Need Substitute for Wenge


After much considerations and feedback from several posters on this group (thanks everyone!), I've decided that building a dining room table out of Wenge might not be the best idea. While Wenge is extremely beautiful and has the perfect color I'm looking for, the fact that it is extremely brittle, difficult to work with, and expensive have caused me to look for an alternative.
So, my question for today is... what is a good alternative for Wenge? I am looking for a wood and stain combination that is going to give me the long grain look and super dark color of Wenge. It needs to have that Crate & Barrell dark furniture look.
So far, my best alternative is Walnut with a Jacoba Bean stain from Minwax -- doesn't quite match the beauty of Wenge though.
Any suggestions?
Thanks for all of your help! X_HOBBES
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For workability, it is hard to beat walnut. Look for some from Canada, or other cold climate so the growth is slow and the rings are tight. If you really don't want walnut, then find the right grain-look in a light wood, and then use a metal-acid dye, not a stain. You will have to experiment to get the color combination you want. Good luck.
Steve

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X_HOBBES says...

The wenge would have made a very beautiful table. I really can't think of anything that looks like it. But as long as you are staining, how about white oak? If you use a dye stain, you can possibly get the color you want without exaggerating the pores like we usually see on stained oak. I haven't tried dye staining white oak, but Flexner has pictures that are sort of reminiscent of wenge. Besides, white oak is a very affordable wood. It sells for $2.50/bf around here. Staining walnut sort of seems like gilding the lilly. Walnut or cherry without stain would be very beautiful and easier than staining a huge piece like you are building.
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I agree on the beauty of walnut and cherry in their natural color -- especially when finished with clear lacquer. Unfortunately, none of the other woods I have access to can even come close to Wenge's super dark color without extensive staining or dying. I personally love walnut in it's natural state and think it's almost a sin to stain it. However, applying just one coat of Jacobean stain to walnut gives me a very rich deep color that I can't easily achieve with other lighter woods, such as oak. Perhaps the stains I'm using just aren't the right kind to darken the wood that much, or maybe I'm not doing it right (although I do follow the instructions on the can). I haven't tried dyes because I don't have easy access to them.
Thanks for your feedback!
X_HOBBES

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X_HOBBES says...

You should try a dye stain and see if it is what you are looking for. You can order it online and have it in a few days. I have some Behlen Solar-Lux stain that is alcohol based. The price is very reasonable. I've been thinking of mixing a little with shellac to see if I can make a home-brew glaze. You may want to be careful choosing your stain so that your finish doesn't lift it from the wood. I avoid MinWax products for projects I really care about because I just don't know what is in them. Actually most of them contain polyurethane to make a combination stain and finish, which is another thing I really don't like. Polyurethane isn't known for being a good base for other finishes, not even more polyurethane.
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On Sun, 10 Apr 2005 01:14:57 -0400, X_HOBBES wrote:

IIRC, you could use leather dyes found at your local shoe repair shop.
Bill
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Is this right??? Leather dyes on wood? I never thought of that. How will a finish (lacquer, polyurethane, etc.) adhere to the wood once it has been dyed with one of these?
X_HOBBES

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Wenge is a beautiful wood but I disagree with it being hard to work and brittle. I have been using it for years and love it. Aside from the splinter issues it is a very durable wood when sanded. The only wood wit a similar grain that I have seen is Douglas fir. The vertical grain and the flat sawn pieces of Wenge have the same figure but a different color. I would say that VG Fir is a little more difficult to work and is softer than Wenge. max

