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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
...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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