  2. A black oil stain on ash
  3. A black dye followed by a black stain on ash

Take a look for yourself, you’ll see how easy, quick, and effective this is.  If you use this method, just finish it off with a top coat of your favorite kind of clear finish. That could be polyurethane, lacquer, etc.


 

Ebonizing ash has a cool effect because the texture of the wood grain shows through.  You get a 100% black wood without the look plastic - the wood grain shows that you indeed used real wood in your project.

Ebonizing ash has a cool effect because the texture of the wood grain shows through. You get a 100% black wood without the look plastic – the wood grain shows that you indeed used real wood in your project.

With a little side light you really get to see the grain. This may look like white specs, but in fact it's just the clear lacquer topcoat reflecting light.

With a little side light you really get to see the grain. This may look like white specs, but in fact it’s just the clear lacquer topcoat reflecting light. This is the same board you see on the left.