Re: Finishing Maple for Newbies

I had decent luck using a 1 lb. dewaxed Shellac wash coat, mixed with alchohol based dyes. After applying several coats of that, I basically used wax to top it off. It didn't blotch, and you can mix dyes to exact tones you want. You can also use lacquer instead of wax. The finish is reversible for one thing, and more importantly, you can repair the finish very easily since each coat melts into the previous coat.
Since you mentioned natural was okay, I think some might recommend you use a boiled linseed finish. It will darken with age, and since you aren't staining it, it shouldn't blotch up. I HATE stain... So much I got into fooling around with alchohol soluble dyes & shellac.
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I used "Red Mahogany"-colored, water-based dye from Woodworker's Supply (you can order a color chart for free; also check out their prices for shellac compared to other places). I did a lot of test pieces, because I was frightened of bloching. What I found out -- in this one experience with maple -- is that to bring out the figure as much as I wanted, I needed to risk the bloching. In my case, I did get a little bloching, but it doesn't stand out, so perhaps shouldn't be called "bloching" in this relatively dark-stained example. And the figure was brought out magnificently. To my eye, it couldn't have turned out better -- seriously. The only advice I would give is to wipe it on quickly, instead of letting it "soak" at all -- to ward off bloching. I finished with three coats of Pratt & Lambert #38 satin varnish. I rubbed it out, but then decided it probably looked a little better before it was rubbed out.
Use test pieces!
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Thats good advice, about not letting it soak too long. I did something similar with a stain and it did turn out beautifully. OR, you could try a gel stain. That kind of stain is made expressly for that purpose, less penetration.
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