Subscribe to Print
Subscribe to Digital
Give as a Gift
Free Product Guide >>
I'm getting near the end of the refinement stage of my Walnut coffee table. I've played around with some finishes on the off-cuts using Zinsser de-waxed clear shellac as a sealer and General Finishes oil and urethane mix as a top coat. I've chosen a smooth organic form for the table and would like to enhance the tactile appeal of the table and the inherent qualities of the Walnut. I like the way a satin finish "comes to hand" and compliments the overall feel. I also don't want a finish that looks like a plastic wrapper, but it is a coffee table and should have some protection for when my beer-swillin' buddies want to play a game of "quarters". Any thoughts? I'm kidding about the quarters, but it should be able to withstand some amount of real-world use. I don't care for furniture in my home that is for "display purposes only" and surely won't build any.
Your good advice is always appreciated.
Jesse, I am not a pro but I have used walnut in a secretary, trestle table and nightstand. Being a newby, I used a stain and followed that up with a poly. I am about three years into each piece and have had no problems. I did make a small table with walnut which included benches, this went into a small kitchen and would receive wear so I used a product that would be found on bar tops, it has been in use about two years and is holding up great. It stands up to small kids and all their messes, I am sure it would stand up to the men and their cans of beer. Just a thought, you might not want that much shine. I am starting to have an interest in some of the oils out there. Hope this helps.
I made a couple adirondack chairs out of black walnut about 3 years ago. The only finish I put on them was linseed oil. They are used indoors and are still as beautiful as the day I made them.
Jesse , I've had good luck with stain followed by Tung Oil or Poly. The Tung Oil finish needs about 4 to 6 coats with light sanding and 0000 steel wool rubbing between coats. The Poly looks almost as good and needs only 2 or 3 coats. The advantage to the Tung Oil is that is more easily fixed if the finish ever gets a nick. The advantage to the Poly is that it's a bit tougher. Sand the wood initially to at least a 220 grit and blow the surface clean before applying the stain.
After more than forty years of refinishing various woods, I have found that when a person describes what he wants in writing, the information can be misunderstood by others, especially those who have favorite techniques and methods. I suggest you get a good book on finishing like Bob Flexner's Understanding Wood Finishing. It is amply illustrated, and will show you clear color pictures of walnut finished in a variety of ways. It also has thorough chapters on every type of finish. For example, you have not indicated whether or not you want to fill the pores of the walnut, which will affect the final appearance, either way. Flexner's book has been revised, so look for the newest edition. It used to retail for around $30.00 in hardback, but of course could probably be found in a good library. Even if purchased, it is a good deal, because it will allow you to finish all your projects with confidence, and get exactly the look you want.
Walnut is one of my favorite woods, and I agree that a plastic looking finish is a good way of making any work look cheap. If you're looking for a satin finish, go with a boiled linseed oil. Give it several coats. This will draw out the quilting, figures and different colors of the wood. Although walnut is a durable wood, an idiot with a quarter will dent any natural finish. I recommend a sheet of plexi-glass or a tarp and plywood over the table when it's stupid time. Also, this wood will release it's color when wet, so make sure the beer will not run down the sides. Beer will definately bleach out it's color overtime. Maybe you and your friends should play outside and keep your beautiful wood and hardwork safe. Remember, alcohol is the base for many finishes, and will melt through shellac and linseed oil.
Another thought, if you would like a fine finish, look up specialty shellacs just for table tops. After sealing with linseed oil, the shellac will build up quickly, feeling and looking great. A two part finish is very hard to restore, so it is best to sick to an oil finish if you can't trust yourself or your friends. Oil can simply be rubbed with more oil to restore. Dents are for good.
Stay away from polies and epoxy, since these finishes will scuff and obscure the deapth of your walnut. Rebuffing is a hassel. These finishes will make your furniture look like they go in the kitchen. If you hit these finishes hard enough, they will seperate from the wood, and eventually chip off.
I almost shead a tear when you wrote that your friends want to play quarters on walnut. There should be an organization like PETA for fine wood, so that woodworkers could come together and protect increasingly rare and fine wood. Next time build a Douglas Fir work bench out of timbers. Doug Fir has very little deapth, so you're not losing much with epoxy finish. Make sure the epoxy is thick to avoid splinters when playing drinking games that involve slidding people over the top.
I have used poly on a full bedroom set made of walnut. I mixed it with mineral spirits 50/50 and applied 3 coats,thew wet sanded with 600 grit wet/dry. I cleaned the dust after drying wity t-shirt material then applied a good finishing wax. This gave a deep satin finish that still looks as if it was finished yesterday 6 years later . No "plastic" look.
I had just finished a Walnut book case for my son last year; I used three coats of De-waxed, natural amber Shellac as a base and a couple of coats hand wiped poly. As a finish coat (only on the table top) I used a couple of coats of Spar Varnish (My Son is kind of sloppy) as an added deep protection. It really made the grain pop and the spar actually deepened the color even more. I used very fine steel wool in between the first coats and liked the results.
Opps! make that a computer table, not a book case.
Unfortunately, protection has its price. The thicker the film, the more durable the finish. But there's a way to build up a film without having it look too thick.
On a sample, apply a wash coat of the shellac, then apply the wipe-on finish and rough up each coat with 00 steel wool or 320 grit sandpaper. This will dull the sheen and make the finish look more “natural.” You can probably apply three to four coats this way, which will give the table more protection than just one or two coats.
I have generally used Maloof's finish (varnish mix) available from Rockler, but recently, to be more environmentally responsible, I have been using earth-friendly finishes from Earthpaint, based in Asheville, NC. They have a very hard finish as well as a durable furniture one. It smells like orange peels. I am very happy with it. Go to Earthpaint.net for info.
This is great input. I have a dining room table that is made of black walnut 2 years ago. The woodworker finished it with linseed oil which looks great but I am also constantly worried and concerned about watermarks from glasses and spilled drinks on the table. Should I add more linseed oil now to add to the protection? If so, do I need to sand or just clean before applying fresh coats with a clean rag.
Is there something to add on top of the existing linseed oil that will better protect the wood from moisture and spills that won't ruin the "look" of the table. The last thing I want to do is make it look cheap but do want to protect this wood from the beer drinking buddies.
All input is really helpful and appreciated! Thanks,
Here's my suggestion. Boiled linseed oil really brings out the natural beauty of wood, but is not the best protectant against water. For table tops I use a sanding sealer first and then coat it with pre catalyzed lacquer. You'll need to spray this since it dries quickly. BUt it's durable making it a good choice for tables. It also has a clear look. Not yellow like some polyurethanes can have.
I'm sure others will have different suggestions for you, but send us the picture of it when it's done. And of course, have your drinking buddies in the picture too. :-)
chad stanton- forum moderator