New-er woodworker and need finishing help

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Blog entry by WoodyMark posted 04-03-2013 03:27 PM 1776 reads 1 time favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Ok, so I know that finishing is an art all in itself. Finishing takes a lot of time and patience for beginners, but it seems that once you get it, you got it! I am struggling pretty badly with a Cherry Top entryway table that I am making my wife.

The table started one Saturday as a ‘nothing special’ just needing a place to put a lamp type of project. My wife bought some curvy legs (the type with balls at the bottom of the feet) at Lowes one day because they were on clearance for a couple bucks. Since this was a ‘nothing special’ table, she didn’t want to go overboard with the cost. The most cost-effective wood that I could find for the aprons at the time was Poplar from Lowes. I ended up mortise and tenon-ing the aprons into the legs at all four corners. To reinforce the corners (showing my rookie call here), I purchased some metal corner brackets that are 45 from apron to apron and held to the legs with a hanger bolt. Looking back I really shouldn’t have done this. The legs are strong enough with the mortise and tenons.

Received a Rockler sales ad in the mail and noticed that they had Cherry 3/4 inch stock on sale for crazy cheap (cheaper than I could get a piece of veneered ply for). The stock that I picked out was actually thicker than 3/4. The table is ‘dainty’ and didn’t need a thick top, so this material was perfect for me. I edge joined and also used biscuits to join the three pieces together to make a top approximately 51” long by 18” wide. Originally, I was going to put a ‘frame’ around the entire tabletop with mitered 45’s at each corner so that there wasn’t any end-grain showing. Then, my wife wanted me to cut/route curves into the corners and curves that ended into points in the midpoint of each side…except for the back…it would be straight all the way across. Due to my lack of skill and experience, that was ditched soon after buying the wood for the top.

Here’s the problem now. I have HOURS invested in scraping, sanding and routing the top that the entire table is now important to me. It’s far from perfect, but my first real hardwood furniture piece that I have done from start to finish, and it is no longer a ‘nothing special’ piece to me. So, I want this to be a heirloom piece. As you can tell, I now have 3 different types of wood…which I assume will produce 3 different stain patters, grain patterns, etc. Without stain on it, the way it is in the pictures, all of the pieces look similar. To the untrained eye, it would appear that the table was made from one type of species. Note: In these pictures, the decorative edging has not been routed yet, but it’s complete now. I also chose to use tabletop fasteners to hold the top on…the metal figure 8 style. I have 4 total…2 on each of the short aprons to allow for wood movement across the grain (front to back).

After all that boring stuff, my question is…What finish can I use to make the table appear to be from the same wood? I really wasn’t going to color the table, but use something like “General Finishes Original Seal-A-Cell” topped with their wipe on poly. My wife said she is going to paint the legs and aprons and leave the tabletop stained UNLESS I can make it all look good stained…thanks Pinterest!

Please help me in this desperate woodworkers time…lol. I really want to keep the table all natural (without paint), but I need your help in order to do so. Please give me any ideas/finishing tips that you may have in your arsenal of info. I have watched about every free video there is on applying stain/sealer/poly from Mark (TWW), Steve (WWMM), and Allan (AsktheWoodman.TV), so no need in going over the entire process…I think I am ready for the process…just not the best selection for the job!

Thanks in advance, and I hope you guys/gals can help me out!

-- "Don't ask me how I know that"-CN

11 comments so far

View Rex B's profile

Rex B

320 posts in 3584 days

#1 posted 04-03-2013 03:48 PM

Hi Mark, that’s a really nice looking table for a rookie (no offense meant, I’m not much more than a rookie). I think gel stain would be your best bet to make the colors look even between wood species, but you’re never going to get the grain patterns to match. Plus I consider it a sin to color cherry! I actually think your wife’s idea of painting the base and a natural cherry top would look nice.

Secondly, I would strongly advise against attaching mitered edging to the tabletop. You talked about allowing for expansion with your tabletop fasteners – that same cross-grain expansion will open up your miter joints in no time flat. See this article. When you see a panel with solid-wood edging, the panel must either be plywood or be built like a frame-and-panel door to allow for differential expansion with humidity changes.

-- Rex

View pintodeluxe's profile


6518 posts in 4147 days

#2 posted 04-03-2013 04:02 PM

Although I dislike working with gel stain, it would help match the different wood species. The darker the color, the more you can match the wood types. It is difficult to get an even coat with gel stain, so be prepared to spend some time wiping it for a consistent look.

A more advanced method is to spray tinted lacquer. This obscures the grain pattern, and helps to match dissimilar woods. It is only recommended for spray applications though, so you may not want to tackle that quite yet.

Keep in mind that cherry darkens with age, while poplar doesn’t. Cherry is particularly prone to color changes in direct sunlight.

