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Thread: Best way to finish walnut?

  1. Best way to finish walnut?

    I'm in the process of building my first project, a simple shaker style end table / lamp stand. I decided to use walnut and was wondering what type of finish I should use. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Keith

  2. #2
    That's going to be somewhat of results driven issue. To know what you might best use you will have to know where you want to end up.

    There are two kinds of Walnut. English walnut (my favorite) and American black walnut. They don't look the same.

    You could finish with any polyurethane (oil or water base) I like the oil based polyurethane because it's less finiky about whether your sand paper had stearates in it. A shellac might be nice. Some would oil it first and then shellac it with the end result of causing the grain to be highlited. Some might use an oil and polish it with a wax and a buffing wheel while others might just use tung oil. Other folks might de-wax their shellac and then apply that over an oil base and then apply a polyurethane on top as a water resistent sealer.

    Really, the sky is the limit.

    If you have little finishing backgroud you might stick with oil based polyurethane and a lamb's wool applicatior.
    Last edited by Cliff Rohrabacher; 07-05-2006 at 4:55 PM.

  3. Cliff,

    Thanks for the info. I like the idea of highlighting the grain. When you say to oil it, are you refering to the oil based polyurethane?

  4. #4
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    What Cliff said! Particularly about how you want it to look. If you take a look at my post yesterday "New Picture" you can see one way I like to do it. Walnut is an open grain wood and I like to see the grain filled. To do this I used seedlac shellac. It comes in flake form; so you'll have to mix it. That piece had nine or more coats on the flat surfaces and about 6 on the curved. Of course I did use a dye (golden brown under the first coat of shellac and before that prepped the wood with a mixture of brown mahogany and cordovan where there was sapwood. If you have no sapwood in your project, you can skip this part. You can easily apply 3 or 4 coats of shellac in a day since it dries so fast. Only a very light sanding is necessary if the previous coat has dried over night. When you have the grain filled to your satisfaction you have a choice. Leave it alone, or rub it down with 0000 steelwool and oil or wax, or do as I did. Sand with 600 grit with your ROS and then follow with 500, 1000,2000,4000 grit Abralon pads. At this point you'll have a surface that will return a faint mirror reflection. Not good enough to shave by. But if you follow with Menzerna's polishing compound applied with a Surfbuff Polishing pad then you can shave by it. These compounds are what Baldwin uses on their pianos, I'm told. All the products I've mentioned are available at Homestead Finishing.
    18th century nut --- Carl

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Benningfield
    Cliff,

    Thanks for the info. I like the idea of highlighting the grain. When you say to oil it, are you refering to the oil based polyurethane?
    No the oil is usually a tung or boiled linseed oil that will mostly evaporate leaving a sheen and highlite the grain then after that dries off, you can shellac it.
    It's one of the steps in a traditional french polish. Many folks will just let the shellac seal and top with urethane as a true french polish is both a boat load of work won't stand up to water or alcohol and is blatently un-patriotic.

    The Cut you use for the chellac is often a function of the kind of flakes you'll be using and the alcohol combined with your end goal.

    Light blond or super blond flake might be best for a sealer over oil cut with a methanol or ethanol alcohol.

    The alcohols you can use are methanol, ethanol, propanol and butanol. Methanol is great, but it is toxic, so many fgolks won’t use it preferring Ethanol for it’s lower toxicity. Butanol smells bad. Propanol, is hard to get pure. It is a good retarder.
    <o =""></o>
    Check this site out for cutting shellac info:
    http://www.woodworkersguildofga.org/...hellac_cut.htm

    http://www.johnjacobmickley.net/Shop...,%20Mixing.htm
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    Go here to learn a little about French polishing
    http://www.milburnguitars.com/frenchpolish.html
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  6. #6
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    Keith, good luck with your end table. I really like the way orange shellac brings out the look and color of walnut. I've used a lot of other types of finishes with it such as oil or water based topcoats and so on but in my estimation that orange shellac really makes it look good.
    Feel the wind and set yourself a bolder course

  7. #7
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    In addition to the two common types of walnut listed above, you also need to take into account whether black walnut has been air-dried or kiln-dried with steaming. The steaming mentioned is often done to darken the sapwood so it makes for greater yield from the log...but it also has the effect of muddying up the color to the same even brown. That's very different from the natural coloration of the air-dried walnut. Some folks will dye or tone the walnut to help restore some color to it before proceeding with other finishing steps using yellow-orange dye or various flavors of shellac.

