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Posts Tagged ‘walnut’

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

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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.

Consider Filling the Grain

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.

Fill the grain one of two ways:

  1. Apply a drying oil using a technique called wet sanding. This method mixes the wood dust with the oil to create a paste that fills in the pores. See a demonstration in the video above.
  2. Buy a grain filler in a can. Numerous types exist, but all are either solvent- or water-based and require slightly different techniques for applying them. Oil based grain filler is demonstrated in the video above.

In all of these cases they’re pretty easy to apply but they do add more time to your finishing process. Of course, 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

 

 

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.

 

A Finishing Trick for a Dark, Even Color in Walnut Woodworking Projects

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

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, www.lumberjocks.com/topics/10565, which discusses three ways woodworkers overcome sapwood.

Walnut board dyed and stained

Two walnut boards compared. Bottom is raw, top is dyed, stained, and finished to hide the sapwood. Can you tell where the sapwood and heartwood meet? Look closely.

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.

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. Two nice choices could be Behlen Solar-Lux™ Medium Brown Walnut color or American Walnut color. Solar-Lux™ is UV resistant and fade resistant, which is great because when walnut is left natural, it eventually turns very tan. There are several techniques to apply the dye (which we’ll cover in another post), but in general you’ll want to dilute it by maybe 50%, then apply it in 2 or 3 coats rather than one full-strength coat because it’s easier to get a better result that way.

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. Spray it or pad it on.

3. Apply an oil-based gel stain on top of the sealer. Wipe it on, wipe it off. When you wipe it off, use a bit of an artist’s hand – that is, don’t wipe too hard or too soft. You want to leave a light coat of stain right on top of the sealer while also lodging pigment into the pores. In the end you get a gorgeous 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.

Walnut wood dyed to blend sapwood and heartwood

In this dyed and stained walnut board, you get a nice, dark chocolate color that will last a long, long time. The processed used also blends the pale sapwood so it’s not too different from the heartwood.