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Thread: Recommendation for finishing walnut??

  1. #1

    Recommendation for finishing walnut??

    This is the first time I've built anything new with walnut and I would like advice as to what you have found to be a good, relatively straightforward and durable finish.
    The project at hand is a box @ 14"x 12"x4", all walnut, that could be used for a variety of purposes including storing teas, documents, jewlery etc. The finished wood is a pretty bland grey colour with a fair amount of grain and little sap wood showing. I am guessing that I need to add some colour to bring it to life, unify the tone and warm it up. For the top coat, I am a fan of shellac and rubbed varnish. Wouldn't mind trying lacquer but I don't have the facilities indoors to spray and its too cold outside now. wrt colour, I know that walnut has a tendency to fade in sunlight over time. I've used oil based stains and aniline water stains before. What products have you had good luck with, and what colours do you recommend?
    Your good advice is appreciated

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Austin, Texas
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    1,363
    I have used walnut stain on walnut, but have grown to love natural - no stain or dye. The fade lighter over time is true but minimal... not something I worry about. Depending on the piece, I sometimes dye the sapwood (using a Q-tip). The memory box at www.plesums.com/wood/other/membox.html is natural walnut (no stain or dye) with lacquer finish, about the same size as your box.

    I primarily use lacquer finish. Solvent based lacquer does just fine for all the coats. Water base lacquer doesn't pop the color very well, so a first coat of shellac is what some recommend. Solvent based lacquer can be sprayed in pretty cold weather; water based lacquer (Target USL) can be sprayed indoors.

    I used to fill the grain for an absolutely smooth finish, but don't do that any more... a quick sanding after a couple coats of lacquer flattens the finish enough to avoid the need for filler.

    Varnish is often used, but I am not expert... I can't keep the dust away during the long dry time, and am not as good with a brush as I am with a spray gun.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at www.solowoodworker.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    somewhere east of Queen Creek, AZ - South East of Phoenix
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    I'm with Charlie, I like natural finish. I would use a wipe on poly or even water based polycrylic like General Finishes. The sap wood can be part of the charter of the box. It is a natural part of the wood.
    "There’s a lot of work being done today that doesn’t have any soul in it. The technique may be the utmost perfection, yet it is lifeless. It doesn’t have a soul. I hope my furniture has a soul to it." - Sam Maloof
    The Pessimist complains about the wind; The Optimist expects it to change;The Realist adjusts the sails.~ William Arthur Ward

  4. #4
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    ozarks
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    rick, for my personal stuff made from walnut i like to shoot a coat of amber schellac, lightly scuff with worn 220 paper or maroon scotchbrite then 4-5 coats of lacquer based sanding sealer thinned 50-50.....sand with 220 untill you`ve got an even scratch pattern then a few coats of semigloss lacquer...
    i use only nitrocellouse lacquer not cab acrylic or the waterbased products...tod
    [SIZE="1"] associated with several importers and manufacturers.[/SIZE]

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Houston, TX
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    It's hard to beat nitro cel lacquer, as Tod and Charley said.

  6. #6
    Thanks for the advice. My buddy has a paint booth which I could use to spay the lacquer.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
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    Philadelphia, Pa
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    Rick,
    I personally prefer a bit of color added to most new walnut, esp that which is dried with some steam, which much of it is. My general choice is Van Dyck crystals, sometimew with a drop or two (literally) of red dye added. I find this richens and warms the color without obscuring the grain. But, color matters are matters of pure opinion.
    Alan Turner
    PFW

  8. #8
    Hi Alan, how's the new shop and school going?
    I gave the boxes a coat of shellac and 4 of semi gloss lacquer. This was my first time using lacquer. I would rate the end result as a B+ but over time I might warm up to the look of the natural walnut.
    I still have a little wood left from these projects and I may give your suggestion a try for comparision.
    The lacquer was easy to apply, no problems at all. The fumes are over-powering so it was good that my friend provided the right safety equipment. I definitely would not spray that in my basement shop.
    Can anyone explain to me what the difference is appearance-wise between the solvent- and water-based lacquer?
    Thanks, Rick.

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Thom View Post
    ...Can anyone explain to me what the difference is appearance-wise between the solvent- and water-based lacquer?....
    The solvent based lacquer brings out the color of the grain pretty well - I think the results are similar to the traditional coat of shellac to do that function. The solvent based lacquer sanding sealers are the same but with some stearate to make the sanding go easier... level the surface, but remove most of the sealer, since it is soft. Then build with regular lacquer.

    Water base has higher solids so takes fewer coats, and I like the way it rubs out more. But you cannot use a stearate sealer (darn). The Target USL is easy to rub out and sand (like sanding sealer), but the grain doesn't develop the color as well - the wood doesn't appear as warm. I had an exhibit piece and the judges detected that I hadn't poped the grain under water base. After that, I did a walnut board half with shellac starter, and half without... I could see the difference, but not huge (but the judges caught the difference).
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at www.solowoodworker.com

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Philadelphia, Pa
    Posts
    14
    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Thom View Post
    Hi Alan, how's the new shop and school going?
    I gave the boxes a coat of shellac and 4 of semi gloss lacquer. This was my first time using lacquer. I would rate the end result as a B+ but over time I might warm up to the look of the natural walnut.
    I still have a little wood left from these projects and I may give your suggestion a try for comparision.
    The lacquer was easy to apply, no problems at all. The fumes are over-powering so it was good that my friend provided the right safety equipment. I definitely would not spray that in my basement shop.
    Can anyone explain to me what the difference is appearance-wise between the solvent- and water-based lacquer?
    Thanks, Rick.
    Rick,
    The school is new, and for a new "business" I think it is going well. Both Mario and I much enjoy teaching, and so it is a labor of love. We still have room in all of the courses we are offering.

    But, that said, we are also doing commission work. Right now we are about 1/4 of the way into an architectural millwork job which involves building the interior millwork, doors, and a bit of interesting casework for an 1890's home that was built as a mansion, but suffered fire damage about 10 years ago. Of the various pieces of this puzzle, to me the most interesting is the 8 interior doors. 4 are near 10 feet tall, and all but one are 2.25" thick. The 4 large ones are pocket doors, which puts a lot less stress on the joinery than would be the case with hinged doors. Like so many old and gracious Philadelphia mansions, rooms were trimmed out in different woods, and so the passage doors between rooms of different woods were built with doors of two woods. On a pair of the original pocket doors, one side was walnut, and the other Brazilian rosewood. We can't get this wood of course, and so the owner elected walnut on both sides, but another door we are building does have two woods, one walnut and the other sapele. I will post some pix at some point in time, but right now we are working a bit too hard to permit photography to intervene.
    Alan Turner
    PFW

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