    I only work with air-dried black walnut and typically oil with BLO and finish with shellac. It gets the most wonderful color and sparkle to it...that only gets better with time as walnut actually lightens to a nice honey-brown color with oxidation and UV exposure.
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  8. #8
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    This is for American Black Walnut...

    Sand to 220, then sand in BLO or Watco using 400g wet/dry paper. Put on 2-3 coats. This will slurry up the mix w/sawdust and fill the pores nicely. Once the oil is dry 72-96 hours at least (longer wouldn't hurt), finish with several coats (3-4) of amber shellac which will nicely tint the walnut a golden brown and mute the color differences. If you have sapwood, you need to dye or stain it, but if not then the above schedule will give your piece a very rich finish that will amaze you.

    Remeber the secret of shellac is to apply thin (1-1.5lbs cut) and don't worry about building a finish after 3-4 coats. Shellac redisolves the surface as you re-apply so you are actually try to put on a thin flat coat that is perfectly level. Most folks screw up shellac by over working it.. I like padding but you can put it on with a brush, just don't go over it once you apply it when wet, it will flow out nicely don't worry.
    Mike-in-Michigan (Richland that is) <br> "We never lack opportunity, the trouble is many don't recognize an opportunity when they see it, mostly because it usually comes dressed in work clothes...."

  9. #9
    Keith,
    I realy like the finish of walnut. here is a picture of a bowl I did. The finish is Sam Maloof's finish which you can make your self. It's 1/3 BLO,1/3 Tung oil and 1/3 poly. I sand to 600 then apply a coats. Wipe on then wipe off like mister Miagee would say then re-apply for as many coats I need to achieve the desiered results.

  10. #10
    The walnut that I have is all air dried. I use either garnet shellac first or BLO followed by garnet shellac. If you use the BLO, it will bring out the grain more. The BLO may darken end grain if it is not sanded very carefully to about 400 grit. You may also want to fill the pores in the grain after the shellac, especially on the top. After a few coats of shellac, I sometimes use polyurethane. Just make sure the shellac is dewaxed. Always try a scrap piece with any finishing task.

  11. Thanks for the info guys. I completed the table last night so it looks like I'll be finishing this weekend.

    Keith

  12. Keith,
    My favorite finish for walnut is to dye it orange with a water based aniline dye, and follow with one very thin coat of de-waxed dark shellac. Then I fill the grain with a medium brown oil based filler. When that has dried for 3 days I top coat with super blond shellac or in the case of table tops Behlen Rock Hard varnish. On the period reproductions, I also slap on some dark brown gel stain after the grain filler has dried. The gel stain adds a little depth and age. The resulting finish has a nice warm brown color, even when used on steamed walnut. I have attached a photo of a William and Mary lowboy on which they legs and stretchers were finished this way ( the photo was taken 5 years ago with a poor digital camera so it is not the of the best quality) .
    Rob Millard
    Attached Images Attached Images

  13. #13
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    OIL and WAX
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  14. #14
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    Michael,
    Was just reviewing some threads regarding finishing walnut, this one in particular has me interested. What do you mean by "sand in BLO"?

    Thanks
    ..You never seem to see Luggage Racks on a hearse...!

  15. #15
    IMHO, I've come to conclude, unless I'm doing something very wrong, that oil on walnut darkens the wood A LOT, and does not sink in evenly, resulting in a blotchy look. Amber shellac, put straight on, looks wonderful. I've read so much about using BLO, watco, etc.. and how nice it looks on walnut, but I've had poor results. I've tried thinning the oil with 50% mineral spirits.. no luck. Poly, put straight on, doesn't darken or blotch much either, except then you get the plastic look. Any ideas? Help!
    thanks!
    matt

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