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How to Finish Quarter Sawn White Oak For the Best Figure

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

Quarter sawn white oak finish examples

Whether you want a light, natural color or a dark color, there’s a way to make the figure really pop out. The raw quarter sawn white oak board on the left is compared to a dark mission finished piece and a piece finished with Danish oil.

Stop right there. Before you finish your quarter sawn white oak projects, consider how to make that beautiful ray figure jump out. The good news is that you have several simple techniques that provide impressive results. It takes no special hard-to-master technique, or an arsenal of chemicals, or a new set of tools to add to your shop.  In fact, you can get a popping finish without even stepping foot into a “real” woodworking shop.  You could do this within the tight confines of a veranda of a New York City apartment if you had to.

In this video we demonstrate 3 nice ways to finish quarter sawn white oak to get the best pop from the figure.

(ALSO: See our selection of quarter sawn white oak lumber while it’s on sale) read more

3 Great Ways to Hide Sapwood in Walnut

by Mark Stephens | January 1st, 2014
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Even colored walnut lumber

Look close. This piece of walnut is not only finished with a clear lacquer but the light colored sapwood has been evened out to nearly match the heartwood. Woodworking with walnut today means dealing with the sapwood. Here are 3 ways.

Few people approve of pale sapwood in their walnut lumber,  but in the words of  Jim, a salesman at one of our faithful walnut suppliers back east, “When people ask me for a 100% heartwood face in walnut, I just tell them they’re dreaming.” You may be tired of hearing that sapwood isn’t considered a defect when it comes to grading lumber, however it is an industry fact. Lumber grade is a mathematical computation of the amount of clear wood in a board – so says the National Hardwood Lumber Association, the organization responsible for defining the rules of the lumber trade.

“But it’s a defect to me,” says the woodworker.

So what’s a woodworker to do? Fortunately, lumber producers separate their walnut inventory not just by grade but also by color. The good news is 100% heartwood walnut can be had; the bad news is few can afford it. For the most part, about the best balance between color, cost, availability is called 90/70 heart: that means 90% heartwood on the face, 70% heartwood on the back. Remember, lumber has two broad sides, a face and a back, and when building furniture and cabinetry, only one side is displayed in the final product.

Sure, it’s possible to find some 100% heartwood boards from time to time, but on a consistent basis and in large quantities? Not really. And therefore, when you visit your nearest lumber supplier, you’ll never have a perfect pile of full brown walnut to select from. Full heartwood boards are the exception to the rule, so it’s time to look at how woodworkers are using walnut in today’s woodworking.

You’ll find a number of discussions and blogs about this topic, and a good one in particular is this found at Lumber Jocks,, which discusses three ways woodworkers overcome sapwood.

3 Ways to Deal with Sapwood in Walnut:

  1. Cut sapwood off, and/or hide the sapwood on parts that will not be seen frequently
  2. Live with sapwood in your finished project
  3. Use a dyeing and staining process to make the color even

Those first two are straightforward.

Dyeing and staining needs some explanation, though. Since you’re not going to be able to go the woodworking store and buy a bottle of Sapwood Hider right off the shelf – alas, no such miracle exists – there are a couple of steps involved, but they’re easy.

Walnut board

Walnut board clearly shows a sapwood edge until the piece is dyed, sealed, stained, and finished. A saw kerf line separates the two sections.

For this method, we’re specifically talking about dye and there are a number of dyes on the market, usually mixed with water or denatured alcohol. Dye is different from stain, as dye doesn’t obscure the grain, which is pretty important when using walnut.

The basics:

1. Apply a very diluted dye in a color of your choice to the entire piece, heartwood and sapwood. The dye used in the pictures here is Behlen Solar-Lux™ medium brown walnut color. Solar-Lux™ is UV resistant and fade resistant, which is great because when walnut is left natural, it eventually turns very tan. Walnut ought to be dyed or stained anyway to retain a pleasing color. Note: Medium brown walnut Solar-Lux™ dye will appear orange when you apply it, but that’s okay. The next steps will bring the color back to dark brown.

2. Seal the wood with a light coat of sanding sealer or shellac. This needs to be thin to allow for the next step to have some effect.

3. Apply an oil-based stain on top of the sealer. Wipe it on, wipe it off. This adds a touch of pigment to the pores equally to you get a consistent color across the board.

4. Apply your clear finish of choice. Varnish, lacquer, etc.

It should go without saying that you should always test your dye process on a few test pieces before committing the dye to your final product. You’ll need to test different dilution ratios of your dye before you get the color you want.

Dyeing walnut is not very difficult, but it will take some time. However, you’ll greatly increase your yield of wood and you’ll make the beautiful walnut color last much, much longer than you would if if were to leave the wood natural.

Sapwood stripe along the edge of a walnut board

This part of the board is finished with just a clear coat of Zinsser Sealcoat and lacquer. The sapwood strip stands out. Eventually the color of this board will lighten.

Closer, showing the change in sapwood color

Closer, you can make out where the sapwood is nicely colored and very nearly matches the heartwood color thanks to the dye process

Even colored walnut lumber

The end result is a pleasing walnut color that will last a lifetime.

Prizes for the Small Table Woodworking Contest

by Mark Stephens | December 13th, 2013
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Register for the Contest Now:

Bookings no longer allowed on this date.

There are 147 people registered so far!

Project Deadline: Saturday Mar 1, 2014
Prizes Awarded: Friday Mar 7, 2014
No fee to enter!
Fill out the submission Entry Form and bring it with you when you deliver your table

If you’re into building furniture out of wood, you’ll want to enter our contest. The details about what to build, the rules, how to enter are at that page, but we thought we’d list the prize packages here on this separate page.

And the prizes are downright fantastic – a JET mortiser, Kreg Jig, Tenryu table saw blades, and much more. There are over $2000 worth of prizes. All you need to do is dazzle us with your craftsmanship!

In short, build a small occasional table (no larger than 32″ in length, width, or height), put your best effort forward, then turn it in on March 1st. On March 7, we’ll announce the winners, post an online gallery, and announce a public exhibit of selected tables. Go to our contest page to register.

First Prize – Tool Package $800 Value

Jet Benchtop Mortiser, Kreg Jig K5, Kreg Automaxx 3″ clamp, Johnson Levels 25′ tape measure, Tenryu 10″ coated Silencer  table saw blade, Festool SysLite LED work light:


Second Prize – Tool Package $575 Value

Kreg Klamp Table with Universal Steel Stand, Festool Toolbox, Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski, Tenryu 10″ coated Silencer  table saw blade.


Third Prize – Tool Package $400 Value

Kreg Benchtop Router Table, Festool Toolbox, Whiteside cove & bead bit #3212, Tenryu 10″ coated Silencer  table saw blade.


People’s Choice Prize – Tool Package $275 Value

Bora Wide Track Clamp Edge Set, Festool Toolbox, Trend diamond sharpening stone




Several Honorable Mention Prizes will be Awarded for Various Details that Emerge During Judging:

  • Two Festool Toolboxes
  • Fine Woodworking DVD Fir and Cherry Side Table with Garrett Hack
  • Fine Woodworking DVD Asian-Inspired Hall Table with Timothy Rousseau
  • Designing Furniture book from the editors of Fine Woodworking
  • Complete Illustrated Guide to Furniture and Cabinet Construction book by Andy Rae
  • Tajima 3-piece Japanese pull saw set
  • Bessey tool bag
  • Trend table saw blade


Thanks to These Sponsors Providing The Awards and Prizes:


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