Finish

Scripture says, "There is wisdom in many counselors." That being the case, I would value some input on how to finish a blanket chest I am making.
I will, of course, run test pieces, but I am looking for some general ideas, thoughts, etc on how you would finish the piece.
I am making the blanket chest in the April 2010 issue of Woodworker's Journal. But instead of making it out of the recommended wood (it seems I never do anything the "ordinary" way :-) ), which is quarter sawn oak, I am making it out of quarter sawn sycamore. The rays are out of this world and I want to bring them out, but not to the point that they are all you see. The final color needs to be along the line of darker Early American or English Chestnut. So, I was thinking about a coat of "aged oak" stain to make the rays "pop." Then top that with English Chestnut stain.
For a top coat I was trying to decide between shellac or a gel poly.
Again, I will run test pieces first, but I thought I would ask for some advice to keep the number of test pieces from being larger than necessary.
Thanks for any suggestions.
Deb
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Dr. Deb wrote:

Opinions follow, YMMV...
Personally, I dislike stains. I dislike them because they are difficult to repair if and when necessary; I much prefer to use a wood that will age to the color I want. Yes, they can be useful if you are trying to bring disparate colors on different woods - same or different species - into harmony.
While I don't dislike top coats, I try to avoid them when not necessary to save the much additional work of applying them and getting them to look good. And, in the case of poly, repairing them.
A blanket chest is something I would not top coat. Given the wood you have and the desired final color, I'd consider linseed oil. It will pop the grain nicely and will age to a dark reddish brown. If you have a partially used can of it around, look at the (probable) spills near the neck to see the color. It won't age dark overnight though, takes months and months, so you can't realistically test.
The final color depends on quantity as well as time. If the wood has deep pores (like oak) those areas will darken the most. Sanding marks in the wood - they always exist - will hold more too...the finer you sand the less held. Multiple coats count toward darker also. Also, inherent disparities in the natural color of wood even out naturally over time.
If it were me, I'd use BLO, then wax when dry. If I just *had* to have a top coat I'd wait a month for the oil to dry and then use lacquer.
--

dadiOH
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Just my 0.02 here.
Quartersawn sycamore can be unbelievably beautiful. I have seen small pieces of furniture made from it, as well as musical instruments.
For anyone that hasn't seen the quartersawn stuff, here's a good look:
www.baileywp.com/images/qtrsawn_sycamore.jpg
I finishes almost exactly like soft maple. That means that it is a little unstable, and must be finished when properly dried.
If you are going to stain (ouch.... maybe just a toner of some sort to highlight the flecks, not stain?) you will be unhappy if you don't use a conditioner. Sycamore, particularly when quartersawn will have rough spots that will feel smooth, but aren't, and will show up as blotches with colorant. If you aren't going to spray dye, a good conditioner (available everywhere) followed by a good gel stain will give great results. Personally, I really like the "Old Masters" line of gel stains.
Don't over sand, and change sand paper frequently. Sycamore has long fibers that are quite bendy, and have a tendency to lay over, not to be cut. Hence, more blotchy color. But the rough spots will also come up when you put straight finish on the wood.
As a test to make sure you get the surface uniformly smooth, I would flood the surface with anhydrous alcohol a small spot at a time and see if anything raises. This is a good cleaner to wipe off pre- colorant, but will also slightly raise the grain in any rough areas.
The only reason I would personally use shellac on a working cabinet or one that sits directly on the floor (in the line of fire from shoe traffic, vacuum cleaners, kids, me, etc.,) would be as a primer. And the only way I would use a primer is if I felt my colorant would run.
In that case, use a dewaxed shellac as a base, sand and clean, then apply your top coat.
If (in your testing you will know the answer) your colorant doesn't run or lift with a first application of top coat, I wouldn't prime. Rarely is primer needed on clean wood. Salvage, bottom of the pile at your hardwood dealer, yes. Middle of the stack stuff, no.
For my top coat finish, (I always spray, but if you don't) check out Leon's comments on his poly choice applied with a foam brush. His finishing turns out great, and applying the way he does he gets great control from his foam applicators. IIRC, he uses a General Finishes coating, but I am not sure which one.
If I didn't want to jump in on a sprayed conversion finish, I would certainly use poly. It is easy to apply, forgiving, and you can apply two coats in one day. Remember, if you apply a second coat in about 8 hours, you don't have to sand unless you have flaws in your finish. If you wait longer than that, you should scuff sand lightly to break the surface and apply a second coat.
Again, nothing beats personal experience, so Leon may be good enough to jump in here to give some hands on advice with his experience with his favorite finish.
I don't use wipe on products personally. I don't like wipe on products because they take WAAAAYYY to long to build a useful finish. When you apply the wipe on stuff, you get as little as 1/8" of a mil of dry finish after application.
Almost without fail, manufacturers recommend a final finish of 3 mil. (Read their MSDS). Let's see.... 24 coats to get to a thickness? While most home projects become treasures that are well taken care of, it usually winds up that someone only puts on about 5 - 6 coats of that wipe on stuff. You do the math.
REALISTICALLY, most final finish coats for home projects that use wipe on products probably wind up with about a 1 mil thickness for home use, which is okay for small projects.
But with brush or spray application, you lay down a 2-3 mil finish at one pass, and depending on the thinners used, and will wind up with . 75 to 1.25 mil of cured finish per coat. So over conditioner, two coats may do just fine.
Good luck! Let us know how it turns out.
Robert
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I am not really familiar with sycamore so more generalize comments.
1. Stacking stain colors is not very effective in my experience.
2. I would suggest dyes. They will ok wet, dead once they dry and fantastic once they have some finish on them.
3. On technique used on QS and other figured woods is do a weak black dye. Then sand 95% of it off so it just darkens a few softer areas to add contrast and age. Thendo a tone color, ie dark vintage maple from transtint. Of course test dilutions to get the darkness you want. I suggest 1/2 strength. See FWW mag's cool movies on this, just search Maple Finish. I did this just the other day.
3. cont. if sycamore has grain lines like oak or mahogany, then you can follow dyes with a thinned coat of shellac and then use a dark glaze or gel stain to fill the grain lines for more contrast. If sycamore is smooth like maple you can do the same just to add some antiquing by getting galze into the seams, corners, etc. Or you can do no glaze at all.
3 cont more. A blanket chest needs to last the years. I would use a few thin coats of wipe-on-poly, sheen of your choice follwed with clear, brown or black wax, depending on the look you want.
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On 4/14/2010 10:30 AM, Dr. Deb wrote:

...and "one man's poi is another man's poison.", but some woods are just too pretty to stain.
The blanket type chests I've done have all been finished with a hand rubbed oil/poly finish, and oil/poly/wax as the last couple of coats.
Rockler has it as "Sam Maloof Finish" ... maintains the natural beauty of the wood, with wipe on application.
--
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