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
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.
Thanks for all of your help!
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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). =-)
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
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
I'll try and post a pic on a.b.p.w.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.