Finishing Wizardry

Accent TableIn a recent conversation with our field editor Chris Marshall about project I’m working on that involves walnut (which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post), he told me a story about a unique finishing situation that he ran into.  I thought it would be a great thing to share…

I was making a little table.  I used an orange dye over walnut to blend some purple areas with the rest of the brown wood. The wood turned pumpkin orange, and then as soon as the varnish went on, it turned the richest, most beautiful brown. It was like a magic trick.

I’ve actually done this twice. The first time was when I made some jack-o-lantern trivets. It was a lamination of maple on top and walnut underneath. I routed through the maple to expose the walnut for the eyes, nose, mouth and lines of the pumpkin–like outlining almost. I needed to turn the maple orange, so I just dyed the entire thing. The walnut turned that wonderful brown under varnish, so I knew the odds were good that this would work again. But, the variable was that I used spray lacquer instead of varnish on the table the second time around, and I didn’t know if the orange dye would react the same way under lacquer, which is a much more colorless finish than varnish. Thankfully, it still worked nicely.

Jack O Lantern TrivetGranted, I’m a novice when it comes to finishing (and woodworking in general), but in my mind this is pretty unconventional at best and possibly just flat-out crazy. I certainly understand that chemical reactions between finishing products and the material of the workpiece can cause some unpredictable results, but this takes that concept to a whole new level for me.  I’m sure there are some seasoned pros reading this that would agree.

Then again, I know there are some of you out there who read Chris’s description and thought, “I can top that!”  So here’s your chance to share the most head-scratching finishing experience you’ve come across – good or bad.  Leave a comment below with what materials you were using, what the expected outcome was, what actually ended up happening, and if it’s something you would or did try to repeat.  If you’ve got a photo, even better – click here to send it in.

Matt Becker
Internet Production Coordinator

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  • Jim Simpkins

    Great tip, I love to work with walnut, I have a small bandsaw mill and try to saw all my lumber for projects.

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  • Kit Nelson

    I’m roughing a piece of sycarome slab wood with my Lancelot. I’m hoping to carve it into a giant clam shell. Where can I find a transparent “mother-of-pearl” translucent coating for interior stain. I’ll probably finish with a hi-gloss poly & buff using my Beall buffing system. Kit

  • Kit Nelson

    I recently cut a walnut tree down from my side yard. I have seven 9′ logs x 12 to 18″. The local sawmill won’t come & get them for a reasonable price because of low usable board feet of lumber. IS there an association of protable bandsaw-ers that will come & cut my walnut logs. I’m 12 mi. west of Akron,OH & 25 mi. south of Cleveland.

  • Jack

    I just saw you comments on finishing (staining) and thought I’d share my last experience. I am currently completing the “Ultimate Miter Saw Stand” from June 2010 WJ by Chris. This is from a request from my son in Dallas who wanted to come help. He has limited available time for this so I had everything ready(almost) wwhen he showed up in my shop. I took Chris’ suggestion to stain and finish all the plywood and hardwood after cutting and before assembly. I was rushed for time and knew that I should have used a pre-conitioner before staining (I used a light maple stain with an asortment of other stains to make about 3 qts.) Rather than pre conditioning, I added almost 1 qt. of polyurathane varnish to the above stain. It worked amazingly well in preventing the blotching that is so common with maple and birch. I’d like to send a photo or two and have the IPhone Pictures, but alas- I don’t know how to include them in this note.
    The project has taken me circa 75 hrs and 30 hrs from David (my son) and is almost finished. I have the Kreg measuring system and wiring to do before it’s done. I’m going to try to get a photo posted somewhere soon.