How Would You Finish Padauk?
We like this simple-but-special recipe
You could safely thank my 5-year-old daughter for this one. When she saw a couple of boards of padauk she declared them pretty and demanded we build something special, and that she get to help.
If you’re a parent, you know there is no negotiating with 5-year-old girls. Comply with all requests or, well, prepare yourself for the ensuing fight.
So we did.
I built a little set of decorative boxes with lids, one for both of my daughters and one for my wife. Each one slightly different in size, but each one also made of padauk and white oak. Kind of clever, maybe? I thought so. One for the each of them, but each one unique in size and shape.
Believe it or not, I started with ordinary rectangular boxes – then took a little inspiration from the supple shape of the bass clef in part because we’re a little family of music lovers. I marked the silhouette on the sides of the boxes and nibbled away at it by tilting the table saw blade and adjusting the fence to take off just so much. I can tell you or I can show you, and showing is better. See the 1:14 in the video above to get a better idea.
Perhaps what’s more important is the secret sauce I landed on to finish the padauk to make that color last as long as possible. The trouble with the wood is that the amazing and natural orange color oxidizes at an alarmingly fast rate. Over the course of a dozen samples put to the test out in a week of exposure to direct sunlight, I determined that a few coats of dewaxed shellac (aka SealCoat by Zinsser) and a UV-protected water based top coat locks in the color the longest.
Unless you consider applying a coat of orange dye to the bare wood not too sacrilegious, then that’s a different ballgame. (It works very well, by the way.)
But if I only understand one thing about woodworkers and wood enthusiasts, it’s the widespread quest for clear finishes and no tricks of colors from cans. Not that I necessarily agree, but I’ll be glad to meet you down at the brewery for a cold pint and warm debate to settle the matter.
Let’s get on with it. Here’s how I finished this series of African padauk boxes to give the color its longest life. Admittedly, there might be another way – if you’ve got one, share it.
Here are the products I used in my potion and why:
Absolute garnish. This product does nothing to preserve the color. It just looks really cool on padauk. It locks in a solid black accent color into the rhythmic and intermittent open grain and just make the wood go BOOM because the grain comes out and swings for the fences. I’ve listed it first here only because it’s the first thing to get applied to the wood after sanding.
More generically, this is dewaxed shellac. In my tests, a few coats of dewaxed shellac does the best job of simply coating the wood while darkening the color the least. Other products like polyurethane or lacquer or oil either darken the wood or they provide absolutely no color-saving qualities. But dewaxed shellac by itself
Talk about a mouthful. But anyway, great product. Like most waterbased finishes, it’s absolutely crystal clear – but this particular critter from General Finishes contains some UV-blocking ingredients which means (or suggests) that a few coats of this will add a couple extra layers of protection from the light that would normally age padauk very quickly. I wouldn’t normally pick this as a top coat for a decorative box. It’s a little finicky to apply and over-kill in the hardness department. For other boxes I’d rather apply something I can wipe on and off with a rag. But given the quest to prolong the natural color of padauk, this finish plays an ace card.
Since I used a semi-gloss sheen top coat, it simply wouldn’t be done right without giving it a good buff to make twinkle like a starry evening. After scuffing the finish between each coat to level out the brush marks and dust nibs, a few minutes with a rag and some polishing compound brings the sheen from a dull matte to a lively semi-gloss shine. It takes a bit of work, but you’ll love the results.