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7 Techniques for Finishing Beech Woodworking Projects

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

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 Woodworkers Source Got Started in Business: A Quick History

by Keith Stephens | July 24th, 2014
All photos use

 

This is not a picture jewelry box in this story -- it was lost to a home burglary some time ago. But this box is the most recent one I've made.

This is not a picture jewelry box in this story — it was lost to a home burglary some time ago. But this box is the most recent one I’ve made.

Years ago I wanted to build my first jewelry box. So I tried to buy a little bit of hardwood lumber, which seemed like a simple thing to do. But I was wrong. Here’s the story:

In the late 1960s my wife, Betty, and I were newlyweds just out of college. I was a CPA with a large international accounting firm and Betty was a Registered Nurse. In 1970 life started to change with the words, “I’m pregnant” and “It’s time to buy a house.”

I had no experience with home repair or improvement (or babies) but undertook projects and enjoyed the process. My tool inventory started with a Sears radial arm saw and a Black& Decker ¼” drill. I really moved up when Betty bought me a Black & Decker router, 1 HP, ¼ “ collet, edge guide and carrying case. $39.00 for the package.

I made my first table in 1976 using construction lumber and became hooked on building projects. I wanted to try hardwood, Betty and I designed a jewelry box with two drawers and a glass top. I made a sketch and a list of parts, and then headed to the lumberyard.

Problem. The lumberyard didn’t sell hardwoods, only construction lumber. I left disappointed and searched for a local hardwood outlet. Eventually I found one down by the railroad tracks, in a seedy, industrial part of town. My only experience was with construction lumber: smooth all sides and dimensioned to specific sizes. So imagine my shock to find piles of rough, random width and length lumber at this hardwood dealer. When I asked a salesman for some help by showing him my list of materials, he took my list, held it in the air and announced to his coworkers, “Look at this! Look at this! This guy’s got a list!” I left embarrassed and without the material I needed.

 

In 1978 I opened the first Woodworkers Source store to serve the retail and custom woodworking communities. The store offered a wider range of woodworking products and a higher level of friendly service than could be found anywhere else in Arizona. Over 35 years later, here we are. Today we have three stores that offer 100 different hardwoods, woodworking tools from the best brands, and a friendly staff that knows woodworking.  Each store has a completely equipped woodworking shop to perform custom cutting and milling services and an education center for live woodworking demonstrations.

Our website Woodworkerssource.com is the most visited of all wood related sites and contains a wealth of useful information with woodworking tips, a hardwood database, and a gallery where you can share your project pictures with other woodworkers.

Our Rosewood Club is a loyalty program that gives discounts, rebates and special offers to our customers. Join it if you haven’t already.

Thanks for being a customer and letting us help you succeed in woodworking.

You may read the complete story at www.woodworkerssource.com/history.php

 

Here are some other projects I’ve made over the years:

Free Hands-On Experience with the Featured Wood of the Month

by Mark Stephens | July 11th, 2014
All photos use
hand planing wood for woodworking

If you’re quietly interested in knowning more about our featured wood of the month, you can test it out in our store. We have a small work space set up with various hand tools and a few boards of the featured wood just for you to test out and see if you like it.

Every month we feature a different hardwood by stocking up with fresh new inventory and by slashing the price by 25% or more.

But did you know that every month we also provide a chance for you to test out the wood and get a feel for it yourself?  In every one of our stores you can experience the wood in your own hands to see how it saws, sands, hand planes, chisels and finishes.

We call it the “Wood Workshop,” and it’s totally free. It’s just our way of letting you get a little hands-on experience with a new wood as well as providing a little instruction on working with wood. We have  a workbench, a few boards of the featured wood , and a number of hand tools available to you. If you want to know more about the featured wood of the month, here’s a great way to do so.

www.woodworkerssource.com/demos.php