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<snip>

First of all, it's Jacobean, meaning, roughly, dark and sooty looking, as if from the middle ages of Britain.
And I wouldn't do that to walnut. Walnut is a beautiful wood, with its own look, but the look isn't Crate & Barrel.
Jatoba is also a royal pain in the tooling to work as well. Nasty hard, and rough on hand tooling. Great for prefinished flooring, however.
That dark look is created by using a glaze, really to minimize the color variation in the wood, as pieces are assembled from parts made in quantity, and stored in bulk.
My suggestion is that you look for a good hardwood dealer, assuming you have one nearby, and go have a chat, and look at their sample rack. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are cursed with 9 million people, but blessed with dozens of good to excellent hardwood importers, wholesalers, retailers and mills.
I buy from Earthsource in Oakland. I would use Machiche for what you ask. You would likely get a blank stare from most dealers, were you to ask for that. So take in your pictures, and ask the folks behind the counter what they recommend from their stocks. If they aren't too busy, you'll likely learn a lot, and make a friend. You're gonna spend a couple hundred bucks for material anyhow.
Patriarch
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I think you're right on many counts -- walnut is beautiful on its own, but it's not Crate & Barrell. I would get a blank stare from my local wood supplier if I asked for Machiche. I am cursed that NJ doesn't have many exotic wood distributors, but lucky that the one we do have is 5 minutes away from my shop. While I drewel over some of the beautiful woods they have (zebra, purple heart, ebony, cocobolo, etc.), none are dark and rich like wenge (except for ebony, but a 1" thick table out of ebony is out of the question). As for making friends at the local wood mill... if I spend any more time there, they'll either call security or offer me a job, or charge me rent. =-)
I've just stained a scrap piece of walnut with Jacobean stain and applied a coat of clear lacquer (still drying). So far it looks really nice. Let's hope it looks as crisp and rich when it's dry.
X_HOBBES

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<snip>

If you used the glaze, instead of walnut, at $6.40/bf, you could use poplar, at closer to $2.10/bf. And it would look just like Crate & Barrel.
Or use the walnut, and get the article Jeff Jewitt wrote in the last Fine Woodworking on how to get a more consistent coloration on the piece.
Since the biggest investment is your time, energy and effort, do yourself proud. Take pictures.
Patriarch
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I do want the table to have some value by being made of a nice material -- my true preference is to not stain it at all, but that can't happen at all. The least exotic wood I would like to use is walnut. If I use a very inexpensive material, then there's little difference between what I make and what can be purchase at some furniture store. I don't want to invest my time if it's not going to be something worthwhile.
I'll check out that article in Fine Woodworking.
One thing about staining and then applying protective coats... I should probably wipe down the entire piece with a moist cloth first to open up all of the pores and then fine sand before applying the stain, right? If the first time the wood gets wet is with the stain, then the pores will open up then and I won't really be able to sand it smooth without removing some of the stain. I think I learned this from Norm Abrahams on one of his episodes.
Thanks everyone for all of your great advise! I really appreciate it!!!
I will take pictures. I have even setup a small photo studio in my shop for photographing my work (If anyone wants to know more details, just ask and I'll start up another post explaining how). =-)
X_HOBBES

Barrel.
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X_HOBBES says...

I think you mean raising the grain, which is only necessary if you use a water based stain or finish. This would be a tedious job on such a big project. You may want to avoid it if you can by not using anything water based.
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Ah. Yes. It is an oil based stain. Thanks for the tip.
X_HOBBES

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On Sat, 09 Apr 2005 14:45:26 -0400, X_HOBBES wrote:

<smartass> MDF with a Wenge veneer? ~8^D </smartass>
--
"Keep your ass behind you"
vladimir a t mad scientist com
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I think I'd be affraid of wenge veneer -- it would be like handling razor blades! That stuff splinters easy and hurts like hell!!!
I could always do a SOLID WENGE coloured mdf. =-P
X_HOBBES

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wrote:

ash has a nice long grain look and takes stain well.
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X_HOBBES wrote:

I just built a large alter out of Penga penga which is just like Wenge but from Malwi instead of the Congo (I think) It has all the bad characteristics of Wenge ie. brittle and splintery, the slivers are painful and your hand don't come clean for days but it's quite a bit less expensive. All I found was 4/4 which I had to glue up for some components. I also resawed a lot of it for bent lamination and some formed veneering. I finished the whole thing with Watco Dark Walnut to even out the color variation(which can be substantial) and it looked awesome if I say so myself. For contrasting woods I used Jatoba and Honduras Mahogany.
I'll try and post a pic on a.b.p.w.
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