Good luck with the finishing.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View MrFid's profile


910 posts in 3238 days

#3 posted 04-03-2013 04:54 PM

+1 for gel stain if you must. The other thing to consider is letting your wife paint. It’s really all a matter of personal preference, but I have seen a good deal of tables that are painted with a stained and finished top (no stain necessary if it’s cherry I agree with Rex) and they look great. If done tastefully it can be just as beautiful as a natural wood look all the way through. Also, it’s not uncommon to spend hours (or days or weeks even sometimes) finishing a project. I contend that you should not necessarily fall in love with a piece just because you have spent hours on it. Not to say that you’re not justified in fretting over finishes for it, just don’t be completely crushed if the finish does not do EXACTLY what you want to do. It is very hard to get poplar to look like cherry. Best of luck!

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 5204 days

#4 posted 04-03-2013 05:01 PM

He He He, I love a good challenge and this is right up my alley, drop me a Pm and we will get ya fixed up .

Nice table BTW

View garbonsai's profile


154 posts in 3289 days

#5 posted 04-03-2013 05:45 PM

For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’d be in bad shape if you used something glossy on the table top to help the grain pop (say, BLO+lacquer or wipe-on poly or even shellac), and painted the legs in a semi-gloss or full-gloss white. It’s not what I’d do, but if it makes She Who Must Be Obeyed happy, well, you know the drill.

Regarding gel stain, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results I got by applying it with a rag exclusively, simply wiping on several thin coats (rather than applying with a brush or foam pad, waiting, then wiping off). It gives you the chance to feather it before the stain starts to soak in and dry, and really seemed to help prevent problems with getting an even tone. That said, it did seem to obscure the grain a bit more than it otherwise would have (remember, gel stain is effectively paint).

But, again, if you’re going the painting-the-legs route, skip the gel stain altogether, and either leave the wood natural under your finish, or use a traditional stain.

-- Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

View Kirk Evans's profile

Kirk Evans

33 posts in 3287 days

#6 posted 04-03-2013 06:51 PM

Best thing to do, go watch all Charles Niel how to’s at his website he is the king of finish.

View Manitario's profile


2818 posts in 4216 days

#7 posted 04-03-2013 06:54 PM

Nice job on the table! I personally like the contrast between different wood types, especially how it will look with the darker cherry top and the lighter poplar base. If you stain it and don’t match the colour perfectly, it will not look very good. Something simple like natural Danish oil followed by wipe on poly would look nice. I also strongly discourage you from putting edging around the top. As Rex said, the top will move seasonally and the mitre joints will open and/or overlap and it will look really sloppy.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View Gary's profile


9425 posts in 4766 days

#8 posted 04-03-2013 07:20 PM

Don’t go the Charles Niel’s website….send him a PM just like he said to do. You can’t get any better help, and he offered to help. Be smart, take him up on the offer!!

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View chrisstef's profile


18140 posts in 4340 days

#9 posted 04-03-2013 07:26 PM

What Gary said. First class instruction from a first class guy. Nothing better than that. Be like Ray Allen showing you how to shoot 3 pointers.

I really like the table. It would find a spot in my hosue for sure. Well done and welcome to the gang.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View WoodyMark's profile


20 posts in 3283 days

#10 posted 04-03-2013 07:38 PM

Rex – Thanks for the compliment…You are absolutely correct about the movement cracking the joints…I forgot to mention that IF I had gone that route, I was going to use Oak Ply with Hardwood edging so that movement was minimal. I appreciate the article link as well. Gosh, maybe painting is a way to cover it up…at least I didn’t form the legs, so I’m not really covering up any of MY work ;) Thanks again!

Willie – I am aware of that with Cherry, and you bring up an excellent point…EVEN if I get it matching now…it might not match 3 years down the road…as the Cherry deepens to red, and the poplar stays light (or whatever tinted color). Thank you as well.

Bailey – The more I read, the more I think painting might be the answer. Plus, I was reading a post on here earlier about this…My wife has the eye for ‘tastefulness’ not me…so it’s normally her ideas that win the popular vote anyways…plus, I end up on the right side of The Law ;)

With all the comments here about leaving it natural on top, that’s definitely what I am going to go with…but if I say I want it glossy and like glass…which finish should I use? I have thinned out poly in the past to 50/50 and I was NOT happy with the result. I know it’s an art, but surely I can conquer it!

Heading to PM Charles Neil, I am excited that he took the time to offer! WOW!

Thanks for the boost of confidence that I am going to need as I tackle the top!

-- "Don't ask me how I know that"-CN

View WoodyMark's profile


20 posts in 3283 days

#11 posted 04-04-2013 06:57 PM

I appreciate everyone’s advice…I am working on finishing the project with someone online and I will post the pictures as we complete the project!

-- "Don't ask me how I know that"-CN

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