curly cherry finish tests

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Blog entry by harum posted 07-30-2015 09:20 PM 7587 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In an attempt to find a finish for curly cherry I have run some tests. I am looking for a finish that (a) brings out the chatoyance, (b) keeps the cherry color close to the natural, and (b) doesn’t muddy up the grain (keeps its contrast).

Here are the results so far on the same board sanded to grit 150. Four different schedules oriented top to bottom (Note: no topcoat so far!):

(a) two coats of ruby shellac 1 lb. cut;
(b) two coats of “Zinsser SealCoat” shellac;
(c) two coats “Minwax Tung Oil Finish”;
(d) two coats of “Watco Danish Oil”.

I then coated the left third of each schedule with a coat of 2 lb. cut ruby shellac, this is why it’s darker.

What I have learned: All four are not significantly different from each other, except that the (a) sample may be visibly darker than the rest. The “oils” keep the contrast in the grain and between sapwood and heartwood. The “shellacs” bring out somewhat deeper and shinier chatoyance than the “oils”, not by far but obvious. In the “shellacs”, the sapwood is barely different from heartwood in color. The “shellacs” give darker tone compared to the “oils”.

Here are close-ups of the “oils” and shellacs:

I plan to use a poly varnish as a topcoat, either GF Arm-R-Seal or SW Wood Classics.

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

5 comments so far

View AandCstyle's profile


3306 posts in 3600 days

#1 posted 07-31-2015 10:55 PM

Harum, if by “keeps the cherry color close to the natural”, you mean the light original color when first machined, then you will need to add something with a UV blocker or the cherry will darken with exposure to light. If you want the natural darkening, please forget this post. :)

-- Art

View harum's profile


435 posts in 2986 days

#2 posted 08-01-2015 02:26 PM

Thanks Art. Well, I would like to give cherry a naturally aged finish—but I don’t know yet how. I think that getting a naturally (or at least, good) looking finish would take a lot of experimenting, with most of materials going to waste. Maybe by the time I have any cherry project completed I will learn how to dye/stain curly cherry so that it looks naturally aged. I’ve tried GF Georgian Cherry gel stain—it looks awful: too dark and the color is funny, like diluted red wine—there’s nothing cherry in it, goes to waste for sure.

I’ve read multiple schedules where the first step is application of BLO and such to maximize the curl. But in my experience shellacs give a deeper chatoyance than varnishes. Confusing…

Aren’t UV blockers stains themselves?

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

View Grumpymike's profile


2500 posts in 3658 days

#3 posted 08-01-2015 07:23 PM

One of the beauties of working with cherry is that it mellows with age … something like me …
Use your Georgian cherry stain on a lessor wood like popular to make it look like cherry.

Personally I would use the BLO and then a coat of de-waxed shellac and top it off with a couple of coats of polyurethane.
This will give you a deep chatoyance, that will age with grace.

Remember that BLO will adsorb into the grain of the wood and the shellacs and polly’s coat the surface.
If you don’t like BLO try using clear Tung oil.

The Zinsser Seal Coat is a de-waxed shellac, the correct choice if you want to top coat it. All of the other Zinsser products contain wax, and other top coats may not adhere properly. Again use the Ruby shellac on a lessor or secondary wood.

I admire you for doing all the testing before you build your project, I really don’t think that there is a truly wrong way to finish your project, just use the method that suits your taste and your eye.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View harum's profile


435 posts in 2986 days

#4 posted 08-02-2015 01:58 AM

Remember that BLO will adsorb into the grain of the wood and the shellacs and polly s coat the surface.
If you don t like BLO try using clear Tung oil.
- Grumpymike

Mike! Thank you for your response. Wanted to make sure before more experiments: when you say BLO and Tung Oil, do you mean pure drying oils? I’ve never what drying oils do to curly cherry, only varnishes like Watco Danish Oil, Tung Oil Finish, and Waterlox. Looks like Minwax Tung Oil Finish contains linseed oil, not tung oil; I guess Watco Danish Oil is a linseed oil (with some resin?). What brand of Tung Oil would use suggest that wouldn’t take ages to dry before re-coat?

-- "If you're not counting the ripples when throwing pebbles in the water, you're wasting your time."

View jgoeden's profile


23 posts in 3237 days

#5 posted 08-18-2015 04:17 AM

I want to follow this as I’m currently finishing a cherry project, though not curly cherry. Personally I like B&C the best. I try to remain a purist as a wood finisher, I tend to stray from “products” like Tung Oil Finish, but that is purely me stating my personal preferences. I think I might do a light light coat or two of BLO, followed up with some of that ruby shellac you are using.

-- Never use a Lancelot woodcarver on an angle grinder. Pictures upon request.

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